Reconnecting Rockland: “Get Out & Walk”

BY JARED RODRIGUEZ

A forward thinking (and backward looking) monthly column on zoning, planning, and development by Jared Rodriguez, a Stony Point native schooled in civil engineering, architecture, and real estate development.

In “Back to Our Roots” Parts 1 and 2, I discussed the virtues of the good ole days we’ve left behind in Rockland County. We had corner grocery stores, soda and coffee shops, friends, family, and great places to shop all within walking distance. We all ask at some point: “What happened?!” What happened to Rockland County after the 1950s? Why did we give up our beautiful towns in favor of unsightly strip malls and big asphalt parking lots? It’s simple really. We didn’t want to walk.

We think walking is too inconvenient: it takes longer, it tires us out, and we might get rained on. Instead, we easily jump into our cars, conveniently pull into a parking space, and make a bee-line to whatever store or bank or pharmacy (we’ve got plenty of those) we’re aiming to visit. Want to know how or why we gave up the beautiful and historic downtowns of our past? Those places were designed for walking. All of that history went down the drain because we don’t want to walk. It’s as simple as that.

Just after World War II, we realized that we could hop into our big cars and head out of town. If we wanted ice cream at Hoyer’s or we were craving a movie at the Rockland Drive-In, we simply gassed up the ’55 Chevy with $2.00 and headed up Route 9W or out to Route 59. The convenience soon became an obsession. We could jump into the Ford Explorer and head down the Garden State Parkway to that asphalt wonder that is the Route 17 shopping strip, towing Rockland’s local economy into New Jersey.

As we started replacing our walks-to-the-corner-store with car trips, those fine downtown restaurants and shops began to struggle. Then they closed. “The mall stole the business!” we exclaim. But, in reality we chose the mall. So, downtown closed up and stopped paying its rent. Without stable rent, the value of the building in which the former store was located began to decline relative to the values of buildings, say, on Route 59 or Route 17.

Zoning laws actually preceded this push to the car (we’ll discuss this at a later date), and they helped to move us toward total reliance on our cars, paying more and more for more and more gasoline over the years. Our Main Streets and Broadways declined, attracting crime. Home values around the downtown began a long slide.

Those old places that we loved continued to decay. It was a catch 22. It was the price to pay for all that convenience. We in Rockland County are beginning to pay an even bigger price. Our cars are eating up more and more of our income. The price we’ve paid has also come in the form of skyrocketing property taxes, enormous energy bills for heating and gasoline, overweight children and family members, sick children and family members, lack of contact with neighbors, declining downtowns, and great seas of hot asphalt. I could go on. . .

Get out and walk. The next time you go to Downtown Nyack, Suffern, Pearl River or Haverstraw, park your car at least four blocks from your destination. That inconvenience might just save our local economy. Think about it. . .