21 Big Ideas

Our best minds on how to make Westchester even better.



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We asked and in they came: a flood of emails, each with ideas from our most creative, wise, innovative residents in fields from law enforcement and politics to religion and creative arts and beyond. The assignment? Give us your best idea for making this great county even greater. Our Golden Apple, as beautiful as it is, needs a good polishing now and again.

[1] Reward Volunteers

On the Monday that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, I took my then 18-month-old to the zoo. He had fallen asleep, as all good toddlers do, just as we arrived, so I parked the car and settled in to call my mother while he napped. Momma lives between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, a compromise to us growing up in the state’s capital and our New Orleans relatives.

At that point, the city had escaped. I remember the relief in Momma’s voice as she told me. Once more, New Orleans’s protective voodoo had held. It was okay.

But, of course, it wasn’t.

The next night, as I rocked my son to sleep, I couldn’t stop thinking about New Orleans, particularly the mothers and children stuck there. As difficult as it was to get my son asleep, and stay asleep, I had every comfort and advantage to make that happen. Those women had none—and worse, no idea if or when they would again.

I did what so many of us did. I cried. I sent money. I prayed.

But the disaster didn’t move on for me. It stayed stuck inside, right about at my collarbone. I had never felt so useless about something that mattered so much.

A few months later, I was driving down Broadway in Irvington, and saw a sign that read, “Abbott House.” It could have been another historical landmark or catering hall, but I went home, looked it up, and found it was what I had thought: a foster home.

At this point, it isn’t difficult to guess what follows. I started working with the boys there through an outreach writing program I began in Los Angeles for at-risk youth. Tragedy occurs; hand-wringing ensues; member of privileged community assuages guilt. But a while ago, I realized it wasn’t just guilt I was assuaging. In the years since bringing the writing program to schools here for foster care, developmentally disabled, or seriously ill children, what has opened up for me is a sense of belonging and connectedness that I never felt before, no matter how many times I went to the same playground. I have found that by involving myself in the lives of people who otherwise would remain invisible to me, I have an appreciation for the true and varied colors of Westchester, and connections with other volunteers that give my life a breadth and width it couldn’t have had before.

I grew up watching Momma teach writing for free at Angola, Louisiana’s penitentiary, and start Baton Rouge’s arts festival, among other things. I knew it was the “right” thing to do. What I didn’t know was what she got back: a deep sense of community, and a good night’s sleep.
/// DeLauné Michel, Producer Spoken Interludes (spokeninterludes.com)

[2] Connect Westchester East-West

We need a modern, state-of-the-art, east-west transit system that will make it easy for all our citizens—commuters, senior citizens, and youth—to travel seamlessly from Suffern to Port Chester and points between, and ultimately link Stamford to Stewart Airport and beyond.

This new east-west modality will connect the five north-south rail lines between the Hudson Valley and New York City, and boast the newest technologies for scheduling, payment, and customer service, enticing us all to leave our cars at home and traverse the county with great ease.

Of course, the crown jewel of this project will be a new Tappan Zee Bridge—an impressive landmark for the Hudson Valley and a statement to the world. The need is apparent, the benefits clear, and the plans exist; it’s time to turn our vision into reality.
/// Marsha Gordon, President/CEO The Business Council of Westchester

[3] Turn Playland into Artland

I’m just a kid from the Rockaways, so when someone says “Playland,” the teenager in me remembers the Atom Smasher at Rockaway Playland, opened in 1901 and closed forever in 1982. Rockaway Playland, alas, has been replaced by a housing development…nondescript, unmemorable, and certainly not fun. You will, therefore, understand how hard it is for me to let go of Rye Playland. So what if we could reimagine Playland as our county executive has invited us to do? Could it be more artsy, more fun, more relevant…yet still a place to play and still all about “good times for families?”

According to a National Arts Index developed by Americans for the Arts, more people than ever are participating in the arts. That’s why I imagine Rye Playland as an art park. There are many models from which to draw. Artpark in Lewiston, New York, is a unique public park, run by a not-for-profit organization as a place and a space for art, offering Broadway musicals, swing band concerts, high-tech video, low-tech art camps for youth, and family programs on weekends. A different kind of art park is Socrates Sculpture Park in Astoria, New York, where sculptors create and exhibit monumental works in what has become an internationally known outdoor museum.

Then of course, there’s the heritage thing. Many art parks are built around historic themes, using the arts to interpret history. Rye Playland has a compelling history. Could its arts deco buildings still evoke that era of fun that we imagine people had in 1928 when Playland opened to the public? Could we bring back to Rye Playland the sass of the Peabody and the Charleston? Wouldn’t dancing there be fun? Recalling the Ice Capades, I wonder if an ice show could fit into the ice rink? What about Shakespeare in the Park? Circus arts?

Then my thoughts turned to the recently reinvented former military base, Governor’s Island. It isn’t called an art park, but its brilliant merging of arts and the environment are luring thousands to its shores. Rye Playland has all the right stuff—water, beach, nature, boardwalk, ferries, parking, salt air, historic buildings, a soon-to-be children’s museum, an ice rink, fireworks. With imagination, it can be a creative adventure place for parents, grandparents, children, and all of us other kids.
/// Janet Langsam, CEO/Executive Director, ArtsWestchester

[4] Ensure No One Goes Hungry

Having been an avid supporter of The Food Bank for Westchester (FBW) for more than 15 years, I am fully aware of how many Westchester residents—especially children and seniors—rely on FBW for their meals.

Wouldn’t Westchester be an even better place if all restaurants, supermarkets, country clubs, hotels, bakeries, caterers, etc., all worked with FBW to help feed our hungry neighbors? It is so easy. All they’d have to do is donate leftovers, excess food items, or specially prepared meals. If they aided in educating children and adults in how to eat properly and prepare nutritious meals, just think of how many more full, happy, and healthy tummies there would be!
/// Alison Awerbuch, Partner, Abigail Kirsch Catering & Events at Tappan Hill Mansion in Tarrytown

[5] Give Voters More to Vote On

We can make the county even better by providing voters with the ability to partner in the decision-making processes of government. The taxpayers of Westchester should be able to decide how much or how little government we want and can afford. Taxpayers already can vote on school budgets—why not on the state, county, or local budgets? If the voters are given the chance to have a real say in the process—and to vote for or against budgets and for initiatives we believe in, our electorate will be better informed. There will be more discussions of options and greater participation. This is what democracy should be all about.
/// Paul Feiner Greenburgh Town Supervisor