21 Big Ideas
Our best minds on how to make Westchester even better.
(page 2 of 3)
 Keep Parks Open and Bad News Out
Westchester County is no dog. We’re the seventh richest county in the whole U.S. of A. Wikipedia says we were the first suburb in the world. What is a suburb, exactly? Not city. Not country, either. We have the flavor of both and of neither: we’re a magnificent blend, like gin and vermouth. We’ve got the Hudson River on one side, the Long Island Sound on the other. Houses in the middle. Houses with yards. Yards to raise dogs in. But more about dogs later.
A tiny idea that would make a gigantic difference? Well then, let’s have better people in Westchester County—a brilliant plan and frugal as well. Kind, thoughtful people don’t cost any more than the nasty ones. They may cost less. Can you feel the value of your property rising? Can you feel it now?
How do we decide who’s better? Russian novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote that “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between parties either—but right through the human heart.”
Okay, but then aren’t happy people more apt to be good? I’ve got a novel idea. Let’s make life better for the ones we have.
The first step—obviously—is to outlaw television news and jam talk radio. I’d suggest we also have our newspapers censored. Three positive stories for every negative one.
I always feel better, more generous, when I’ve been outside. So let’s not close the parks. Or even delay their opening.
People are followers. They need to have examples of kindness around, avatars of loyalty and joy to look up to. Good behavior needs to be modeled for us. Which is why we need more dogs in public. Which is why I was upset when the Health Department ruled that you couldn’t bring your Labrador retriever to Coffee Labs Roasters in Tarrytown.
I suppose that part of the problem is that not all dogs are trained. Which is mysterious to me. Because dog-training looks so simple, and yet it is so rare. At-risk kids in Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry train dogs. Lu and Dale Picard of East Coast Assistance Dogs set up the program that trains the kids who train the dogs there and at other schools in Westchester. With 82 commands on board, the dogs are placed with the disabled. Many go to veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan.
Now that’s the sort of article I’d put in our special for-Westchester-only newspaper. A story to make us feel better, make us act better. And if that doesn’t work, then there’s always the martini.
/// Ben Cheever, Author, Pleasantville
 Keep Our Young Here
While we invest more than $20,000 per high school student in Westchester, our investment is leaving the county and creating value for someone else. An effort must be made to encourage our high school graduates to return to Westchester as they start their careers. Obviously, that begins with attracting companies to Westchester and encouraging them to hire a young workforce through tax credits or abatements. There are many subsidy programs available, and if we focused some of them on this highly educated group of employees, it would increase the tax base.
We also have to make it affordable for these graduates to either own or rent in the county. Many students take lower-salaried jobs elsewhere, and come out ahead because of the lower cost of living. My plan would be to incorporate some of the same initiatives enacted for low-income housing but focus the resources on housing for recent college graduates with jobs or job offers.
This would give Westchester an advantage in competition for commuters with the five boroughs, Long Island, Rockland, Fairfield, and North Jersey. It would also keep those young entrepreneurs who create jobs in the county.
/// Anthony Maucieri, Owner East Hill Cabinetry, Briarcliff Manor
 Nourish Our Children
What should we change about Westchester? We should do what no other county in the United States has done: we should work together to ensure that every K to 5 student in every school in our county gets a fresh, healthy, and nutritious lunch every day during their critical formative years.
There are 70,000 schoolchildren in grades K to 5 in Westchester. Each year, we spend nearly $16 million on childhood nutrition. But spending $1.27 per student per day is not enough—too often it results in fast, frozen, highly processed meals. There are better, healthier options that would nourish our children, support our local economies, and teach our students about the importance of good environmental stewardship. I’m inspired by organizations like Slow Food (slowfoodusa.org) and Edible Schoolyard (edibleschoolyard.org), as they advocate to reform school lunch policy and challenge communities to rally for change. Sure, these alternatives cost a bit more, but aren’t our children worth it? Isn’t two, three, four, or even five dollars a day reasonable for a healthy lunch as an investment in our children’s health and our collective future?
Some people think kids don’t like to eat their veggies, but at Stone Barns Center, we’ve found that when children are involved in planting, harvesting, and cooking, they become much more willing to try new foods. So we also should work to ensure that every child has access to a farm or a community or schoolyard garden that educates them about where our food comes from and creates more adventurous eaters. We should give our children the kind of inspiring place-based experiences that will foster their long-term commitment to stewarding the land and waters we need to survive. Let’s help support change by working from the ground up.
/// Jill Isenbarger, Executive Director, Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, Pocantico Hills
 Support Our Libraries
As economic hardships continue to press upon Westchester’s citizens, more and more have turned to their local libraries for help. Libraries are a great investment for every community, yet state aid to libraries represents less than one-tenth of one percent of the state budget. There are free library programs to help find jobs, learn new skills, improve business operations, manage health care expenses, and more. If you don’t already have a library card, there’s never been a better time to get one. If you do, take advantage of the vast free resources available to you and encourage others to do the same. Support your local library and become an advocate by contacting your local and state officials to let them know how crucial it is to keep library funding intact.
/// Terry Kirchner, Executive Director Westchester Library System