I feel the need to document something. Some part of this island. Photographs. Writing. Something. I have about two years left in the place I’ve spent almost fifty years of my life and some time in those two years, I am going to start a project detailing the rise and (in my eyes) the fall of this once idyllic suburb.
I have this memory. I’m driving in the car with my mother, I’m about ten years old. I said something to her about there being more cars on the streets than I remembered. How it was starting to feel crowded in town. My mother said “One day this place is going to look like Queens.” And she didn’t mean that as an insult to Queens, she just meant Long Island was going to become less…suburban. And she was right. I watched the sprawl, I watched the population grow, I watched the streets widen and the buildings go higher and houses stuffed into every available piece of land. I watched businesses pop up where trees used to be and then those businesses turned into strip malls and those strip malls turned into long rows of boarded up stores. I watched the traffic congest, the schools torn down and turned into houses and apartment buildings, streets appear where small groves of woodland once stood. I watched my little suburban community become somewhat urban. And I watched it deteriorate. The already unkempt strip mall up the block - which in my childhood was home to a grocery store and Italian restaurant - is now home to a pawn shop, a liquor store, a “social” club and a couple of small food establishments that keep opening and re-opening with different owners, different names.
I want to gather up all the photos I can of what my town and the surrounding area used to look like in the time when kids ran free, when we bicycled around town until dark without anyone worrying where we were, when everyone for blocks around knew our names and the main streets were lined with trees and grass instead of pawn shops and liquor stores. I want to take shots of everything that is here now where those things used to be and document the way things have changed. I want to talk about how Hempstead used to be a weekend destination point for families to shop and eat lunch and compare it to the Hempstead where I work now, where I can see burned out tenements from my office window. I want to show what Hempstead Turnpike in Nassau County used to look like and what it looks like now, how many lots are empty, how many stores are for rent, how many boarded up windows there are.
And I know that growth is necessary for communities and expansion is necessary for growth but sometimes I look at old pictures and I’m surprised at how ugly my community has become in a relatively short period of time.
In doing a project like this I hope to find small things that have remained the same. I hope to find some pieces of suburbia that still exist, some spots of beauty and nature (and I’m just talking about my general vicinity so you don’t have to tell me about all the nature I can find on the east end or the planting fields and adorable little towns that exist elsewhere on the island).
Just something I’m kicking around in my head. I know I might have mentioned this before but now that I know I’ll be leaving this place I have more of an itch to do it.