LIRR Long Island Radically Rezoned— A Regenerative Vision for a Living Island


Long Island Radically Rezoned

Smart Cells: Land Use and Administration

Alternative Transportation and the Green Belt

The Kidneys: Energy-Water-Agriculture

Energy and Water Neutral

Downtown Hicksville – A Pilot Project

Strategies for Downtown Revitalization


Long Island Radically Rezoned

What if Long island, currently comprised of 117 towns, became a single urban system entity, functioning as a city of 3.1 million inhabitants? Long Island’s most unique and defining condition is that of containment and the island itself—a spatial entity unable to expand beyond its own footprint. We explored the possibilities of conceptually capitalizing on this insular condition and imagined Long Island as a “Living Island,” self-sufficient and regenerative. Through Radical Rezoning, this self-contained system has the potential to provide all the necessary resources for its 3.1 million inhabitants—something currently not feasible due to its highly fragmented administrative structure. The proposal envisions how true sustainability may be achievable on Long Island by sharing resources across boundary lines, applying closed-loop principles on a macro scale: water, energy, and waste-neutral and 100% local food production—a completely self-sufficient and waste-free island.

Though this proposal requires radically rezoning Long Island and may seem utopian in scope, it is completely feasible from a technological point of view. It would significantly improve the quality of life for all Long Islanders, strengthen communities, improve local economies and reestablish the social thread by bringing people closer together. For now, it provides a new model for optimizing the sharing of resources for cities to transition into autonomous entities.

What if the 117 towns of Long Island were to become a single urban system, functioning as a city of 3.1 million inhabitants? We reimagined Long Island as a self-sufficient and waste-free “Living Island.”

Smart Cells: Land Use and Administration

What if half of Long Island was protected open space for habitat restoration, ecosystem services, natural infrastructure, and recreation, and the other half was inhabited by people, in order to create a balance between manmade and natural systems? The relatively low density of Long Island coupled with the densification potential of the downtown areas presents a unique opportunity to reintroduce large amounts of open space to the island while maintaining or even increasing its overall population capacity.

By appropriating a geometric logic found in nature, the locations of the 100 existing Long Island Rail Road stations within Nassau and Suffolk Counties are used to generate a new polygonal subdivision pattern based on proximity to mass transit—the Smart Cells. More than just a new land use pattern, we imagine the Smart Cells as a new transit-based administrative structure for the island, replacing the fragmented and inefficient jurisdictions of today.

Alternative Transportation

The existing network of the Long Island Rail Road is supplemented by repurposing some of the island’s existing car-based infrastructure into “EcoBoulevards” with reduced car lanes, light rail, food transportation systems, and water and energy distribution. Along with a hybrid bus system to connect the remaining suburban fabric to the downtowns and an extensive bike trail network within the re-naturalized areas, a transport infrastructure based on 85% clean fuel can be implemented.

The Green Belt

The re-naturalized areas would sequester an average of 900,000 tons of carbon per year, offsetting transport, water, and waste treatment emissions, as well as bringing back long-lost native ecosystems such as the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens or the native grasslands of the Hempstead Plains.

The Kidneys: Energy-Water-Agriculture

While the Green Belt is mainly dedicated to nature and habitat restoration, in essence a carbon sink and the “lungs” of Long Island, it is also where the “kidneys” that support the Smart Cells are found: waste processing and treatment, water treatment, biodiesel processing centers, material recycling facilities, energy plants, and agriculture are all located here.

Re-appropriated big box stores and strip malls define the center of the agricultural zones. Roofs of shopping malls are replaced with transparent skylights and the big box store is transformed into a greenhouse and food packing and distribution center for efficient transport into the downtowns. The farms double as digesters of organic waste and are also developed as parasites to other nearby industrial processes and are able to harvest their waste heat. In addition to the strip mall farms, small-scale outdoor agriculture, community gardens, and modular greenhouses on suburban lots will serve to educate the community about food systems and serve as links to the larger farms as platforms for education, food distribution, and workshops.

Energy and Water-Neutral

Through implementation of rigorous retrofitting energy efficiency standards and solar thermal technology for all existing and new construction, existing electricity demand will be significantly reduced. There is good wind energy potential off the shore of Long Island, and we propose to tap into it with hybrid turbines for current and wind energy, to provide 100% of Long Island’s electricity. In a closed-waste-stream loop, glass and metals would be recycled and organic waste would be turned into energy in waste-to-energy plants or soil amendments and compost for agriculture. One hundred percent of Long Island’s water will come from captured rain and treated blackwater. After significantly reducing demand through efficient fixtures, smart irrigation technologies such as drip irrigation, and the use of native or adapted grasses and vegetation, we will be able to meet all water demand by capturing only 5% of the rainwater that falls on Long Island. Efficiencies are further increased through a smart leak detection system and a comprehensive water metering system.

Downtown Hicksville – A Pilot Project

In order to increase density in the downtowns and to revitalize vacant areas, we developed several mixed-use typologies and used Hicksville’s downtown as a conceptual testing ground. The majority of downtown blocks in Hicksville are given over to surface parking for rail commuters, resulting in a lack of civic and commercial activity.

Rather than creating density by imposing an urban model of high-rise apartment buildings, we were looking for ways to achieve density while maintaining essential suburban qualities, such as low-rise construction, individuality, privacy, and access to light and nature.

The four typologies are: “Fix-A-Block” for vacant downtown lots; “Mall Chopper” for underutilized surface parking areas surrounding shopping malls; “Re-Center,” a new vibrant downtown piazza centered around the train station; and “Resi-Dense,” additional residential units inserted around existing single-family homes.

Strategies for Downtown Revitalization

“Fix-A-Block”: existing blocks given over to surface parking will be wrapped with a one-story liner of public and retail programming built to the lot line; parking will be provided in the form of a covered parking structure in the center of the block; and a new ground plane will be layered on top with a carpet of low-rise, high-density housing with private outdoor spaces. The topography of the new ground plane is optimized for solar energy production, views, cross-ventilation, and parking capacity. It dips down to sidewalk level for public access, and creates semi-public spaces between the residential units. Each of these housing units has an individual entrance door off of these semi-public areas and a private outdoor green space on the roof.

We believe a central civic space is an important ingredient for successful downtown revitalization. In our proposal “Re-Center,” a new vibrant downtown piazza is centered around the train station, celebrating transit and creating an extension of the public space of the EcoBoulevard, thus connecting the train station to civic life. The surrounding buildings would have a slightly higher density and consist of more urban residential typologies that could be used as college dorms and for intergenerational or assisted living.


Tobias Holler, AIA, LEED AP, Assistant Professor of Architecture at NYIT and principal of independent design practice in Brooklyn, NY

Ana Serra, Associate Sustainability Consultant with Buro Happold, NYC

Sven Peters, Dipl.-Ing., Brooklyn based architect, founder of Atelier Sven Peters

Katelyn Mulry, Senior Architecture Student, NYIT School of Architecture and Design