I love Hempstead Village. I've lived here since 1993. It is irregular. It is diverse. It is profoundly historic. It is ill, a dying dwarf star that needs to believe in itself if it is ever to heal, not believe that it must become what it cannot become.
"To cross the border from Garden City into Hempstead and not see any difference" is one stated goal for the $2.5 billion revitalization that has finally broken ground at a location on the upper half of Main Street.
This goal can never be realized. To cross from Garden City is to cross from a far younger and wealthier municipality into a much older one. It is also to cross from a residential district into a business district. The southern region of Garden City has modestly large houses with neatly fenced lawns. The northern region of Hempstead, as one crosses in on Clinton, Washington, Main, or Franklin Streets, is the business district, except for several blocks of residences and apartments on Washington Street before one reaches Columbia Street, on which stands the Long Island Railroad station plus the northern edge of the bus terminal.
And what do the residences on Washington Street look like? They look like a developer of decades past was given permission to sell single lots on which diminutive houses were built, encouraging a population density that mandates allowing cars to park on the street overnight (which Garden City does not permit) and makes maintenance more difficult (because more people in a confined space means more normative human mess heaped together). Perhaps residents once kept these houses tidy and shiny, but today they their neatly cut lawns contrast their rusting chain-link fences, dilapidated clapboards or siding, and satellite dishes srpouting from the rooftops like a mushroom rally.
As for the businesses, somebody stopped caring about code enforcement long ago. In the low, very old business buildings, delis, barbershops, nail salons, check cashing firms, and occasional storefront churches huddle against each other like multiple people crowding at once through a door. Stained, discoordinated signs straggle over their lintels. Strips of orange or lime green or blue paper advertising sales have been pasted up on their glass doors. Brick buildings look diingy. Glassed-in buildings look like their windows have rarely seen a cleaner's rag.
Why not just demand that these places make themselves look, at least, decent? Why allow them to stand, deteriorating, and then complain about the need to get an investor to build new buildings? Simply cleansing the existing exteriors would make worlds of difference.
Another most unfortunate aspect of crossing the border: Garden City streets are smooth. You know you have crossed into Hempstead as surely as you know when you cross into Queens: bumpity-thump-thump go your tires over the unevenly patched roads. Why are the roads so bad? Because in eight years of blaring happy words about renewal, the village leadership have said it isn't worthwhile to fix roads that will be torn up for the renewal . . . so, while our taxes have risen and the nonrenewal drags on, the roads in the village's northern part have gone from lumpy to embarrassing.
Hempstead is not Garden City and it never was. It looked a lot better than it does now, because it has been taken unkind advantage of in the last fifty to sixty years. It isn't ugly because it drifted into ugliness; it is ugly because it was made ugly. And I don't think that ugliness will be changed by a developer who will spend immense sums to make part of the village look better, and have none left over to care for all the other parts that also need renewal.
There has to be a better way.