“Are we a nation of states? “What’s the state of our nation?”
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
In this time of division across our nation we must build bridges across our communities. Bellport, New York, on Long Island’s south shore is just such a community. In the two places that are Bellport —Bellport Village and North Bellport—the gaping social, racial and economic chasm that runs along their shared border at Head of the Neck Road, a virtual DMZ, demands such a bridge.
A Bellport artist organization entitled Auto-Body asked PAU and other architects with local presence to submit visions for what could become of a recently built but now defunct beach pavilion, which was reconstructed with Federal Superstorm Sandy recovery funds. Soon after the new pavilion was constructed, shifting sands left the pavilion in the ocean at high tide, forcing its abandonment and begging the question of what should become of it.
Sublimely beautiful due to its purposeful lack of architecture, Bellport’s beach does not need a pavilion of any sort, regardless of design. The truth is that most who are privileged enough to live in the Village need very little; folks can bring umbrellas if they need shade.
But in North Bellport are Bellport Village’s diverse neighbors—neighbors who are excluded from the beach—neighbors with seemingly profound needs, needs for opportunity, needs for recognition, needs for a new conversation about the past, present and future of this divide.
Our proposal contemplates a gesture of reconciliation between Bellport Village and North Bellport, should they both want it, by reimagining as a new hub the Bellport LIRR station, a place that today serves the entire area poorly.
Our proposal asserts that the derelict state of the existing station fully embodies the distressed state of the nation. Bellport Station quietly screams: we don’t care about public infrastructure, we don’t care about the surrounding community of North Bellport.
We therefore propose to relocate the abandoned beach pavilion and recycle it as a new passenger shelter and bike depot at Bellport Station, an act that would in turn be a catalyst for bigger changes.
We imagine this new station would be the epicenter of a new bike share program that would serve North Bellport, Bellport Village, and Brookhaven Hamlet. Additional bike share stations would be dotted throughout all three municipalities, lowering carbon emissions and traffic, all while enabling people to see all of their neighbors, eyeball to eyeball, smile to smile, scowl to scowl, without the cowardly protections of cars and screens. Just the visual of shared bikes across the public territory of these communities would signal a bridge, signal that we trust each other, signal that we want to know and see each other regardless of race and class, signal that we do in fact give a damn.
We assert that a new station building could sponsor new transit-oriented affordable housing at the station site, bringing activity, equity, ecology, and safety to a place that today feels hauntingly abandoned. Even small changes, like permeable pavers, would not only enhance the parking lot but reduce storm water runoff and convey a sense of care. Concomitant bike lanes, sensitively designed, could proliferate.
And finally, we believe that by bringing inland the architectural language of Fire Island—a language that today symbolizes soaring freedoms and stealth wealth—we could signal the beginning of a new conversation about reconciliation, about who uses Fire Island’s beaches, about why “kids doing wheelies” are prohibited near the Bellport marina, about making visible our invisible boundaries, about reconsidering the state of our divided communities, about rebuilding the state of our divided nation.