A Tale of Two Suburbs: The Formation of ‘East Garden City’ and a Neglected Uniondale

Uniondale, New York— or the “corridor of color” as it has been dubbed over the years—is one out of a mere nine Long Island communities to host a public assistance population that is at least 70 percent of the community at large.

Its school district is currently 99 percent minority, and spans far beyond that of the area designated as “Uniondale” by the 2010 U.S. census.

‘East Garden City’ which was founded on “racist terms,” according to Jeannine Maynard, President of the Greater Uniondale Area Action Coalition [GUAAC], is a nonexistent place except for in the minds of the area’s dwellers.

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Members of GUAAC meet to discuss community development on November 9, 2013.

“I don’t think it is a given that they [Nassau Coliseum and surrounding businesses] are deemed ‘East Garden City.’ As a community we are really fighting that there is any legitimacy there,” Maynard said. “There is no legitimacy to ‘East Garden City’ in terms of the local community.”

The gray area now faces pressures from two sides: the underfunded Uniondale whose tax base is at stake… and the privileged Garden City who wanted nothing to do with its eastern half in the first place.

GHOSTS FROM THE PAST

The history of such a concept started with the racial segregation of Long Island in the 1950s.

Enter the inhabitants of Garden City, New York—founded by millionaire Alexander Turney Stewart— who did not want to be associated with the residents of the Mitchel Field Airbase and saw to it they were not associated with the town’s prosperity.

Because the zip code of the navy yard personnel could not be legally changed, it was decided that the name of their community would change. Thus everyone of ‘Garden City proper’ referred to everyone in that area [and those who were not like them] as residents of ‘East Garden City.’

In the meantime, Uniondale was willing to “step up and absorb the kids of families at the Mitchel Field Airbase,” Maynard said. “Garden City did not want them, but Uniondale was more than happy to have them in its school district.”

PRESENT DAY CONCERNS

“I sometimes feel that we [as a multiethnic community] are under fire,” said Mary-Ellen Kreye, Vice President of Uniondale Community Council.

Fast forward to the present and all of the effects this decision with no legal bearing has on Uniondale at large. Various properties and spaces [such as the Nassau Coliseum] that generate decent tax revenue and funding for community programs is being cut and distributed to places such as Avalon Bay, and of course ‘East Garden City.’

“We feel beleaguered, because we are in the fortunate situation of being one of the very few [maybe the only] multiethnic communities that has a good tax base,” Kreye said of Uniondale. “That’s one of the reasons we keep fighting for it.”

In an effort to address the issue when it first arose approximately 30 years ago, Uniondale Community Council hosted its first summit at Hofstra University at the same time the Greater Uniondale Area Action Coalition was forming.

With the series of conversations generated from the summit, it was decided that such an organization was needed to unify areas beyond Uniondale incorporated into both the school district and taxation brackets. Included in the taxing district are six homes in Westberry, and all of Meadowbrook Point, South Hempstead, and North Baldwin.

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano claimed that resources of Uniondale (such as tax revenue and allocation of property) should be distributed among Nassau County.

The 2010 census states ‘East Garden City’ has a population of 19,302,448…but it doesn’t legally exist.

According to the 1980 census, this is far from the case.

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The physical copy of the 1980 U.S. Census. Circled below are then-newly developed areas once a part of Uniondale and Hempstead; Now ‘East Garden City.’

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This decision has effects on the Uniondale school district as well. Kids from poorer communities in the southern part of the district are ‘packed into Roosevelt, Westberry, Hempstead, and New Castle.’  Should the tax base of various business belong to ‘East Garden City,’ the school district of Uniondale will suffer a substantial loss to their program funding.

“The northern part of Uniondale has now been named ‘East Garden City.’ Very successful businesses such as the RXR Plaza, the Nassau Coliseum and Nassau Community College want to be called ‘East Garden City,” said Ciara Musson, a senior at Hofstra University.

As a former member of Hofstra’s Center for Civic Engagement, Musson has become very invested in the ongoing struggle between Uniondale and it “Garden City does not even want to be associated with ‘East Garden City’ because they don’t control anything in that area.”

FIGHTING BACK

“The most pressing issue in Uniondale is the designation of ‘East Garden City’ community—which we do not sanction,” said Pearl Jacobs, President of the Nostrand Gardens Civic Association.  

It has been said that even Uniondale was in fact called “East Hempstead” once upon a time. So just what is the importance of the name of these two areas and everything in between? What’s in a name, anyway? One word: stigma. That’s why. A name like “garden” provides a certain level of comfort as a suburban habitat compared with “union” on a surface level, but the issue goes deeper than a name when an area is neglected because of it.

For example, the stigma of crime disproportionately compacted in Uniondale/Hempstead is one that plagues the community. This however, is unfounded due to the simple fact that crime takes place everywhere [as is illustrated in the tweets below] and that if more resources were allocated into the Uniondale community, more preventative and safety measures could be taken.

As a board member of the Uniondale Community Land Trust and an Economics professor at Hofstra University, Dr. Martin Melkonian acknowledges the ‘long term agenda’ to stop Uniondale’s tax base from benefiting ‘East Garden City.’

However, he feels Uniondale’s overall development is even more pressing. He would like to see the “eye sore on the corner on the corner of Uniondale Avenue and Front Street” taken down as it is the ‘entrance into Uniondale.’

The need for such revitalization is evident in the appearance of Uniondale. An example is the fact that nobody is able to enjoy themselves in the MLK peace park without being hurt by the debris. It is only ever cleaned when a political event takes place in Uniondale and there seems to be zero accountability on the part of local officials to keep it that way.

“It is very cynical, I believe,” said Dr. Greg Maney, “to have a park named after Martin Luther King, Jr., used only for political promotion and agenda.”

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Dr. Greg Maney leading the last meeting of the Greater Uniondale Area Action Coalition [GUAAC] on November 9 in the Uniondale High School Auditorium.

Student safety is at the heart of the matter, but the school’s concern for its liability raises a question—who is this good for? For the students perhaps, to some extent, but many question how this is helpful to the morale of the community they frequent.

As for GUAAC, who is continuing to hold monthly meetings, this issue is far from resolved.

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The first page of the signed petition being passed throughout Uniondale regarding the removing of the name ‘East Garden City’ on its property. “There is no such political entity.”

“The post office does not recognize East Garden City,” Maynard said. “Even if it did that does not legally bind an area to a particular name; the census has no legal value.”

The ‘political hockey puck’ Uniondale has become is unfortunately taking a toll on its residents. Hofstra University senior and Huntington resident Melaine Morgan is concerned for the citizens of her neighboring suburb.

“People that have grown up here [Uniondale] are used to it being called ‘Uniondale.’ They have their memories of it being that,” Morgan said. “To change it would be changing their memories for life. Why change something when it’s not broken?”

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