Mayor Svante Myrick ’09, Ithaca Common Council and other Ithaca officials discussed The Ithaca Plan and development in Collegetown at a town hall meeting in Klarman Hall Atrium Tuesday.
Myrick praised the promise of The Ithaca Plan — which include the introduction of a controversial supervised heroin injection facility.
“First, [the facility] saves lives,” he said. “Vancouver, where they have done this for 13 years — it’s been used two million times without a single overdose death. We have 30,000 people in this town. One person each month dies from opiate overdose in Ithaca, and 125 people will die today in America.”
Myrick also bolstered his plan with evidence from Switzerland’s injection facilities.
“In Switzerland, which has 23 supervised injection facilities, overdose deaths have decreased by two-thirds,” he explained. “If we had what Switzerland has in America, 5,000 fewer people would have died last year. The facility will keep people alive.”
Myrick added that the facility will reduce public heroin consumption and increase safety.
“Large crimes like rape, burglary and assault, and small crimes like graffiti and loitering, all went down around the Vancouver facility,” he said. “When you bring people indoors and into the light, you reduce all the negative externalities of drug use.”
The injection facility will also reduce HIV and hepatitis transmission rates, according to Myrick.
“These are diseases that should have been eradicated long ago, yet they are increasing in almost every county in New York State,” he said. “More people each month are getting HIV in New York state because of IV use. That will not happen at the supervised injection facility.”
Myrick added that the high cost of HIV medication adds pressure to the lives of users and could potentially exacerbate the strains that lead them to use heroin in the first place.
“Why is that? It’s complicated, but the simple reason is that the time immediately after you use is actually the time you have the least withdraw symptoms,” he explained. “So some users will have a moment of clarity immediately after use — they may decide they want to get clean.”
Visiting a supervised facility will also help users receive the help they need, according to Myrick.
“If you have that moment of clarity in front of somebody with whom you have built trust and rapport, and you know that they can get you treatment, you’re more likely to get treatment,” he said.
Myrick called the facility a “new approach,” saying it is a necessary change from the harmful policies of the war on drugs.
“The war on drugs — this trillion dollar effort that we have been waging since 1975 — has locked up more people in this country than any other country in the world,” Myrick said. “This has resulted in more black and brown men being under state control today than there were slaves in the 1860s.”
Ithaca officials also discussed residential construction projects in Collegetown.
JoAnn Cornish, director of planning and development, explained that the high demand of Collegetown housing attracts developers from across the country. She said developers plan to build housing on Eddy Street, Dryden Road and College Avenue in the coming years.
“Collegetown is really going to be transformed within the next five years,” Cornish said.
Although some of the soon-to-be-replaced buildings are “near and dear to her heart,” Cornish admitted that “they are not really places [she] would want to live in.”
Cornish added that the process has been lucrative for the city.
“In the last five years, we have had almost $400 million of investment in the city by private developers,” she said.
Julia Montejo ’17 asked what the city is doing to respond to Collegetown’s commercial vacancies — like Dunbar’s and Stella’s — which, according to Montejo, diminish Collegetown’s attractiveness to both residents and visitors.
Montejo claimed that, as a student who works in the admissions office, she often hears concerns from prospective students and parents that Collegetown appears dead.
Myrick responded that he is “embarrassed when people look at this part of our city and are turned off,” but he anticipates that business will pick up after housing increases.
“Retail follows people, and it particularly follows residential housing and especially in places like Collegetown, where you’re getting a lot of foot traffic,” Myrick said. “The more people who have living within a quarter-mile, half-mile or one mile radius, the more retail is going to naturally flow to those storefronts.”
The event was held by the Student Assembly City and Local Affairs Committee and co-sponsored by the Cornell Democrats, Cornell Republicans, Cornell Interfraternity Council, Cornell Political Union and Cornell International Affairs Society.