"Collegetown used to be seedy. What's this, the Upper East Side?"
I wasn't surprised that the man who stopped me on the street had lost the pulse of Collegetown since his graduation; his stiff "Class of '61" baseball cap was clue enough. So I launched into a review of recent Collegetown developments. "The building at 407 burnt down and got rebuilt. Bibi's, Johnny O's, the clothing store, Tops Express and the 312 luxury apartment building are all new. Clubhouse is out, but Bear Lodge is in. And that's just College Ave. since I was a freshman." He panned the block and sullenly asked, "So, students live here?"
Ah yes, transition is quintessential to our tumultuous little niche called Collegetown. It shouldn't come as such a shock to the thousands of Cornell alums who descend upon Ithaca for Reunion Weekend every summer. Alas, they inevitably stray from the organized activities under the Arts Quad tent, wander to Collegetown and, to their dismay, are greeted with a neighborhood far different from the one they left 10, 20 or 40 years ago.
Today's Collegetown is an unidentifiable beast to returning alumni. But that does not mean that it's constant growth goes unchecked. Rather, its development is closely monitored and planned by our representatives on the City of Ithaca's Common Council. Without these watchdogs to execute proper commercial, residential and environmental plans, Collegetown would be a far less desirable place to live today. This is why its critical to elect stable, vested officials who can monitor the big picture in our constantly changing neighborhood.
Years of continuous small changes have transformed Collegetown. In the 50s and 60s it was less dense and more ramshackle than today. Litter, broken bottles and graffiti marked the streets.
With the transient crowd came transient institutions, such as People's Park, two squares of painted purple pavement at the foot of Eddy Street. The park only lasted from '69-'70, ending when the mayor ordered its destruction. In those days no apartment buildings towered over Dryden Road, no parking garage harbored student's SUVs, and no Performing Arts Center graced College Ave. These physical developments did not magically occur -- for every building erected and store opened, city representatives approved plans. It's no coincidence that graffiti is seldom found anywhere but inside the Palms' bathroom nowadays.
The changing built environment pales only in comparison to the changing neighborhood culture. The complacent, chino-clad fraternity boys of the 50s gave way to the pulsating, trigger-happy bohemians of the 60s, but not without a struggle. Belligerent fist fights between Greeks and independents broke out on Dryden Road, subsequently expunging the Greeks to Chapter House for a decade. The ladies were latecomers to the Collegetown scene, forced to live on campus until 1965. That was probably for the best in an age when rumors of sexual intercourse could get a gal expelled. Anxious police tear-gassed crowds of Vietnam War protesters at the intersection of College and Catherine in 1972. This final explosion of collective angst subsided into the dazed drug years of the 70s, when Mainline counseling agency opened doors in Sheldon Court and oversaw Collegetowners coming down from heroin, dope and LSD trips. With every political and cultural trend, city policies regarding police intervention and social services followed. The ever-changing needs of the Collegetown continue today, and our population deserves an astute political representative to insure that our needs are met.
Collegetown's cultural-political movements come and go as rapidly as it's residents. It's a neighborhood where the entire student population is completely recycled every four years, thoroughly transforming the neighborhood spirit three times a decade. It's a sociological nightmare, wanting in stable political representation.
The history of Collegetown is testament to its ever-changing cultural, political and sociological nature. Voracious and vibrant, Collegetown's characteristic furor simultaneously handicaps and infuses it with life. The temporary student population never sticks around to truly care about the quality of the built environment; pot-holed roads, crumbling sidewalks and tree-barren streets go unattended in a town where the residents move every nine months. Tipsy porches and decaying historic homes abound, students demanding that landlords improve their properties do not. Investment of time and energy into a short-term neighborhood is simply a waste.
This is why it's important to elect 4th ward representatives to the City of Ithaca Common Council that are aware of the long term developmental goals of Collegetown and can stick around to see them through. Upon Cornell senior and Collegetown Alderman Josh Glasstetter's recent resignation, he unabashedly suggested that the Common Council cater to student politicians by shortening one seat's term to two years. True, tens of thousands of students in Ithaca lack student representation on city boards. But Glasstetter incorrectly assumes that adult residents of Ithaca are unfit to voice student concerns. In reality, a permanent, non-student representative is more likely to understand the historical developments and future needs of Collegetown. Moreover, a representative who doesn't plan to skip town in four years has a vested interest in improving local living conditions.
The concept of limiting a term to two years is also ludicrous due to the nature of the Common Council's job. The decisions that a Councilperson makes, impacting commercial and housing development, the environment, traffic and parking, take much longer than two years to come to fruition.
The results are felt long after we blow out of town, and certainly after a measly two-year term expires. In a neighborhood where buildings pop up every year and the entire population moves every fall, stable public representation is prudent for managing long-term changes.
You see, we can't expect Collegetown to spurn change -- it's inevitable in a student neighborhood. But we can vote for responsible and steady public officials to guide development in a constructive direction. Temporary students just don't fit this bill.
Archived article by Andrea Forker