The other day, on one of my rare jaunts through Ho Plaza, a girl was asking people if they were interested in consulting and, to the yea-sayers, handing out quarter-cards. One poor, fellow behind me asked, “What is consulting?” The surprised girl tried to explain what consulting is.
If you’re in the shoes of that fellow, allow me to explain: Consultants are paid to come in and advise companies or municipalities (such as, say, Ithaca) on certain matters to help their client earn more money, or do a better job in some way. Consultants usually have specific areas of expertise (such as, say, urban planning and development). And, given that consultants are paid a lot, their clients usually listen to them. Consultants benefit from giving good advice — and so, good advice they give.
So, when Ithaca decided to hire a consulting firm to advise them on what to do about Collegetown, students were (rightfully) excited. Finally, maybe the buildings would get nicer! Development would be fostered! More apartments would be built, new businesses would move into Collegetown, rents would go down (OK, maybe that one is a tad optimistic). There was a moratorium on building enacted while the consultants did their research, but that was OK, so long as the end result was positive!
The consulting firm, Goody Clancy, did what all good consultants do — they came up with a plan to promote development and attractiveness in Collegetown, to increase parking capacity and to ease traffic flow. And, after paying $90,000 (Cornell also paid another $90,000) and hearing hopeful cries from students, Ithaca did what all backwards governments do — they decided to overturn the plan almost unilaterally, and delayed further discussions until this past summer, after the moratorium came to an end last April.
And so, as our buildings become increasingly dilapidated and our rents increasingly exorbitant, nothing is being done to change Collegetown. Not. A. Thing.
Heated discussions have popped up surrounding the issue; Common Council meetings have been said to resemble an episode of Jerry Springer. (Just kidding, wishful thinking on my part.) In the end, what did we end up with? A bunch of vague government-speak, “endorsing” the plan without adopting or implementing it, saying that we need to do a few more (extremely expensive) studies.
The Common Council members fail to admit that maybe consultants, who are urban planners for a living, know a thing or two more about the subject than local Ithacans with nothing better to do than sit on an all-but-powerless local government. (Except you, Svante Myrick ’09 — you do no wrong in my book.) They also fail to admit that they may not have Collegetown residents’ — 97 percent of whom are students — best interests in mind. These people seem poised to do whatever it takes, and spend as many taxpayer dollars as necessary, to hire as many different consultants as need be, until they get the answer that they want — which seems to be that there should be no new development in Collegetown.
Why would they vote this way, do you ask? Why waste so much money to hire experts, only to completely disregard the opinions of those experts? Honestly, it seems so damn stupid to me that I can’t really tell you why. But I have a few hypotheses.
Some residents, particularly those who frequent Collegetown or who live in its periphery, are worried that increased development means that students will continue to encroach on their territory; that the bounds of Collegetown will expand and overtake their quaint neighborhoods.
These people fail to recognize that the Goody Clancy plan put forth focuses on development in the core of Collegetown, around the intersection of College and Dryden. Given that this is closest to campus, it is where there is the most development, the highest buildings, the hardest parking and the most egregiously high rent (up to $1,700 for a one-bedroom). It can’t get much worse. If the buildings were increased a few stories, there would be (duh) more apartments — more students living closer to campus, and further from the residential neighborhoods so adamant about clamping down on development in C-town. Further, the Goody Clancy plan calls for increasingly restrictive building height limits as you extend out from the core of Collegetown — meaning that, by the time you get to the adjacent neighborhoods, buildings would be the same size as those that are already there and would, in theory, blend in nicely.
Some people are concerned that Collegetown is blighted and ugly. Seriously, join the crowd. Collegetown is blighted and ugly in a lot of places. And you think that freezing development is going to help that how? Allowing for taller buildings gives an incentive for landowners to build newer, nicer, safer and prettier buildings, thus creating a newer, nicer safer and prettier Collegetown. Win win, no?
Finally, there are people who are concerned about parking in C-town. To them I say, pooh pooh. You should have bought a house with a driveway. Or, for that matter, a house further from Collegetown! (Contrary to popular belief, Collegetown has remained about the same size since the 1970s, when many of our parents were here.) Living in an apartment, I get frustrated by having to pay ridiculous rates to park — but that is the market rate. If you’re that concerned, take the TCAT or a bike. While parking concerns are legitimate, the Goody Clancy plan takes this into account, building increased parking accommodations into their overall recommended plan.
So you have the reasons that Collegetown will continue to have little to no development, with silly building height restrictions, ugly houses that look like deathtraps and an abundance of unoccupied retail space. All because of a few loud residents, and a few clueless Common Council members (who seem to disregard all of the taxpayer dollars spent on the Goody Clancy consultants). And so students can just give up all hope of an improved Collegetown — unless someone decides to knock some sense into these people.
Leigha Kemmett is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at email@example.com. Starboard Tact appears alternate Thursdays this semester.