December 2, 2002

Residents Meet to Discuss Southside Development

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On Saturday residents and business people from Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood — the area bounded by Spencer Road, Route 13, State Street and North Geneva Street — attended a summit to share their visions of specific neighborhood improvements.

Many attendees were pleased that the meeting had been organized. “I think it’s needed because as cities grow, and this one is growing, there has got to be some planning ahead of it,” said Southside resident Gloria Landes.

Residents found this meeting particularly exciting because it solicited the input of Ithaca residents. Members of the Ithaca community and Cornell’s city and regional planning department organized the summit.

Attendees were organized into eight groups to discuss major areas of local concern: traffic, park space, local economic development, housing stock and Southside’s community center, youth development, resident diversity and public safety. These groups brainstormed for two hours, coming up with between two and four dozen projects each. Three planning professionals then gave feedback regarding how feasible these plans were.

Each group then identified three goals: an immediate project that could be organized using just volunteers, a short-term project that would take two to three years and cost up to $50,000, and finally one long-term project that would cost up to $300,000 and involve hiring full time employees. This scheme was designed to give residents a chance to prioritize their ideas.

Some of the ideas that came out of the meeting included developing a neighborhood watch program, creating a neighborhood newsletter, writing a home-ownership handbook and inserting “traffic calming” devices, such as speed bumps in residential areas.

The Southside is a particularly diverse neighborhood.

“The Southside neighborhood was predominantly black, now there is a significant Latino, Asian and Eastern European community, as well as graduate students and professionals from Cornell University.” said Prof. Ken Reardon, city and regional planning, and a summit organizer.

Residents would like to promote bringing these groups together. One of the ways in which they wish to do this is by utilizing the Southside Community Center.

Eleanor Roosevelt gathered the initial funds for the Community Center and granted it to “people of color” in Tompkins County. However, the Center needs some more financial and participatory support from the community.

“Although it’s no fault of the community, there has been weakening between the center and the community,” Reardon said.

Residents also want to improve housing stock by making more renters into homeowners. This would mean assisting these renters with down payments on homes.

Aside, from increasing the value of houses, residents believe that making more renters into homeowners will increase the stake they have in the community.

Ithaca’s crime prevention program depends heavily on communication between the police and the community. Recently problems of illegal substance abuse have re-surfaced.

Residents have also been concerned about trying to mobilize the community’s resources to expand programs offered in schools.

Cornell has been instrumental in helping the community realize some of its goals. Its city and regional planning department has made a five-year commitment to help organize and plan for the summit and develop the resulting ideas. Students taking Community Service Fieldwork in the city and regional planning department have functioned as the “arms and legs” of the planners and residents. They have conducted pre-summit meetings among residents, surveyed open spaces, collected and organized a 40-page data book.

In the spring 12 of the 30 students in the class intend to continue working on this project.

This is the second year of the five-year commitment. Last year, a different group of students helped organize a summit for the Northside community and will work with another community next year.

Cornell also intends to lease 75 percent of the space in an eight-story building to be built downtown on the corner of Seneca and Tioga streets.

This will provide a stable University presence on the Commons and further connect Cornell to the city.

“This reflects an awareness of how complex these problems are and the need for a long-term partnership, from the drawing board to the ground wire,” Reardon said.

Archived article by Matthew Vernon