February 19, 2004

The A Spot

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College existence is one of dichotomies: where you grew up versus where you’ve ended up; academics versus alcoholism; upper-classmen versus lower-classmen, etc. At Cornell, we have a few dichotomies of our own: state colleges versus private colleges; Westchester versus hillbilly; Engineering versus Architecture. These divisions, however noticeable, are not etched in stone, and are bridged by adventurous students every day.

This information is nothing new or particularly interesting. Neither is the fact that the defining contrast of the Cornell experience is, perhaps, one of pure altitude: up versus down. When you live on the corner of Buffalo and Eddy, it’s easy to think that there is no level ground in all of Ithaca.

This feeling of being a part of an involuntary physics experiment (exactly how long does it take for an object of said mass to ascend a given incline when that object is late for class?) is, fortunately, remediable. Walk down the hill until you hit something resembling a normal grade. This is the Flatlands, and it’s way better than the Hill.

The Flatlands is divided into several different sections, each with its own set of very fuzzy boundaries. Hopefully, we’ve all at least driven by the more commercial areas of town like the Commons and Route 13. But what happens when, instead of going shopping, you go for a walk? If you walked down Buffalo and hooked a right on Aurora, you’d be in Fall Creek, arguably the nicest neighborhood in town.

The exact borders of Fall Creek are somewhat nebulous, but it is generally considered to encompass part of the largely residential section on the northern end of the city, beginning around Court Street. The surroundings aren’t as picturesquely woodsy as those of Cayuga Heights, and the houses aren’t as Better Homes and Gardens, but Fall Creek has its own charisma. It’s one of the most accessible, pleasant areas of Ithaca.

The neighborhood’s inhabitants represent almost all the different parts of Ithaca. There are locals, professors, families, younger people, dogs, cats, and maybe most famously, graduate students. In fact, Fall Creek is alternately referred to as the Grad Ghetto. Apparently whoever first came up with this moniker never had the Collegetown Slums experience. The neighborhood seems like a resort village compared to College Ave.

Like Collegetown, Fall Creek has a lot of large houses divided into apartments which feature amenities one cannot usually find in Collegetown. These include, but are not limited to, intact walls, functional plumbing, more than five square feet per person, and pleasant neighbors. Plus they seem to run about $200 — $300 cheaper per month than their uphill counterparts.

Aside from the people and the housing, there are plenty of other draws to the area as well. Cascadilla Gorge shrinks down to a creek which runs through the neighborhood adding to the natural scenery of the area. The creek passes along a small park on the corner of Cayuga and Cascadilla, which is the perfect place (given some decent weather) to park yourself on the grass and enjoy your English Breakfast tea from the Gimme Coffee! shop across the street. If you’re really lucky, you might just run into some of the neighborhood’s namesakes. Grad students love their coffee almost as much as they love their goatees.

Follow the creek east down Cascadilla to Aurora and you’ll find the Namgyal Monastery and Institute for Buddhist Studies. It’s settled in a renovated house, but it’s hard to miss, seeing as it’s painted maroon and gold. The monastery is of the Tibetan Buddhist sort, and if you’re in need of some peace of mind, the monks hold evening meditation at 5:15 p.m., Mon., Wed. and Fri.

If you’d like to know what kinds of things live in the creek itself, you can take a short hike out to the Ithaca Sciencenter, which is along Route 13, across from the Farmers’ Market. If you’re a college student, you may be the oldest person there aside from some harried looking parents, but just pretend you’re doing a research project or something.

If you get bored of all of this creek entertainment, you can go see a movie at Fall Creek Pictures. Together with Cinemapolis, it makes up the 7th Art Corporation of Ithaca, a non-profit organization whose goal is to bring independent movies to the community and foster discussion about the arts.

Then, when you’re full to the brim with Ithaca goodness, bursting to write home about your new-found Ithaca pride, you can jot out a postcard and trot the short distance to the post office on Tioga Street to mail it. You won’t be in Fall Creek anymore, but just knowing there’s even more to do there should be enough to make you go back — at least until you realize that once you’re down there, you’ve got to climb up the hill to get back to your own crappy Collegetown apartment.

Archived article by Thea Brown