February 9, 2007

Task Force Plans for C-Town

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Each person’s vision of Collegetown is different. For some, it is a place of natural beauty; for others, a noisy nuisance; for others still, a boozy vision of beer-soaked college nights. Yesterday in the meeting room of the St. Luke Lutheran Church, the Collegetown Vision Task Force presented its goals for Collegetown to the public. The statement is the culmination of a year’s work spent assessing the area’s weaknesses and strengths.

Collegetown is a central component of both Tompkins County and the Ithaca community. Sarah Boxer ’07, an undergraduate representative for the Common Council, said, “Where else does such a large group of people, all more or less under the age of 23, live in such a close proximity?”

Task Force Member Mary Tomlan MA ’71 (D-3rd Ward) added, “Collegetown forms a social and commercial focus for the most densely populated neighborhood in the city.”

The incredible growth rate of the neighborhood brings both problems and benefits. In the 1990s, various representative groups in the community, including the Common Council, recognized the need for an encompassing analysis of Collegetown with a focus on its future direction and development. This recognition has served as the foundation for recent developments, such as Cornell’s master planning process to evaluate the area’s potential growth and relationship with its surroundings.

“There is no better time to be looking at the future of Collegetown, especially from a student perspective,” Boxer said.

Last February, Mayor Carolyn Peterson initiated the next step. At her suggestion, the Common Council established a task force to prepare a vision statement for the future of Collegetown. In April, the mayor appointed a dozen members, representing businesses, neighborhood residents, students, the local government and the University.

“The task force brings together as many constituent groups as possible with vested interest in Collegetown — people who care what it will look like in 10, 15, 20 years,” said David Gelinas ’07 (D-4th Ward), who was elected by the group to chair the Collegetown Vision Task Force.

“When you create this mono-culture of undergraduates, business is only sustainable nine months out of the year, and this has led to significant closings of long-standing businesses,” he said.

Boxer said it was important to “[get] students and community members to co-exist peacefully.”

The vision statement set forth a series of recommendations, with focus on each category.

Regarding business, it suggests the organization of a merchant group, the encouragement of academic use, a resolution to address the parking shortage, and the ability of students to take advantage of existing annual events traditional to the Ithaca community, like the annual Apple Harvest in the fall, Ithaca Festival in the summer and important University events.

Improvements to neighborhood infrastructure and the reduction of traffic and speed limits were also recommended, along with the accommodation of pedestrian and cyclist traffic and additional parking.

The task force did not neglect the social and cultural aspects of Collegetown. It suggested merging artistic programs on campus and in the community “with the street life.” Additionally, the statement encouraged the preservation of older buildings, structures and dramatic features, like the Fall Creek Gorge and extensive views.

Gelinas said the next step is to present the vision statement to the Common Council for review. The larger committee will then assess it in March.

“I am confident that the council will approve the recommendations, despite their implication of financial commitment on the city’s part. I think they are ready to take that step,” he said.

Tomlan, who has lived near Collegetown since 1979, said, “Collegetown was much different [in the past]. College students working hard, socializing, those kind of things will always be the same. The underlying student culture will always be here.”

Gelinas explained the process that resulted in the statement presented yesterday. First, the group focused on the strengths and weaknesses of Collegetown and divided its pressing issues into five categories: Business, Housing and Residential Neighborhoods, Circulation and Parking, Cultural Experience and Urban Design.

The strengths highlighted by the statement were “the youth and diversity of student residents impart the exciting, vibrant, urban quality that characterizes Collegetown,” the tradition of long-standing businesses and consistent stimulation of new enterprise, a varied and successful food and beverage sector, strong demand for real estate and the neighborhoods close relationship with the University.

The vision statement also states Collegetown’s weaknesses: design and quality of the environment, an “un-friendly” pedestrian atmosphere, limited space for public congregation, unfulfilled business potential, a critical parking shortage and inadequate usage and maintenance of public infrastructure. The statement also notes the prominence of trash and broken bottles, which are often attributed to the college students.

“Collegetown is the gateway for Cornell,” Boxer said.