September 27, 2007

Cornell Masters Plans After Community Feedback

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Members of the Cornell and Ithaca communities gathered in The Straight yesterday to discuss a preliminary draft of Cornell’s Comprehensive Master Plan, a proposal devoted to the physical development of the Ithaca campus over the next 10 to 25 years.
The open house, hosted by the CMP Working Committee, began the second round of forums intended to inform the public of the plan’s progress and gather community feedback.
With yesterday’s introduction of the draft, the CMP is now in its third and final phase. After considering public input from the open house, the CMP Working Committee will revise the draft and work toward a final proposal, due to be approved by the Board of Trustees in March 2008.
The plan, which began in April 2006 with an extensive survey of University and public interests, is broad-reaching in its scope — addressing all aspects of both the Cornell campus and the surrounding area. The plan will affect the production and arrangement of new buildings as well as the role of landscape, the transportation network and residential space.
“This is a huge undertaking,” said Mina Amundsen, co-chair of the CMP Working Committee and director of the Campus Planning Office.
“We are looking at the possibilities for accommodating growth on campus in a way that will keep Cornell essentially the beautiful place that it is,” she said.
According to Tim Smith, an associate at Urban Strategies Inc., a consulting firm hired by Cornell, the plan aims to add and improve upon athletic, academic, administrative and mixed-use facilities while “keeping the footprint of the campus intact.” This means conserving open air space and consolidating the core campus. Part of this consolidation entails the development of structured, vertical parking lots that would take up less land.
“We want to use the land as responsibly as possible, which means building higher where we can,” Amundsen said.
The issue of consolidation and conservation is of great importance to citizens in the surrounding communities of Ithaca, Dryden, Lansing and the rest of Tompkins County, as evidenced by the recently passed recommendation for a moratorium on building in Collegetown. Another issue raised by the CMP is the development of Downtown Ithaca, Collegetown and East Hill Plaza as centers of both student life and commercial activity. This, too, involves the cooperation and approval of the surrounding community, which the CMP Working Committee has actively sought, according to Amundsen.
The open house, which included conceptual illustrations of the future campus, a PowerPoint presentation and a board for visitor feedback, was followed up by a meeting later in the evening at the Hilton Garden Inn in Downtown Ithaca. Both gatherings aroused strong opinions from much of the attending students, faculty, staff and citizens of Ithaca who recognized the grandeur and impact of the plan.
“I’d like to see a more comprehensive approach to bicycling,” said Steven Powell, a member of the research staff in the electrical and computer engineering department and resident of East Hill Plaza. “Tying in bike paths off campus would discourage automobile usage.” Still, he conceded, “I commend them for having the open house.”
Some students expressed concern over the draft’s emphasis on new buildings and modernization, fearing that the addition of more modern architecture may dilute Cornell’s historic atmosphere. Others felt that the plan fell short on its promise of improving student life.
“The Master Plan proposal addresses social issues on campus with physical planning. While physical improvements can help integrate the community at Cornell, these proposals are incomplete in actually addressing the social needs of students on campus,” said Alicia Hahn ’08.
There was, however, considerable positive feedback as well. Jerry Willis, supervisor of the R Barn dairy herd at the Veterinary School, was happy with the draft for accommodating his request to keep the herd within walking distance of the Vet School. Ellen Harrison, director of Cornell’s Waste Management Institute, praised the draft’s concentration on conservation.
“Cornell’s land is a huge asset, and I’m thrilled that we are going to take advantage of it,” Harrison said.
Although reviews of the draft were mixed, both Amundsen and Smith called the open house a “success.” They welcomed the criticism as an essential step in the development of a final draft that can accommodate as many people as possible.
“The participation [at the open house] was just further evidence that the Cornell community is engaged,” Smith said.
With the third phase complete, the CMP Working Committee will now turn their efforts to finalizing and implementing the plan. According to Amundsen, implementation is just as much important as the planning. “There are a lot of groups and people who don’t want to see this plan fall through,” she said.