October 21, 2008

Looking Beyond the Hill

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Cornell’s historic buildings sit nestled away in East Hill, looking down at Cayuga Lake and the surrounding Finger Lakes region. It’s a perfectly manicured little bubble, seemingly free, for the most part, from the harsh realities of the outside world. But the view of Cornell from the bottom of the hill is different — a sprawling monolithic institution extending down to the city around it. Ithaca — surrounded by farmland and the remnants of what was once a lively industrial center — used to be a bastion of conservatism, but now plays host to headshops and peace rallies. The city was once the Hollywood for silent films and now sells education as one of its biggest commodities.

But what is Cornell’s context? It’s a question we rarely think about. Do we look at our beloved institution as part of the larger Ithaca community? The Upstate New York region? Or is it an Ivy transplanted to the middle of nowhere? Is Cornell a bubble, or is it an integrated part of the surrounding city?

As soon as town-gown conflicts arise — noise violations get out of hand or building approvals are delayed — students waste no time getting up in arms about the issue of the day. But all too often, we fail to look at the deeper issues relating to Cornell’s interaction with the area surrounding it.

This blog will focus on just what its title suggests: putting Cornell in context. We’ll be dissecting the relationship between the University and its surrounding city one issue at a time. Weekly posts will range from Collegetown housing issues to reversing the Upstate New York “brain drain.” Our four expert bloggers will write about their own relevant issues.

Alma Aldrich ’10 is a junior Collegetown resident. She is an avid follower of Ithaca politics and was campaign manager for Svante Myrick (D-4th) when he ran for Common Council last fall. She is also a member of The Sun’s Editorial Writing Board.

Renee Farkas is the associate director of Cornell’s Public Service Center, which offers service-learning opportunities around Ithaca for members of the University.

Kevin McAvey is a graduate student in applied economics and management. He is also the founder of the Upstate Foundation, which actively works to reverse the Upstate New York “brain drain,” the tendency of students educated in the state to migrate elsewhere.

Mary Tomlan ’71 has lived in the Bryant Park neighborhood more than 30 years since the mid-1960s. Her interest in Cornell, Collegetown and the City of Ithaca extends into the past through her work as an architectural and urban historian, and into the future through her role as one of the Third Ward alderpersons on the City’s Common Council and chair of its Planning & Economic Development Committee.

Blog posts will also be supplemented by back-stories on some of our featured city news content and multimedia exploring the Ithaca community.

Join us as we delve into a long and complex relationship that we hope will contextualize for you this place we call home.