February 7, 2011

Building Bridges

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Campus and city officials met behind closed doors Monday to evaluate preliminary schematic designs of the permanent bridge barriers presented by architect Nader Tehrani. This meeting comes after the University pushed back the public release date for the barriers from January to March.Administrators defended the private meeting as an integral part of the design process. While the University is understandably apprehensive of releasing designs prematurely, we strongly urge Day Hall to recall its commitment to public opinion as this project moves forward.As Tehrani said, the bridges are “a vital part of the civic imagination of the city and campus.”The public should, by definition, play an active role in developing plans intended to reflect “the civic imagination” — literally, the imagination of citizens.Though the design release deadline for public consumption has shifted, another deadline stands firm: The University must present designs to the Ithaca Common Council by May 31. We implore administrators to ask themselves if this remaining window of time is adequate to effectively gauge public opinion and implement feedback in the final plan.As the design process progresses and these spring deadlines loom closer, community engagement will be absolutely crucial. These barriers will be a permanent and very visible installation that will have a direct impact on each member of both the Cornell and local Ithaca communities.The University must take a step back and assure that this project does not fall victim to Day Hall’s unilateral decision-making process. While the University has worked hard to create an image of accessibility and transparency by holding open forums and community meetings, these actions are not bold or broad enough. Administrators must make certain that they are not simply engaging the community on the surface, and that concerns do not fall on deaf ears.When the pre-schematic designs are released, criticism and suggestions from the general public must be taken into account. There needs to be extensive give and take between the administration and the public. The University has changed its timeline, and now it falls on the shoulders of administrators to adjust any community engagement initiatives accordingly.Now more than ever, the University must take the people’s concerns to heart. It is imperative that officials on the Hill hold themselves accountable to the community, as closed meetings and one-sided administrative decisions have alienated Day Hall from the public. The University must realize the ideals behind the image of accessibility and transparency it has created. This is the only way to reach a truly “civic” solution.