August 21, 2012

Bringing Collegetown Out of the Dark

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I am currently living without electricity.

No, I am not still on a pre-orientation outdoor odyssey trip, nor am I trying to experience the Amish way of life. I am living in the middle of Catherine Street in Collegetown, and my house has no electricity. Let me explain.

I received a call from the electricity company in July, asking when they could come reset my meters. I told them anytime would be fine. They showed up on August 1, but discovered that my circuit breakers were still on. Not wanting to get electrocuted, they decided to come back at a later date, once I had given them permission to turn off the breakers.

I would have gladly granted that request, except that I did not hear about it. The company never called me back, and the next time I spoke to them was on August 20 when I called to ask why I had no power. They promised to send someone over as soon as they could, which, according to them, is next Monday.

Now, granted, I still have heating and water, and luckily I am not living in a tent, as one Cornellian was forced to do three years ago. Plus, these nine days give me an incredible opportunity to learn how to cook over an open flame (if my landlord is reading this, I am joking). Nevertheless, when I come home at night to a pitch-black apartment, I am reminded that the Collegetown landlords, permanent residents and representatives are not the only ones with gripes.

Recent reports in The Cornell Daily Sun have quoted multiple Common Council members asserting that Collegetown residents have “widespread and blatant disregard for the community” and “a sense of entitlement,” but, conversely, that “we have to get away from finger pointing.”

If they want a quieter (and darker) environment, they are welcome at my house.

Every year Ithaca goes through a charade where permanent residents call this the worst year ever, Cornell students assert that their living conditions resemble those of a third-world country (see the opening paragraphs) and everyone resolves to do something about it. But nothing gets done.

The problem is, Collegetown is getting worse. In my three years here I have seen more businesses close than open, more decay than renovation and a growing stream of partying in Collegetown, especially after new university rules banned freshmen from attending Greek parties.

My two most recent predecessors as undergraduate student-elected trustees both took this issue quite seriously. In fact, both of them made their last presentation to the Board of Trustees about Collegetown (and seeing as my last full presentation will be this January, it will likely be mine as well). In February, I proposed that Cornell act as a clearing house, holding landlords and students accountable, building off an initiative of Georgetown University. But sadly there has been little progress.

I have often made the tongue in cheek joke that Collegetown is to student trustees what the Middle East peace process is to U.S. Presidents — the issue they start working on too late in their term when they are trying to build their legacy.

I want to ensure that history does not repeat itself. If you have a way to improve Collegetown, please email me. (If you have suggestions on where I can buy cheap candles, that would also be welcome.)

The major obstacle to changing Collegetown is that solutions take time, and students usually only live there for a year or two.  But let’s resolve that this is the year we start fixing Collegetown.  That next year, Common Council members will be commenting that orientation week was better than in years past, even if it was still a little loud for their liking. That by our sesquicentennial we will have business in the old CTP, Green Cafe, Dino’s and Kraftees.  And let’s resolve, at the very least, that when I come back for my five-year reunion, there is electricity at every house in Collegetown.

Alex Bores is the undergraduate student-elected trustee and a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at awb78@cornell.edu. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Alex Bores