Sunday, October 7, 2007

Downtown Perspectives

The following offerings were written as a result of our walk through Ithaca on Tuesday. The perspectives are that people in the community. Please excuse the lateness of this assignment. Our team memebers were scattered in various cities.


As a merchant, I see in State St the potential to capitalize upon the successes of the Commons and to redevelop this corridor into a vibrant, mixed-use destination. The first step in this process would be to extend the sidewalk into the street so that there remains only one lane of traffic and possibly an additional lane for parking. This would encourage pedestrian activity and discourage automobile usage as well. One asset that could be redeveloped in order to draw in more crowds is the theater. The façade definitely needs a makeover, and the improved appearance would make the building a focus piece instead of an eyesore. Such an entertainment facility would be nicely complemented by an increase in nearby bars and restaurants. Both of these elements would greatly increase the amount of pedestrians passing through the area in the evening, which in turn would mean greater business for the commercial venues. All in all, this means a more sustainable local economy and inspiration for future development.

Mom and her little boy

Existing Conditions
• Assets
o commons – already pedestrian, has an existing identity
• Liabilities
o identity of commons area has developed a negative tone (derelict nature of building
o facades, poor lighting, presence of dark alleyways, safety at night, safety of children on
o their own?), traffic noise a barrier to conversation, lack of services (groceries, pharmacy, public health services, few restaurants)

Thoughts on Improvements
• State Street is a very busy street, a main throroughfare…
o Narrowing of streets -> Reduction in car flow for safety and pedestrian space, play space, socializing space, etc. (Currently little or no seating along sidewalks, and no social or play spaces)
o Less cars -> less parking, more opportunity to expand housing into current parking spaces, to create affordable housing, or to use these as mini parks or gardens.
o Public gathering spaces could also serve as venues for cultural events (meetings, markets, festivals, performances, etc) to enhance a sense of community

Perspectives on Alternative Transportation
Overhead rail
 Pros:
o Out of the way, leaves a majority of underground space clear (parks, gardens, community space, pedestrian plaza/café space)
o Avoids the safety issue of exposed rails/need for barriers
 Cons
o Possible issue with accessibility – requires elevator at stops
o Possibility of cars getting “stuck” or breaking down, and people being stuck in the air
o Visual impact: rails/cars outside people’s windows?

On-the-ground system
 Cons
o Issue of Safety – barriers? Exposed tracks? Could be noisier, Uses more space,
o Competes with pedestrian and other vehicle space
 Pros
o Easier to access for small children, strollers, wheelchairs
o More engagement with surroundings, businesses and environments (Street level) are more visible to users

 Challenges:
o Compromise between quiet, residential character and the need for a connection to the main rail line (disturbance?)
o Accessibility
o Balancing new businesses and influx of wealth with the possible gentrification of existing
o Communities, a changing demographic balanced with history

Economically challenged mother of two

As a single mother of two, trying to get back on my feet, I really hope that the people planning this sustainable redevelopment of Ithaca will take people like me into consideration. I lost my car several years ago when I couldn't make the payments, and so I am used to dealing with public transportation, and so as far as I'm concerned, anything will probably be an improvement, especially if everyone has to use it. What I mean is, that if the people with a lot of money in this town have to use public transportation, they are the people who have connections in this town, and so they will make sure it's easy to use. I do worry though that they will create First-Class fast, comfortable, more reliable Personal Rapid Transit that costs more so that the rich can afford it, while I'm left with something not much better, or maybe even worse, than the bus system I use now.

I hope that the new development plans will include more services for my family that are along the main transit routes. Right now, I am working two part-time jobs, and barely making ends meet. I would really like to get some kind of vocational training that would get me out of working in retail and into a higher paying job. I am just not a people-person, but retail is the only type of work I can get since I don't have a college degree. I'd really like to learn about something like graphic design, so if there were a program I could learn to do that, but still be able to get to my part-time job easily, and then to my kids' school easily, that would be ideal.

I also am concerned about housing. I don't have stable enough income to look into buying a home at this point, so for now I have to rent. I really hope that they would include affordable apartments to rent near the transit routes. Like I have been describing, it is very difficult for me to get around to all the different places I have to go every day, and right now I can only afford to live in a run down apartment 20 miles outside of Ithaca.

Ithaca City Planner

As a planner for the city of Ithaca I share the desire for a better tomorrow with many of the visionaries who share their ideas for an ideal future. In many cases, I spend less time struggling with the vision being presented and how it can create a better Ithaca, and more time envisioning how we get there. When considering any type of raised transportation system, I truly see it as a substitute for the automobile in some portion of our downtown area. I do not see it as something that could simply be added to the downtown without taking something away (space for the automobile). The space required for rapid transit will simply not allow it. While I feel that reducing/removing automobiles from the downtown could potentially have a tremendously positive impact on the vibrancy of the downtown region, I am concerned about the unintended consequences of such a move. Will the consumer that the downtown relies on buy in to the idea that they cannot take their automobile right up to the door of their favorite store or restaurant? Certainly many will, but is many enough? Saying nothing about the cost, a system like this is a gamble, because though we all agree the reduction of cars create more walkable, social, beautiful and overall livable spaces, it comes at a cost… convenience. Perhaps the average Ithacan, or the majority, or even the large majority of Ithacans would love the idea, but what does that translate to in terms of economic results? Ultimately and maybe even sadly, the downtown is a center of economic exchange. Without economic vibrancy, businesses will shut down any plans for a better downtown will be lost.
So… any argument for a major project involving the downtown MUST include an economic impact analysis. Not only will we need a reasonable plan for funding the proposed project, but we need to understand the short and long-term impacts in terms of our downtown businesses, preferably with case studies demonstrating the effects of similar projects on similar cities.

Elderly woman

I am very concerned about the proposed raised transit system. First of all, as a woman on a fixed income I will not welcome any increased taxes, no matter how cleverly disguised, to pay for a system that I will not ride. Secondly, at 83 there is no way that I am going to travel 20 feet above ground. All I need to do is turn on the news to hear stories of bridges collapsing from natural disasters or even just old age. I am not willing to risk an overhead transit car becoming stuck or even worse collapsing. Finally, overhead transit does not seem practical for a city the scale of Ithaca. Perhaps in the big cities of Rochester or Syracuse this makes sense, but not here in Ithaca. Just because I am old doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate technology or advances that are good for our fair city. I don’t however see the value of your proposed raised transit.


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