Yesterday morning, I walked downtown for my Physical Planning course. Though we typically meet in Sibley, we were having class at the Commons so that we could analyze the site. I was particularly nervous that I’d be late, as usual, since I’d only left my house with 15 minutes to spare. Surprisingly, I found myself approaching the Aurora Street Collegetown Bagels with enough time to snag a raspberry bagel. The walk is not as far as it seems.
In the hour and a half duration of our visit, my professor broke down the Commons into its smaller physical elements — the soft paneling of the playground, the apartments above storefronts and movable chairs in the plaza’s center. I took time to examine the small elements that make up a place I’ve been countless times.
When I worked at Tompkins County Cooperative Extension two summers ago, I was alarmed to discover that one of my co-workers, as a rising senior, had never come downtown before. I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the concept of never leaving campus, or never having the desire to explore past the confines of the 14853.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon is more popular than one might expect. There is a stigma about Cornell students and their disinterest in engaging with the town we live in. When we talk about “where we go to school,” often we speak about upstate New York as a general concept, or about Cornell as an institution. Why is it that we “go to Cornell” for four years, and not live in Ithaca for four years?
Coming downtown, whether for shopping, relaxation or employment, expands one’s scope of this place and could potentially add an entirely new element to the Cornell experience. Often, students lament about stress and the “Cornell bubble.” We are extraordinarily lucky. We live in an incredibly rich place with a ton to offer. No, it isn’t Boston or New York City or Los Angeles. We have a town with a vibrant local food scene with more restaurants per capita than any other U.S. city, beautiful natural areas and ample live music. It’s more than just Apple Fest or the Farmers Market. While I would never discount the power of a breakfast burrito or deliciousness of Purity’s apple crisp à la mode, this place, our town, is rich with culture and opportunities far past the obvious. Few other towns have their own currency system, Ithaca Hours, which promotes stimulating the local economy and bartering services. There’s the Public Service Center’s Community Work-Study program, which allows students to intern downtown while using their work-study money. There are a number of hidden book store gems, like Dewitt Mall’s The Bookery, the historic Buffalo Street Books or Autumn Leaves. There are constant celebrations — free live music on the Commons all summer and into the fall and events like Streets Alive, that close down 10 city blocks for recreation.
This weekend is the Collegetown Fair and Into the Streets, which both promote service and integration of town and gown. Let this be a start to something bigger. Stop by the Friends of the Library Book Sale this weekend. Take a stroll through Fall Creek or visit a local orchard.
Autumn is my favorite season, especially here. Look around! The fall foliage is breathtaking and local agriculture is in the midst of fall harvest. Get off the hill and get into this place. In high school, many of us ran around clocking community service hours and extra-curricular activities. Why don’t we make a more ambitious commitment, as a student body, to Ithaca?
Katerina Athanasiou is a senior in the College of Art, Architecture, and planning. She may be reacched at email@example.com. Kat’s Cradle runs alternate Thursdays this semester.