SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
SCOTT JOHNSON: Cornell University is a private-endowed university and the federal land grant institution of New York state. Cornell is nestled among the beautiful gorges of the central New York Finger Lakes region, overlooking Cayuga lake. Cornell was founded by Ezra Cornell and Andrew White as a land grant college in 1865 on Ithaca's east hill under New York state's Moral Land Grant Act.
Cornell is the size of a small city with approximately 30,000 people, including faculty, students, and staff. Cornell's population represents one-third of the entire population of Tompkins County. In 2005, Cornell was responsible for generating over $3.3 billion, both directly and indirectly, of the economic activity in New York state. Cornell employs over 36,000 people in New York state. Its influence and impact in New York state, Tompkins County, and Ithaca are immense. The main campus extends over four major residential communities, including the city of Ithaca, the town of Ithaca, the village of Cayuga Heights, and the town of Dryden.
The relationship between Cornell and the surrounding area is not without conflict. Some residents resent the number of students who crowd the streets, make parking scarce, and drive the price of rental properties through the roof. Students are estimated to spend $74 million off campus supporting local stores and service providers. Visitors to the university spend an additional $40 million annually to support the local economy. Even though Cornell does not directly pay many taxes as a result of their nonprofit status, indirectly they pay $173 million through taxes paid by employees, vendors, and contractors.
It is clear that Cornell has a stabilizing effect on the economy of Ithaca and Tompkins County. However, this also means that any expansion or decisions made by the university will directly affect the county and the area surrounding Cornell. The impact of Cornell on Tompkins County can be described in relation to the history of the university's growth and subsequent growth of Ithaca.
[MUSIC - DB BOULEVARD, "POINT OF VIEW"]
(SINGING) Can't you see life's easy if you consider things from another point of view. Oh. Oh yeah, in another way, from another point of view.
SCOTT JOHNSON: This is the third program in a series focusing on the Cornell University Comprehensive Master Plan. In the first program, we met Gould Colman longtime university archivist, and Mina Edmondson, university planner. Our guests discussed the long history of planning at Cornell. In the second program, we met Cyndi Rottenberg-Walker and George Stark, both lead consultants for the master plan.
In this program, we look at how the community is responding to the current options laid out by the master plan. We had the opportunity to sit down with Ed Marx from the Tompkins County Planning Commission, and Gary Ferguson, from the Ithaca Downtown Partnership, and discussed their respective outlooks on the Cornell Comprehensive Master Plan. Cornell's master planning has involved both the county and the downtown area in their future plans. How, specifically, have they involved the county and the downtown area?
ED MARX: Well, in terms of our involvement in the process, they've invited county officials to meet with planning consultants and county-- and Cornell planners in small groups. they've also included this in larger discussions, including Cornell faculty, students, and other staff, and invited this to all of the open house activities that have occurred. So we've participated in all those ways.
GARY FERGUSON: For three administrations now, I think Cornell has been reaching out to downtown trying to find ways to work collaboratively together, starting with Hunter Rawlings, and then going through Jeff Lehman, and now with Davis Gordon. So I think there really has been a growing tradition of trying to work with the downtown community, recognizing its importance to Cornell and vice versa. So that activity is taking place.
SCOTT JOHNSON: And as they have involved you and you've given your input back, maybe what are some of the possible opportunities or are implications with the latest options that they've laid out on the table for future?
ED MARX: Well, we see a lot of opportunities, particularly in ways that the Cornell community can contribute to the larger community and the issues we're facing as a larger community. One of those areas, for example, is housing. It's a real concern throughout Tompkins County right now, availability, affordability of housing. And Cornell's plans can include housing as a major component, not only for students but thinking of some of the lands that Cornell owns near campus that could be suitable for housing for faculty, staff, or just community residents. We need housing close to where people work, and Cornell being the largest employer in the community, it's a prime location that we would like to see housing developed in that area.
GARY FERGUSON: Infilling either in its central campus area or back into the community itself. And one of the things that we've been trying to make very clear to Cornell in part of this master planning process is we'd like to see them, to the greatest extent possible, try to do that infilling and try to work in bringing some of their activities into the community to actually integrate the campus and the community together, so something not-- that hasn't necessarily been talked about for sometime.
SCOTT JOHNSON: What would be some examples of activities like that?
GARY FERGUSON: Well, the best example is one that they've just completed, which is Seneca Place on the Commons. And that is an office-- a mixed use building that consists of administrative functions and a development office-- some 300 people-- plus a hotel plus some retail and some meeting space all in the heart of downtown. Now, that was a project that was conceived of by Cornell in conjunction with the community, and we worked collaboratively to put that together. And it has become really the centerpiece for our revitalization efforts. And it's been a catalyst for further and future downtown development. So it's a great example of Cornell being able to take a function, move it into the center of the community, and, frankly, leverage it to get more activity and more development from other investors into the community.
SCOTT JOHNSON: OK. And obviously, the county in the downtown has got plans for the future. And some of these options that are on the table, how could your plans be supported by Cornell's plan or vice versa?
ED MARX: Yeah, well, there's-- in their plans, they've identified what they call some opportunity areas. And they include downtown, Collegetown, East Hill Plaza, for example. They can contribute to each of those-- the vitality of each of those areas in different ways by putting the appropriate uses there.
For example, they just built an office building in the East Hill Plaza area. Downtown is the place the community is trying to support office development. And it might have been-- future office development like that might better be, if it's going to be off campus, perhaps directed to downtown. On the other hand, we think East Hill Plaza area would be a great place for housing, because you've got a neighborhood there already that you can build upon. And so putting the right uses in the right places is the way that their plan can best, I think, work with the community's goals and support them.
SCOTT JOHNSON: OK. And just to follow up on that, Ed, the-- how much input do you get from the residents? I mean, ultimately, that's-- you know, that's who it affects. How does that process work?
ED MARX: Well, I've got to give Cornell credit. They have reached out to residents, particularly in the neighborhoods around campus, quite extensively and gotten some input. But when we look-- kind of, we look regionally in the county, and we hear that housing is a big issue. Transportation also, which is affected by where you put housing-- if there is no opportunity for housing close to where people work, they end up living far way, longer commutes, more traffic in neighborhoods close to Cornell.
So all of those things could be helped by an effort to put more housing in areas, appropriate areas, close to campus. And that could include downtown. We have good transit connections and-- between downtown and Cornell. So people can live downtown and work at Cornell and never have to get in a car. So that can also support the downtown partnership schools.
SCOTT JOHNSON: Yeah, Gary?
GARY FERGUSON: Well, downtown has a 10-year strategic plan that we're working on. And that plan has some very specific goals for office development, which the Seneca Place project actually helped a great deal with for housing and for lots of other things as well, but those two things in particular. The housing goals-- we're looking to do some 325 units between now and the end of the year-- I mean, at the end of the decade. We're looking to do some 225,000 square feet of office space between now and the end of the decade.
Cornell, as the major employer of the community and sort of the engine of our economy, can really play a key role in helping us achieve some of those goals. Seneca Place, I think, helped prove that it. It helps establish sort of a benchmark for us moving forward on that. Our downtown plan is designed to ensure that we can have a sustainable center city that can exist no matter what happens nationally, no matter what happens with regional growth and strip development, and things beyond our control. And that really is all predicated on, can we create the internal traffic in downtown through housing, through offices, through entertainment, through tourism that will support the kind of uses and the kind of dynamic center city that our community says they want to see? And clearly, Cornell has a major role in helping to see that happen.
SCOTT JOHNSON: Are there any specifics of the things that are on the table right now that would be particularly beneficial in that area?
GARY FERGUSON: One of the things Cornell is clearly trying to do is Cornell as a major employer is also a major-- as a major-- is a major office user. And a lot of that office space is located either scattered throughout The Hill or, in some cases, on central campus itself, really in locations where it probably makes sense to put academic uses-- back to Ed's idea of, let's put uses where they make the most sense. And I think that's been some of the--I think the direction and effort that this plan is seeming to go after. So by taking some of those nonacademic uses and putting them in places where they could actually leverage more community benefit and still perform everything they needed to do-- so for example, in downtown, in the community at large, they would provide lots of benefit for us.
SCOTT JOHNSON: Overall, I guess a question for both of you, how would you rate-- kind of you were mentioning the direction of the master plan. Nothing is set in stone right now. But how would you rate the direction in coordination with the goals and plans that the county and downtown has?
ED MARX: Well, one of the things are our county comprehensive plan talks about a lot is mobile development, walkable communities, denser urban areas so that you can protect open space. The Cornell plan's principles speak that language-- a sustainable campus, one that it can be walkable, bike-able, transit friendly as opposed to being an automobile-dependent campus. That is probably one of the biggest things that they can do, if they can achieve that, in whatever growth pattern they choose, that it becomes a place that's pedestrian-oriented, not dependent on the automobile in the long run, will be a big help to the community at large to deal with traffic, energy, and sustainability issues. So that would be the major theme I hope that the final plan will really accentuate.
GARY FERGUSON: I think the plan's got to address one of these key-- Ed mentioned a keyword, and that's density. And I know it's a word and a phrase that the plan is thinking hard about, that the planners are really working hard to get a handle on. But, I mean, density is crucially important to how the campus will operate. I mean, will it be diffuse and spread out? And will it require more automobile traffic, whole new patterns of growth and development, or will we try to build upon what we have to be denser, be smarter in the way we put our development together, and focus on the infrastructure that we already have in place? And that means in the community as well on the central area of the campus as well, so density is a keyword.
And the question it evokes is, well, how dense is dense? What does that mean? Does that mean I'm building taller? Does it mean I'm building wider?
What's acceptable to the campus and to Cornell? And what's acceptable to the community? These are debates we have all the time. And I think the reality is, is that if we want to have a Cornell community connection that's tight and close, you really-- I mean, density is going to be something we're going to be talking about and trying to define in much better terms.
SCOTT JOHNSON: And what other-- above and beyond what you've both mentioned what, other economic implications are there for the future plans that Cornell has?
ED MARX: Well, Cornell is clearly the largest economic engine in this community, so a successful, healthy, dynamic Cornell University is critical to our future. And being able to accommodate the needs for new buildings and space and so forth that will allow that to happen is really what this plan is all about, trying to look forward and say, this is a vibrant institution which will hopefully continue to grow as what it can contribute to society grows, and do that in a way that hopefully also contributes by locating some of those facilities when there's opportunities to the economic vitality of the rest of the community. I think that's the economic piece of this puzzle and one that I think the master plan is well on its way to trying to address.
GARY FERGUSON: Cornell's economic impact analysis, which was just released, clearly shows the economic power that Cornell has and its importance to not only this community but to this region and the state. And I think Cornell, one, is to be congratulated for opening up the master planning process to the community. The future decisions, these decisions, will affect the community for years and years, for decades down the road. And decisions made about where development and growth takes place and how it happens and where things get cited will have lasting impacts that-- not just for a year or two, but for 20, 30, 50, or more years. And so the future of our community, I believe, is being shaped right now with this master plan.
And if, for example, the plan says, well, we're going to take and we're going to explore new virgin ground and really go east and really focus all of our attention there, what I would project is that within-- in that 20-year period or beyond, you'll see a new growth center appear there. And you can't-- if you take and locate thousands of employees and put hundreds or thousands of houses-- residential units and things in locations that may be new and never developed before, you will create subsidiary and spin-off development with that. And so that will affect what we look like as a community down the road.
And if you choose-- so these are really crucial, important decisions. And we tend to look at them and say, well, how will it make our landscape look next year, two years, or three years from now. But in reality, we're really defining what this community is going to be like 50 years or 20 years from now.
ED MARX: And to the plan's credit, they have put an eastern boundary so far to what they consider potential areas for development, roughly in the area of Game Farm Road, and then it moves even further west as you go north. So there are some areas-- I'm sure there will be some new ground that gets built on, but if you can do it in a way that's compact, again, and doesn't sprawl out, that's going to be the key to the success of the plan and the success of Cornell as a community that's integrated in the larger community.
GARY FERGUSON: A nice thing that Cornell's done is it's thought about the campus in a broader way. So many universities, and maybe even this university in the past, has sort of said, well, here are my boundaries. And here's where I operate within. And I think what we've been suggesting is that those boundaries, you can actually be a little fungible with that.
We invite you into the community. You're not going to build a major office building in a neighborhood. That just doesn't make any sense. There are places to put those things, and the center city is certainly one of them. Collegetown has some opportunities for things as well. So there are different places where they can go. Housing can go in several different locations.
So I mean, but that opportunity to merge and mesh with the community is something-- is new and is certainly new here in Ithaca, and I think is something that is a real opportunity and one that hopefully won't get overlooked and, to the maximum extent, we can all benefit from.
ED MARX: And just having a plan will be of huge benefit to the community. One of the things I think that has been a problem in the past is really not knowing what's happening with all that property that's under Cornell's stewardship and not knowing how communities should be planning to react to what might happen there. This master plan will provide, hopefully, a degree of certainty and direction that other people can take in their own planning efforts and use it.
For example, in doing open space planning-- many of the properties owned by Cornell are important components for our open-space system. But when we were doing our county comprehensive plan, they couldn't really tell us what the future of those properties was likely to be. Knowing that will be a huge advantage for a number of things that are done in the community and a number of planning efforts both at the municipal and the county level.
GARY FERGUSON: Yeah, plans provide certainty. I know when we put our downtown plan together one of the things-- one of the reasons why we did it was because we kept hearing from a lot of our major stakeholders that we didn't really know what the future direction was for the downtown community. What does the future hold for us? If I'm to invest here to what end-- what are we-- what are we aspiring to 10 years down the road, 20 years down the road? If you can't tell me that, I have a lot of uncertainty. And so that's why we did our plan.
And Cornell, by doing my master plan and a plan like they're doing now, is going to help provide not only themselves, but the community with that level of certainty. And that's going to help with investment decisions. It's going to help with understanding how we're going to grow in a much more coherent way.
SCOTT JOHNSON: What would be the message that you would want to give to Cornell about its master plan?
ED MARX: Well, as county planning commissioner, I would say make Cornell a place that reflects the values of this community. And I think that's an easy thing to do, because I think those-- a lot of those values are things that have evolved over time in association with Cornell's presence here. But we want to be a place that's an outstanding community, that's environmentally sustainable, that's economically vibrant. And Cornell is really the linchpin to making that happen. And so make sure your plan remembers that.
SCOTT JOHNSON: Gary?
GARY FERGUSON: Well, I would say embrace your community. Obviously, I think, good effort has gone into trying to go in that direction already. But the community understands that Cornell is vitally important to it, and I think Cornell understands the community is vitally important to its future as well. And so that relationship is so crucial. The idea that you can develop into the community as well as on the campus and beyond is just so important and so crucial.
So the message I'd like to leave is, let's be sure that that's not lost. Just the times-- the time it takes to get from downtown to central campus is less-- the same or maybe even less than it takes to get from, say, The Orchards to central campus. That distance and time is very small. And yet for many years, we've had this barrier that said, it doesn't make sense to cross. So I would encourage Cornell to continue to look to the community as a place where they can put growth and development-- meaningful growth and development that helps them and that also helps the community.
SCOTT JOHNSON: After speaking with county and downtown business representatives, we spoke with Ithaca city planner, Matthys Van Court and asked him, what parts of the master plan are most relevant to the city?
MATTHYS VAN COURT: Obviously, Cornell is a very big player in the community. It's certainly the biggest. And so our big concerns are, what are the impacts of the university on the city? And those impacts include a number of different kinds of things-- for example, economic.
And that is, how does the university operate in Collegetown? Does it have a role to play in downtown? Should there be more development of Cornell buildings in downtown or in Collegetown? Should Cornell "jump the creek," so to speak-- come over Cascadilla Creek into Collegetown? These are issues that we have discussed as a part of this master plan.
Also, what do you see when you look up on the hill? Those are the visual impacts, and the consultants have spent a great deal of time thinking about views on the campus and views from the campus out. We also are concerned about looking onto the campus from downtown and from other parts of the city. So we want to know what it looks like, as well as how it acts in the community.
We're also concerned about housing for Cornell personnel. We have a real housing shortage now, particularly for people of modest income, and we've made that clear to Cornell. We hope that they'll be able to find some way to participate with us in a partnership to help create more housing for people who can't afford to get into the market. And that would be both staff and graduate students who are also usually low-income, except if they're lucky enough to come from a family that can help them. But if they are on their own, they're really-- have very limited means. So there are various kinds of housing that we would like to work on with the university.
SCOTT JOHNSON: How has the city been involved in the current comprehensive master plan?
MATTHYS VAN COURT: The consultants and the university, but I think particularly the consultants have brought a great deal of experience in involving the community in an exercise like this. And they've done, I think, a very good job of reaching out to the city; to staff, like me, or to elected officials; and to just people in general who are not city officials. They've held a series of open houses. And they've solicited our input at a number of different times during the process.
In addition to that, I've had a number of morning-long meetings with the principals in the consulting firm. We've walked around downtown. We've walked around Collegetown. We've showed them what our-- what we're thinking about in those areas. And they've really tried to familiarize themselves with our vision for those various areas in the city and for lower East Hill as well.
SCOTT JOHNSON: What is the history of the relationship between Cornell and the city in this area of master planning?
MATTHYS VAN COURT: I have to say that things seem to be getting better and better. And that's in part because they weren't that good. And earlier on, it appeared that the university's position was one of what you might call benign neglect. We'll be the university. You be the community. And you do your job. We'll do ours, and don't bother us.
That's certainly not the position of the university now, nor was it under the two previous presidents. I think they've done a lot to try to work with the community on our issues, and they realize that a healthy Ithaca is critically important to Cornell as it competes with its peer institutions for both faculty and students. They realize that if the community were in decline, they would have a difficult time recruiting. And so they understand how important it is for us to stay strong here in the city, and they want to work with us to make sure that happens. And they want to make it part of the comp plan, I think.
SCOTT JOHNSON: A lot of the plan has to do with concerns of space. Is space a relevant factor to the city?
MATTHYS VAN COURT: Absolutely. I mean, Cornell, it's so big, and it has so many students and so many things going on, that they have a very difficult challenge in trying to figure out how you can add, I think it was, five million square feet over the next x number of years, and add that in a way that it's accessible to the people who walk around the campus without going to very tall buildings and without chewing up the sacred open spaces in the middle of the campus. So they have to figure out how these things can go together and work for them.
But similarly, they have to be sensitive about the edges of the campus, and that's another very serious concern to the city. Where is the edge of the campus? How do the edges of the campus interact with their surroundings?
And I probably should have mentioned that earlier when I answered your first question. This is a very important question to us. And space-- this is, I think, a spatial study rather than a study of academics. And so it's a critical study-- it's a critical issue for them, and it's one that's very important to the city as well.
SCOTT JOHNSON: Where are those space areas that are important to the city?
MATTHYS VAN COURT: I think the most critical ones are the ones at the edges, where the campus meets other uses. The other uses in our case are almost all residential communities. In planning, it's very often the biggest-- that the biggest problems are at the edges, where a residential community meets a commercial area or between a school and its surroundings. It's almost always when you have land-use conflicts, they are where two things bump up against each other. The other constant irritation is parking and traffic. But in terms of space, it's the things that happen at the margins, at the edges.
SCOTT JOHNSON: What do you have to do, in a sense, to defend those marginal areas?
GARY FERGUSON: What you have to defend are both form and use. And by that, I mean it wouldn't be a good idea to build a 10-story building right next to a three-story residential building. So you have to restrict the university's right to build very tall buildings right next to modest-scale residential neighborhoods. The other thing that's important is-- oh, and that doesn't mean they have to be three stories. But they have to be some compromised height and scale and mass, so they don't overwhelm the other use.
The other thing is use. It doesn't work very well when you have large numbers of rambunctious undergraduates living right next to people raising kids. I mean, people might like to idealize a situation in which they would live the lions and the lambs right next to each other in perfect peace, but they usually don't, at least in the spring and the fall. So you have these kinds of use conflicts.
And these are not a new thing. My father told me stories about growing up in Delft, which has a university, where the kids, every spring, would go nuts and break things. And so I think it's a constant, this generational conflict.
And so we have to try to figure out how these two things can be regulated. And we have very few tools to do that, but we have to try to make the-- again, at the edges-- a way to allow students to do what they want to do within reason and to allow the residents the peaceful enjoyment of their own home, so I mean their permanent residence. So that's the main problem in terms of activity and use.
SCOTT JOHNSON: This has been the last of a three-part series exploring Cornell University's comprehensive master plan. For more information about the plan, visit the website masterplan.cornell.edu.
[MUSIC - DB BOULEVARD, "POINT OF VIEW"]
- Can't you see life's easy if you consider things from another point of view? Oh. Oh yeah, in another way, from another point of view. Can't you see life's easy if you consider things from another point of view? Oh. Oh yeah, in another way, from another point of view.
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Part three in a three-part series on the Cornell University Comprehensive Master Plan features reaction from local constituents including representatives from the city of Ithaca, Tompkins County and the Downtown Business Partnership. Insights and response provided by Tompkins County Planning Commissioner Ed Marx, Ithaca City Planner Matthys Van Court and Gary Ferguson from the Downtown Business Partnership.
Produced by the
Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA).