The Collegetown area is the core of social life for Cornell students. It provides substantial housing options and hosts many of Cornell’s social activities, such as parties and fun eateries. But Collegetown has its share of problems. Understanding both the benefits and problems regarding Collegetown should be an important for all students. And thus it also has become a battleground for the Ward 4 political arena.
The Collegetown Neighborhood Fair was a good first step in introducing general knowledge regarding Collegetown. The Collegetown Student Council, whose main duties include improving the Collegetown area and enhancing relations between students, landlords, and local residents, organized the neighborhood fair. The fair was meant to enhance community relations and engage students with information regarding Collegetown, specifically housing.
To this end, the fair accomplished its goals, but this is only a first step in dealing with the issues of Collegetown. The fair only provided basic information, such as student housing forums and general safety information.
To be informed about the issues, however, students need a deeper level of understanding. In a recent interview with the Cornell Review, Eric Silverberg, President of Collegetown Student Council, discussed how students can get involved.
“Regardless of whether a student intends to join our Council, all students – simply by being mindful of their conduct – nevertheless, can take ownership of a neighborhood that so many call home,” stated Silverberg.
The student council is a great way for individual Cornell students to get involved, but much of Collegetown’s problems lie in the policies instituted by larger government institutions, such as the Ithaca government. Thus, simply being mindful can at best only improve the general ambience of the area. Students, unaware of the real issues, cannot hope to help with the problems facing Collegetown.
What is meant by Collegetown problems? Eric Silverberg and the Collegetown Council explained that economic development, student relations, and safety were the main issues involving Collegetown. This statement scratches the surface of the problems facing Collegetown. And while many of these problems are complicated, they are nonetheless important for students to understand.
As a student looking to rent in Collegetown, I have first-hand experience with off campus housing options. One of the biggest problems is high rent. Living in a small apartment with four people can costs over $900 a month, making it very expensive for students. In addition, high rent affects the cost of business and thus makes conducting a small business more difficult.
This is an important issue, but it is rare to see students actually discussing realistic solutions. For example, government regulations and high property taxes are some primary causes of higher rent. Reducing these burdens, by instituting pro-growth policies, would be pragmatic and fiscally responsible solutions to the problem. And by examining these issues within the lens of politics, students can become more engaged in their community and more accurately incur change.
Another problem facing Collegetown, and the Cornell Community, is the recent sexual assault cases. Reducing crime is a more difficult problem to solve, and with Ithaca’s government in debt, it may seem like not much can be done. Surely the first step is promoting responsible conduct for students, but more can be accomplished. Again, these issues represent problems with local polices. What are the government, and the even Cornell administration, spending money on? And why are more resources not being devoted to protecting the people?
At the fair, the Police handed out pamphlets with general safety information, but again, this only is a first step in solving the problem. Students should be more actively engaged with the government, and demand at very least a shift in spending towards essential functions of government, such as the police. In conjunction with a more fiscally conservative economic policy, the police might actually be able to do more for students instead of simply telling people to lock their doors.
With such issues facing Collegetown, it’s no surprise that the area has become a local battleground arena.
“If we are going to use city resources wisely, we must prioritize,” stated Misha Checkovich, a Cornell student running for Ward 4 Alderwoman. “There is clearly not enough money in the budget to do everything everyone might wish. My main concerns, and I believe every resident's main concerns, are safety and infrastructure: the basic foundation to any great place to live and work.
With this theme of prioritize, Checkovich has suggested what some of input would be as the only student and only Republican on the Council.
“My priorities are to improve the streets, sidewalks, and bicycle lanes to make living and working in Ward 4 not only easier but safer for everyone. I also want to address building safety and resident safety issues. This particularly includes fire and housing safety and the personal safety of residents.”
Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, the first step in becoming a responsible citizen is being aware of the issues. Collegetown isn’t simply a place near Cornell, it is an opportunity for students to get involved with politics and actually enact visible change in their community. These problems have real solutions; they merely need a student-led community ready to fight for them.
Bill Snyder is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.