Planning students produce designs for Ithaca’s proposed urban village

February 12, 2007

DANIEL ALOI, CORNELL CHRONICLE ONLINE — Students in a course led by Roger Trancik, Cornell professor of city and regional planning, have given the city of Ithaca a glimpse of the possibilities for the city's proposed urban village.


Common Council members and other local officials reviewed the students' scale models and seven design proposals for the 60-acre redevelopment site in the city's southwest sector Dec. 11 in City Hall. The project was

"One of the motivations for this whole effort was the lack of affordable housing in the city," Trancik said. "The students' work really helped the planning department and the Southwest committee visualize what this was really going to mean."

The course combined classroom lectures, fieldwork and interactive collaboration with the city.

"I wanted to combine theory and practice," Trancik said. "Many of the students had never had a design project like this before. We were teaching them how to use a scale, how high ceilings should be, how wide roads are, how do you build a model, where do you find the material for trees?"

Matthys Van Cort, Ithaca's director of planning and development, and his staff actively participated in the learning process. John Schroeder '74, chair of the city's Planning and Development Board; Maria Coles, First Ward Common Council representative, and other officials assisted in the classroom. Deputy director of planning Joann Cornish took the class on a tour of the site (located behind the Lowe's and Wal-Mart stores) as students' designs took shape.

Van Cort and Lisa Nicholas, the redevelopment project manager, briefed students on previous studies of the site and its surroundings and contributed their knowledge of elements of design and structures in cities.

The 20 graduate and undergraduate students applied the city's vision statement and a list of specific requirements for the redevelopment -- including 600 housing units, nonresidential uses, a walkable layout, ample open space, sustainable elements and access to roads and mass transit -- to their own designs, first in drawings and then in physical models.

"They were all well thought out ... and some were absolutely excellent," Van Cort said. "There were very bold ideas about how to do it. Most had the open space on the outside of the village, some brought it right into the middle of the village. These are both valid approaches to the same problem. They really did a remarkable job and came up with seven different schemes, all of which met the programmatic requirements, and all of which made sense on their own terms."

The city has made public its requirements for the redevelopment, and held an open house for developers, planners and architects on Jan. 31. Formal proposals are due in early March. Meanwhile, the students' models are still on display in City Hall's council chambers.

"I think they're useful, not only to see the range of possibilities, but also helpful to establish some kind of guidelines or at least what to look for when they start to get the real proposals from developers," Trancik said.

As a planner and consultant, Trancik has worked on several projects for the city, including a 1992 downtown design plan. He said he would like to see "a collaborative Cornell-city of Ithaca conduit" take shape.

"I'm interested in how one can take a place like Cornell and Architecture, Art and Planning and directly connect it to the real world," Trancik said. "I think Cornell has a lot to offer that the city can benefit from, and vice versa."

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