ITHACA, N.Y. — In the 1970s, a group of middle-aged white men wrote the city of Ithaca’s “Comprehensive Plan” — the guiding document for many major decisions, particularly about development, made by City Hall.

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On Wednesday night, Common Council unanimously approved the first new Comprehensive Plan since 1971. The drafters of this new document — says JoAnn Cornish, director of planning and development for the city — reflect a far broader cross-section of the Ithaca community than the group that wrote the 1971 plan.

“In the early 70’s, it was done by a group of men sitting around table deciding what they were going to do with the city,” Cornish said. “So much has changed since then. We really have come so far.”

Cornish noted the following:

— At least half of the committee involved in the drafting of the document, “A Vision for Our Future,” was female. That’s a major change from the drafting of the plan in the 1970s, Cornish said.

— The chair of the committee, Cornish said, was an African-American — Kirby Edmonds, senior fellow at the Dorothy Cotton Institute.

See related: Ithaca confronts its ‘existential question:’ Big city or small town?

“It reflects the goals and ideas of the community,” Edmonds said at City Hall of the plan, noting that surrounding municipalities as well as local business owners also provided feedback incorporated into it.

— In addition to the diversity of the committee itself, the plan’s drafters held extensive meetings within various Ithaca neighborhoods to solicit feedback beyond City Hall.

“Its goals most people can get behind. It reflects what the community wants,” Cornish says.

— The person who wrote most of the document, Cornish says, was a woman: city planner Megan Wilson.

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What is the new Comprehensive Plan?

The Ithaca Voice’s Brian Crandall took a long look at the plan a few months ago that can be read here: “Ithaca’s ‘comprehensive plan:’ More bureaucracy, or a stab at fixing genuine problems?

As Crandall noted, much of the plan is filled with sentences that may sound vague or obvious. For instance, one recommendation says that Ithaca “must pursue more opportunities for dialogue and encourage all members of the community to become involved in issues.”

The areas in red reflect where density is encouraged under the new Ithaca Comprehensive Plan.

But embedded throughout the assumptions are choices (and, in a way, arguments) about what the city of Ithaca should and should not become.

“The draft plan represents years of work,” Edmonds said. “Members were selected to … reflect a broad need of community members.”

Here are some of its main messages: 

— That Ithaca should encourage development and building density in its downtown urban core;

— That Ithaca should try to protect the outlying neighborhoods from density and preserve single-family homes;

— That Ithaca will encourage and promote the building of “green space” around the city.

— That Ithaca will become the “economic, social, and cultural center of Tompkins County … attracting and retaining a larger proportion of the County population, reversing a half-century trend of population loss to the County.”

You can read the full plan here.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.