ITHACA, N.Y.—Across Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood, black yard-signs with simple white lettering have popped up seemingly overnight. They read: “Northside United for a Safe Community,” lacking the obvious political or policy leanings yard-signs, bumper stickers, and billboards so often do.
And it seems that’s part of the point. The signs only mean what’s written.
The impetus for them are the recent spates of crime that have been raising blood pressure across the Northside Triangle Neighborhood. The incidents of the last few months include smaller crimes like bike theft and tools being stolen, but also a shooting on the corner of Hancock and 1st street, a car chase and shootout that ran along Cascadilla Street, and most recently a search warrant that resulted in the seizure of narcotics and weapons from a house in the neighborhood.
But while these events are alarming, Carol Cedarholm said, “We are unified in our concern, but we’re not unified in how we think it should be dealt with.” The adequate response that Cedarholm felt could be made was to build solidarity and communication among neighborhood residents. Cedarholm came up with the idea of creating signs as a means to do this, and presented the concept to Northside United, a community organization she’s a part of. The group is dedicated to strengthening connections within the neighborhood.
Originally, the draft ideas for the signs leaned towards a “neighborhood watch” concept, but through conversations borne out in the Northside United listserv, the language was shifted to a more “positive,” less “reactive” message and ethos.
The purpose of the signs, said Cedarholm, is primarily to unite the community and facilitate communication. The messaging tries to entirely side-step the stickier subject of the Reimagining Public Safety Plan in the City of Ithaca, and the potential trappings of a neighborhood watch.
Carl Feuer has been a Northside resident for about 40 years, and applied to the Rotary Club of Ithaca for a $835 grant to go towards strengthening “neighborhood bonds” in the face of “a significant rise in crime.” A portion of those funds went toward printing the signs. He said at this point the idea behind the message is, “definitely not a neighborhood watch. It’s just an effort to signal our neighborhood solidarity and concern about the shooting that’s been going on.”
He added, “In some ways it’s beyond our reach to deal with the sources of the crime. I mean, that’s really the city and the police that we have to rely on.”
Northside United was able to pay for 75 signs and Cedarholm said that she and others have been able to get about 65 of the signs in the ground throughout the neighborhood.
Elvir Bahtic grew up in the Northside neighborhood. He no longer lives there, but Bahtic owns the Fine Line Barbershop on Hancock Street, and posted a “Northside United for a Safe Community” sign in front of his business.
“It’s just reminding people to do their due diligence, to keep spreading the message, keep a lookout, but really it’s just about staying together and working through it,” said Bahtic.
Linda Holzbaur is on the steering committee for Northside United. She said that people are uncomfortable with the crime, but the “positive” message that the signs attempt to convey are ultimately more in line with Northside United’s mission.
“It’s not a political message,” said Holzbaur. “It’s just a call for people to get to know each other, and try to help each other live in a safe community. We don’t know where the guns are coming from or anything like that. It’s a problem in many places, and not just in Ithaca.”
Leading up to the signs being printed and distributed, Northside United had several meetings with officers from the Ithaca Police Department and Acting Chief John Joly, as well as their local representatives: from the City of Ithaca, Alderperson Ducson Nguyen; and from Tompkins County, Legislator-elect Travis Brooks. The organization was seeking more information on why the neighborhood was seeing more crime activity.
Nguyen said that he felt like the strength of Northside United’s intent and message in the signs came from their refrain from engaging in potentially more contentious issues, like the future of what policing will look like in the City, or installing security cameras.
Nguyen said, “They’re all important conversations, but they can be distracting from the intent of the community which is to provide safety and solidarity with each other.”