No Snark Sunday: Ithaca

Hey cats, light posting today because we’re crammed into the minivan on the road conducting an important experiment for the Mars Project in case NASA someday wants to shoot a small family to the red planet. Results so far: A few ironic songs on the playlist is good, but the kids sticking “Dominic the Christmas Donkey” in every third song will make the parent/astronauts rapidly turn course and dive the spacecraft toward the sweet release inside the nuclear furnace of the Sun.

We’re at our pals’ place in Ithaca NY, a town we’ve been coming to at various times since the 80’s. When we think of “hipfrastructure”- meaning a place that has what you need to attract creative and innovative people- this is one of our reference experiences. There are tons of public spaces, they’ve had a bike share program  forever, A huge natural grocer sits in the center of town, there is an ongoing farmer’s market in permanent space by the lake where they take the local currency called “Ithaca Dollars.”

The city occasionally threatens to stop emptying the garbage cans at the Gloucester Farmer's Market. In Ithaca: "How about a building?"

The city occasionally threatens to stop emptying the garbage cans at the Gloucester Farmer’s Market. In Ithaca: “How about a building?”

The reason for all this of course is thirty thousand students with cash coming in from the outside. But college towns have different flavors and we’ve been to a ton of them. You’re always going to get that one strip with bars, head shops, tattoo studios and such and you have that here. But here they’ve also taken that influx of outside cash and have tried to make this a great town to live in for everybody.

Again, they’ve got a lot of things we don’t: Tons of land all around them, for instance. But there are similarities as well- there is a lot of poverty as this is still Rust Belt New York. The manufacturing base has gone away.  They’ve had to make drastic changes as their primary source of middle class lives transitioned to education and scientific/technology pursuits and they really have done the best job I’ve seen of trying to bring as many people along with them in the transition rather than the usual, “fuck it, you’re on your own now” business. we’re so used to in the American economy.

Are there a lot of hippies? Yeah, there are a lot of hippies. But they are actually good for many things: making crafts, running the bike share and getting your shitty old Subaru fixed and promising to pay the dude when you got home because you are an idiot high schooler visiting his summer-camp girlfriend over Christmas break and you are not hip to things like “water pumps” and then when you send the guy a check a week later he sends it back to you ripped up with a note that just says “Karma”.

So think of hippies as an essential reference species that tells you the strength of your hipfrastructure. Kind of like frogs in swamps, if you see them you know it’s healthy. No frogs means something toxic is going on.

Oh, and hey: The current mayor here is awesome. Literally a poor African American kid from town with addicted parents, living on the street at one point, who got himself to Cornell on a scholarship (Oh NOES! AFFIRMATIVE ACTION!) and is now the youngest mayor in the country at 27. He’s worked his ass off to build bridges between the town and the schools and check this out: He doesn’t drive so he uses his municipal parking space to sit outside and drink coffee with the passerby. After the Ferguson riots he included the police chief.

Most chill use of municipal property ever

Most chill use of municipal property ever

Obviously Gloucester is a different place, but not all that different when you think about it. Like Ithaca our core industry has been demolished, we’re surrounded by education and Science/Medical/Technology on all sides and we’re trying to figure out what to do. What makes me enjoy visiting here is seeing the extend they’ve embraced the future while keeping what’s important about the past.

Also Carl Sagan puppet shows.



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One Comment

  1. Jesus, Dowd — any right-minded future Glosta Mayor would bring you in as their ‘Sarah Garcia’-type advisor/planner.

    (Your left toe would achieve more than she did, too.)

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