Has Ithaca’s Northside Turned the Corner?

Why focus a blog on barely 90 acres (I used Google Planimeter) of an already tiny city? For starters, it minimizes my workload. I’m not sure I’d want to tackle this project if I had to include the entire Northside or even bits of the West End. But it’s also clear to me as I read about the city that the neighborhood doesn’t really have a home, so giving LoNo its own identity doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

I found a report from 2003 titled Ithaca’s Northside: Turning the Corner. Prepared by a group of community members, city officials and Cornell students, the document lays out a bottom-up approach for revitalizing the neighborhood. As you might expect, the report details the boundaries of Northside:

The Northside neighborhood is located in the city of Ithaca, New York, in the downtown area known as The Flats. The neighborhood is triangular, bounded by Route 13 to the West, Cascadilla Creek and Lake Avenue to the Northeast, and Cascadilla Street to the South.

Lower Northside doesn’t belong there. And as I’ve noted before, it doesn’t belong to Fall Creek, West End or downtown either.

But that’s OK. Northside is our neighbor and it helps to learn some things about it. Pages 12 and 13 contain a brief history of Northside. Originally a swampy area, it was drained in the mid-1830s. The first homes were built along Cascadilla Street and Lake Avenue. The Bowl-O-Drome and the Ithaca Housing Authority’s Northside Complex (housing 70 families) were a result of 1960s urban renewal (I’ve still never bowled in Ithaca). A lot of defunct companies I’ve heard the names of like Ithaca Glassworks, the Ithaca Gun Factory, and the Ithaca Calendar Clock Company were situated in Northside.

Some of the strengths and opportunities listed in the report include its ideal location (being adjacent to Route 13), a diverse population, affordable housing, active neighborhood organizations, and little pleasantries like mini-gardens on street corners. Some of the concerns the document is hoping to address include absentee landlords, poor maintenance of homes in general, softening of the rental market with more student housing options closer to Cornell (more true now than ever with Collegetown Terrace underway; more on that at my favorite Ithaca blog), and of course, the neighborhood’s image.

Ever since I moved to the area I’ve been warned to avoid Third and Fourth Streets, as friends and coworkers describe that whole area as the “ghetto”. The authors are well aware of Northside’s negative reputation. The report addresses issues with open air drug dealing and the need for a neighborhood watch. I’ve walked through the area many times without issue (as a worker; not yet as a nearby resident), but it’s not like I can forget the advice and there’s definitely a concentration of crime there.

The report is 10 years old and I haven’t worked in the city long enough to appreciate what has or hasn’t improved. I still consider myself relatively new here and in any case I haven’t had much reason until now to get to know Northside very well. One thing I’ve definitely witnessed in my time here is the closure of the P&C Foods on Hancock Street. The document listed the grocery store as one of the neighborhood’s strengths, and hopefully the opening of the new Neighborhood Pride grocery store (which will benefit Fall Creek and Lower Northside residents too) will help create a sense of community and spur residential and commercial development.