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Cornell University's $20 million initiative designed with the community in mind

The following article by Cornell President David J. Skorton appeared in the June 26, 2008, edition of The Ithaca Journal:

Last October on the occasion of Cornell University's annual Community Leaders Brunch, I outlined six broad areas in which Cornell University would work actively with local partners in the years ahead: housing, transportation, economic development, educational services, health care, and the environment.

At that time, I singled out two of these areas by announcing a ten-year $20 million commitment in support of the needs of the university's faculty, staff and students living and working in Tompkins County, to add further impetus to what I am convinced is such a promising moment in the relationship between Cornell and its local community. I told the roomful of our local leaders that I hoped to capitalize on our collaborative efforts to address the need for affordable housing within our community; work collaboratively to find alternative means of transportation to allow people to get to their place of employment; and, preserve and protect this special place that makes it such a wonderful location to work and raise a family.

Today, I am pleased to unveil the projects to be funded in the first year of this housing and transportation initiative (see http://www.govrelations.cornell.edu/community). Their implementation will begin to realize an objective set early in my administration: to leverage Cornell's efforts to meet the needs of its own community in ways that might make a real difference to the local community by offsetting pressures we place on local resources; and, to do so, whenever possible, in partnerships that allow local leaders to work together to secure additional resources from other public and private sources.

And, that is exactly what we are doing. The projects - which will require a careful annual review to account for future economic conditions, governmental decisions and any other factors subject to fluctuation - arise out of the planning efforts Cornell has undertaken, such as the campus master plan, transportation impact study and other similar efforts, as well as those we have done collaboratively with the local community; and are informed by city, town and county plans. Over the past eight months, my colleagues have consulted widely with, among many others, the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council and the Affordable Housing Action Group, to better understand the ways in which Cornell's own investment could be targeted to benefit the local community as well. We learned that if we aligned our transportation and housing initiatives with Tompkins County's proposed nodal development strategy we would optimize their own efforts to increase the housing stock. We also recognized a need for a variety of homebuyer assistance programs for university employees in the form of affordable financing, savings match and counseling, thus supporting one of the major planks of the county's affordable housing strategy. In the first year alone, we will spend $800,000 to advance these projects.

Another promising upshot of our due diligence is that we learned from local housing representatives and other public officials of an opportunity to participate in a program that would match public and private funds to promote the development of additional housing in the community, by contributing $200,000 during each of the next six years. In this respect, we look forward to the wisdom of public discussions and planning to inform our judgment about how we might participate in that effort.

Moreover, we identified county, town and city transportation projects in which we will participate by injecting $1 million annually in order to begin to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, reduce traffic and parking in and around campus; ease the access, through local communities, to campus; increase the use of alternative modes of transportation; and, when possible, decrease the distance Cornell employees must commute to work. The Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council, chaired by Mayor Carolyn Peterson, endorsed the concept of this initiative.

By informing Cornell's investment in this fashion, this initiative will have a positive ripple effect throughout the local economy. The university will not only help meet the needs of employees seeking, for instance, to relocate closer to work or use local transit, or of those who are first time homebuyers or of students whose transportation choices affect local infrastructure; but also mitigate the impact of our activities on the local economy and complement local initiatives by bringing them closer to realization and making them more competitive when seeking outside funds. I am grateful to the community members and leaders who worked diligently with us on these issues and helped shape our program for the better.

In the long run, the resulting improvement of the local quality of life, reduction of sprawl, enhancement of the sustainability of its activities, through thoughtful investment in these housing and transportation initiatives, will benefit the future recruitment and retention of top quality faculty, staff and students. We will also deepen our longstanding commitment to the local community of which we are proud members.

At the Community Leaders Brunch, I underscored that thinking together, working together, and planning together are the best ways to solve problems and address common needs. Only in this way, could we build a stronger community that benefits us all.

Media Contact

Joe Schwartz