The Nines

Like a lot of people I know who work with computers, I’m guilty of spending a fair amount of my time browsing social media. I’m a particular fan of the for-sale pages. (Seriously, show me any single place you can get a fresh case of diapers AND a Harley Davidson on the cheap and I’ll get off the internet for good.)

Sites like Facebook are great for a lot of things. They help us organize our lives, stay in touch with family and connect with people we’ve lost touch with. They’re also great for remembering together. A perfect example of this is the brand two of my “friends” – Jon Reis and Joe Scaglione – have carved out for themselves on the site. One of the simpler pleasures I have in my day is receiving a notification from either of them (I have my feed set up to do so) whenever either shares a photo of some sort of relic of yesteryear – some strange character from an Ithaca I never knew, a memory of a really great eggplant parmigiana I’ll never get to taste, a crazy story behind a family business since closed down – that gives me a better sense of where I live, a reverence for this place I’ve called home barely three years now.

It was with this in the back of mind that I was filled with dread and dismay when I saw, on the front page of The Ithaca Journal Tuesday morning, renderings of a monolithic structure meant to fill in a gap of the artificial gorge we’ve constructed on College Ave. occupied for the last 40 years by The Nines, replacing what, in my eyes, is the last cool place in Collegetown. 

Forget the comprehensive plan for a second, the housing shortage, basic economics and business smarts. This just plain sucks. 

Yes, the building is being sold voluntarily and yes, if you’re a developer building to capitalize on the cheapest and most viable demographic in town – a growing and deep-pocketed student body on two hills – you would be out of your mind not to build something as huge as you could that, for the sake of passing the city’s planning board, doesn’t look terrible. Sure, the assessment that Collegetown’s days as a student ghetto of rickety old houses and gravel driveways are – and should – be limited and yes, taking the burden of overpopulation thrown on us by Cornell University and turning it into a consistent source of tax revenues is a great on-paper win. 

Most faustian bargains tend to work that way: often characterized by a quick win followed by immortal damnation. For me, hell looks a lot like a brightly-lit cooler in the refrigerated aisle of yet another convenience store, gazing forlornly at all 16 varieties of Gatorade they have to offer. But that’s reading a little too much into what has not yet come to pass. 

Cities are a living thing, of course. Families age and children grow. Businesses open, then they close. (Some, faster than others.) Buildings age out, new ones go up. Sidewalks crack and crumble – slate becomes concrete – and life goes on; people keep on walking no matter how the pavement changes. Few of the old-timers you talk to will say they recognize Ithaca beyond the street signs, nor would any old native say the same of their old hometowns. But they have fond memories of what was: the communities we come up in eventually come to define us: country roads and sunday drives, dirty streets and stickball, coming home when the streetlights come up.

There’s always talk of Ithaca becoming a city for the students, like it wasn’t before. Perhaps the glass is a little on the rosy side, that maybe what’s going on – in context – is the same as any change that took place before it: like we townies once made the trek to East Hill to drink side-by-side with Cornellians, perhaps one day we will stroll the same convenience store aisle, pawing the same shelf for the last bag of Chex Mix. A reluctance to lose another bridge to the past could play into our dramatic interpretations of such a small tragedy – regardless of the decision made, it made sense for both parties: You’ve gotta wish ‘em well on a successful business transaction. Maybe losing another bar is a sign of the times: we simply don’t have the time we used to have to chill and, for one night out of an otherwise crazy six, simply be. (with a hefty slice of deep dish, of course.)

Maybe the Ithaca we’re building today is the one the Joe Scaglione’s and Jon Reis’ of tomorrow will fondly reminisce on 40 years from now with stories, characters and photos of their own.

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