Repentance and Reformation
"When I was a little girl, there were bumper stickers about how Ithaca was ten square miles surrounded by reality," said County Executive Maria Reynolds. "The reality was that Ithaca was surrounded by sprawl, inhabited less by people than by Volvos and Subarus. We have changed that reality. We have repented of our past sins against the environment, and we have reformed Tompkins County to make it the beacon of progress it should always have been."
Governor Tamara Libous, State Senator William Seward, and Assemblywoman Peregrina Dogood joined Reynolds in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the "Tompkins County Reformation," a series of revival meetings that replaced Tompkins County's prior Nodal Development models of environmental presentation with a far sterner - but in many ways more blessed - urbanism.
"You showed the way," exclaimed Governor Libous to a jubilant crowd. "You showed the way to a more concentrated urban core filled with exciting things for people to do, while leaving the rural areas to a sustainable mix of farming and mining and animal habitat. You showed the world how to apply your water resources to the difficult challenges of providing energy to your residents."
Senator Seward took the unusual step of apologizing to the crowd for his ancestor, New York State Senator James L. Seward. "When my grandfather supported Home Rule for municipalities, it was only because he hadn't yet seen the light of centralized rural urbanism. In his retirement, and in his diaries, he frequently mourned his youthful errors and wished for the simpler solutions you developed."
Exhibits at the Ithaca History and Nature Center included the original 2021 petition to Governor Andrew Cuomo to allow Tompkins County to become an experimental center for localized consumption of fracked natural gas, as well as a number of different plans for restructuring the City of Ithaca to accomodate the massive number of people displaced by the project. Visitors could roleplay as planners, lawyers, volunteers moving into the city, and even the bitter-enders who refused to move downtown even after their houses were demolished.
Cornell University's Department of City and Rural Planning showed maps of the shift, including the "repentance zoning" applied in the Town of Dryden for taking its mistaken suburban "home rule" principles to court. Lecturers described models for applying the Tompkins Model to other counties and regions, with examples from Binghamton to Boulder to Poland and South Africa.
Lecturing to a packed auditorium of students and visitors, Professor Christine Nunes described how "Early 21st century environmentalism was an illusion, an echo of pastoral dreams designed to defer and delay progress toward a genuinely efficient application of our natural resources. We lacked the vision to see how only radical shifts toward concentrated urban centers and spot industrialization of our rural areas could support our population, reduce our impact, and give wildlife the room they needed to thrive."
A small group of protestors outside the lecture hall held signs claiming increased cancer rates, polluted water, and damaged natural areas, but the dignitaries and most celebrants ignored them. Police reported twenty arrests.
Tour buses brought visitors from the walkable zone of Ithaca to the outer reaches of the farms and nature preserves that dominate the county, with special stops at natural gas and water extraction facilities along the way. A visit to the State Police offices in the former Town of Dryden included a demonstration of techniques used to ensure that former residents remained downtown, as well as rides on the methane-powered helicopters used for enforcement.
In downtown Ithaca, sidewalk parties reveled late into the night, with fireworks over Cayuga Lake drawing thousands to the waterfront.
If you'd like to submit a story, please contact me.