Certainly Ithaca has changed since I saw it last. The gorges have carved a millimeter deeper. I hear there's a Starbucks in Tiny Town, and even a bike lane. Like much of the rest of the nation, some of the valley's residents are richer than ever, and many more are poorer.
Probably Ithaca is still dominated by Cornell, whose jobs inspire loyalty and obedience. The University continues to export experts who manage the machinery of civilization. While some graduates seek to solve urgent problems like global warming and imperialism, others plug their heads into corporate sockets. As ever, professors carefully cite what professors write about what professors wrote. The old guard guards the old.
Long ago I imagined Ithaca transforming into a giant eco-village, leading America toward balance with nature, and peace among nations. Fantastic though this seems it will happen sooner or later, by design or by default because, unless Ithaca profoundly rebuilds itself, nature will intervene. Sooner or later the costs of fossil fuels and war will deflate America's top-heavy infrastructure, while global competition will shred our dollars. Congress will outsource corporate research from Cornell to Burma, at a fraction of the cost. Then ivy will devour the Arts Quad and cover the town. Ultimately, Route 13 will become a wildlife corridor and the last Volvo will be nothing but a stain of rust amid weeds.
Back in 2003 Ithaca's voters declined my offer to be their Green mayor, for which I am grateful. It would likely have become both public and personal tragedy to have been given significant authority to do what I intended to do, because I intended to push it knowing the extent of resistance. My campaign platform was the most detailed ever published by any candidate for mayor, distributed to every door (thanks David Galezo!). It introduced "12 WAYS TO CREATE JOBS," "8 WAYS TO REDUCE TRAFFIC," "4 WAYS TO LOWER HEALTH COSTS," and "11 WAYS TO LOWER HOUSING COSTS." http://www.paulglover.org/mayor.html Most of these initiatives invited citizens to take direct control of land, law and money. Which takes power from speculators, bankers and bureaucracies. Thus would profound change have begun.
But Tiny Town had become exhausted by loud controversy, and preferred more amiable caretakers. During the preceding thirty years, political combat blasted shale from our hills when Ithacans fought Cornell and developers to confront highway expansion, suburbanization, nuclear power, shopping malls on wetlands, a massive incinerator, racist banks and military industrialists. Today, far as I know, comfortable liberal consensus rules.
Have I slept through Ithaca's latest significant changes, like Rip Van Winkle, or has Ithaca itself? Would the next mayor and council embrace the next such challenge to community control? In some situations it can be rude to be polite.
I've enjoyed introducing children to nature by planting orchards here, organizing green jobs, teaching urban studies at the university. I've met thousands of people dedicated to reviving this city. Fresh ideas from other cities, like Ithaca, are often welcomed.
We will be remembered by our offspring either as bold pioneers or as mere consumers. We will bequeath them either solar showers or cold showers. Whether we live in a big city or a little one, Americans can solve problems and set powerful examples. Tiny towns should raise loud voices.
Glover was founder of Ithaca HOURS local currency, the Ithaca Health Alliance, Philadelphia Orchard Project, Citizen Planners of Los Angeles, and a dozen more organizations. He taught urban studies at Temple University and has written six books on grassroots economies. http://paulglover.org