For census data on the two municipalities called "Ithaca" see Ithaca (city), New York and Ithaca (town), New York.
The city of Ithaca (named for the Greek island of Ithaca in Homer's Odyssey) sits on the southern shores of Cayuga Lake, in upstate New York.
Cascadilla Creek, one the main gorges in Ithaca, in Winter
The valley in which Cayuga Lake is located is long and narrow, with a north-south orientation. Ithaca was founded on flat land just south of the lake, land that formed in fairly recent geological times when silt filled the southern end of the lake. The city ultimately spread to the adjacent hillsides, which rise several hundred feet above the central flats: East Hill, West Hill, and South Hill. Since the lake valley was deepened by glaciation during the last ice age, its sides are fairly steep, and a number of the streams that flow into the valley from east or west have cut deep gorges, usually with several waterfalls.
Ithaca experiences a moderate continental climate, with cold, snowy winters and sometimes hot and humid summers. The valley flatland has slightly milder weather in winter, and occasionally Ithacans experience simultaneous snow on the hills and rain in the valley.
The natural vegetation of the Ithaca area, seen in areas unbuilt and unfarmed, is northern temperate broadleaf forest, dominated by deciduous trees. Among these, maples are particularly common. Steep hillsides seen from a distance resemble a curtain of green from late May through September, show bright fall colors in October, and are a display of gray trunks and branches, often with a white snowy background, from November through early May.
Cascadilla Creek, one of the main gorges in Ithaca, in Spring
The life of the city
The economy of Ithaca is based principally on education and tourism, with some manufacturing. The city is home to Cornell University, which overlooks the town from East Hill, and Ithaca College, similarly situated on South Hill. The student population is very high.
Tourism is based primarily on the natural scenery. Visitors come to see the gorges, three of which are located within the city limits and three others in nearby state parks. Tourists also enjoy Cayuga Lake, hiking trails, and visits to wineries in lakeside vineyards found north and west of the city.
Ithacans are noted for their strong sense of community, and support a robust farmer's market, a professional theater (http://www.hangartheatre.org/), a civic orchestra, much parkland, a science museum (http://www.sciencenter.org/) for children, and a new paleontological museum (http://www.priweb.org/museumoftheearth/index.html). They continue to attempt to maintain a traditional downtown shopping area, a mix of a pedestrian mall (The Ithaca Commons) and a small, semi- successful mixed use complex built at the end of the urban renewal era (Center Ithaca). Also, there is Collegetown, a small commercial center adjacent to the Cornell campus. The existing downtown has lost ground to two ever-expanding zones of commercial sprawl to the northeast and southwest of the old city.
The city is known for having a politically left-leaning population in an otherwise conservative region of New York State. Ithaca has many of the businesses characteristic of small American university towns, such as used bookstores, art house cinemas, craft stores, and vegetarian restaurants. One of the best-known eateries is the collective Moosewood Restaurant. Founded in 1973, Moosewood was the wellspring for seminal vegetarian cookbooks and was instrumental in launching the vegetarian movement. Bon Appetit magazine put it among the thirteen most influential restaurants of the twentieth century. In 2003 and 2004 the Ithaca Times' "Best of Ithaca" balloting named Les Ducs, a small and vibrant French restaurant, as the city's Best Fancy Restaurant.
The city is also home to one of the United States' first local currency systems, the Ithaca Hours, and has pioneered the Ithaca Health Fund, a popular cooperative health insurance.
The dominant local newspaper in Ithaca is a morning daily, The Ithaca Journal, founded 1815. The paper is owned by Gannett, Inc., publishers of USA Today. Other local print publications include the Ithaca Times and Positive News (US Edition). Cornell University and Ithaca College have student newspapers with full-time staffs, the Cornell Daily Sun and The Ithacan, respectively. There are also several Internet-based publications, including a local email newsletter called the Ithaca Community News. Local residents subscribe to out-of-town papers as well, such as newspapers from Syracuse or the New York Times.
Population and income figures
Total Households: 10,287
Median Household Income: 21,441
Median Family Income: 42,304
These are current as of May 2004 from the City of Ithaca GIS page. The town serves as a Central Place town for 90,000-100,000 people.
The name "Ithaca" actually designates two legal entities in the area. The Town of Ithaca is one of the nine towns that Tompkins County comprises. The City of Ithaca is surrounded by, but independent of, the Town of Ithaca. The neighboring suburb, the Village of Cayuga Heights, is part of the town. Other non-municipal areas within the Town of Ithaca identified by the US Census Bureau as census-designated places are:
- East Ithaca
- Forest Home
- Northeast Ithaca
- Northwest Ithaca
- South Hill
The Town of Ithaca is bordered by other towns of Tompkins County as follows:
- Enfield to the west
- Ulysses to the northwest
- Lansing to the northeast
- Dryden to the east
- Danby to the south
- Newfield to the southwest
Ithaca is in the rural Finger Lakes Region about 250 miles to the northwest of New York City; the nearest larger cities, Binghamton and Syracuse, are an hour's drive away by car.
Ithaca is served by Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport, which provides daily service to the major cities of the Northeast with a mixture of propeller craft and small jets. US Airways, the sole commercial user of the airport, offers flights to New York LaGuardia and Philadelphia.
Ithaca lies at least a half hour's drive from any interstate highway, and all car trips to Ithaca involve at least some driving on two-lane rural roads. There is frequent bus service, particularly to New York City, but only freight trains use the valley's rails.
Problems faced by the city
Although Ithaca is considered by many to be a very desirable place to live, it also faces some problems. The main thoroughfares, Rt. 13, Rt. 79 and Rt. 89 are at times busy, despite the expansive but underused Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (http://www.tcatbus.com/index.shtml) public transportation system. Larger stores in commercial strips have drawn commerce out of the still vibrant Commons and Collegetown areas, and have made it somewhat difficult for Ithacans without cars to shop.
For decades, the Ithaca Gun Company dumped heavy metals near Fall Creek, one of the gorge-filling streams that flows into Cayuga Lake. The ecological damage to the lake will be seen for generations. The EPA began a major clean-up project sponsored by the United States Superfund in 2002 (completed - Nov 20, 2004).
- City of Ithaca's municipal Web site (http://www.ci.ithaca.ny.us/)
- Wikitravel article on Ithaca (http://www.wikitravel.org/en/article/Ithaca)