Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | December 17, 2009

The Ithaca is Doomed Year in Review, Part II: 2009 A Year of Predicaments

Last week, I compared different problematic situations that have been in the news in Ithaca this past year to the arms of Kali, Hindu Goddess of Destruction.  Each of these “arms” is an aspect of the larger predicament facing civilization as a whole, TEOTWAWKI, the demise of our fossil-fuel dependent way of life.  We have been building up to this dénouement for the past 200 years—now we are watching it unravel.  2009 was a great year to be a spectator in Ithaca, New York! Once again, you’ll find the juiced up headline followed by some Doomer analysis.

Arm of Kali #3:  Police state vs. Freedom

Ithaca Mayor Hires laid off Blackwater Guards for City Hall Security:  “Isn’t it ironic?” she says.

Following the lead of World Hero, Muntader-al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George Bush, there was a rash of copycat shoe throwing incidents around the country.  It was only natural, that one of those incidents would take place in Ithaca.  Former Weather Underground member, Robin Palmer, brought a bag of shoes to an Ithaca Common Council meeting.  After his allotted three minutes, he reached into his bag and lobbed two shoes towards the Mayor and members of Common Council.  Palmer was acting in protest of Common Council’s “Community of Sanctuary Resolution.” The Council passed the resolution unanimously at its October 2008 meeting. The resolution declares Ithaca a “Community of Sanctuary, thus respecting the rights of its residents to support lawfully and proactively military personnel and veterans who are organizing to stop the wars in and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and all future violations of the United Nations Nuremberg Charters.”

Palmer was angry that Common Council presumed to label the wars, “immoral.”  The best quote from the whole snafu occurred when Palmer pulled a third shoe from his bag.  “Who wants another one?” he said.  Palmer then asked for the shoes back before he was hauled off to the hospital for a mental health evaluation.  In response, the Mayor’s office decided to institute enhanced security policies at City Hall.  These measures include hiring armed guards and having meeting attendees pass through metal detectors on their way in to Council Chambers.

What was it Benjamin Franklin said?  “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Like the bad kid in class, the few bad apples ruin freedom for the rest of us.  First, the Sciencenter starts checking ID’s…now this!?  While the Mayor’s decision may seem like an overreaction to a thrown shoe, there have been some notable incidents of violence in government facilities.  In 2008, a gunman killed five people at a small town Missouri city hall.  One need only recall the bat shit crazy lunacy of last summer’s Health Care Reform Town Hall Meetings to realize that armed guards might not be such a bad idea.  Unfortunately, the bonds of community trust are coming apart at the seams.  Even here in Ithaca, New York, the terrorists don’t even need to strike to win.  We’re already doing the job ourselves. 

 Arm of Kali #4:  The demise of the central school in public education

New Roots Charter School Announces 2009 Holiday performance of “The Junky’s Christmas” by William S. Burroughs

The opening of a charter school in Ithaca sparked another shit storm of controversy in 2009.  According to its charter, “New Roots Charter School will empower young people as citizens and entrepreneurs that create just, democratic communities, and thriving green economies that restore the natural world that sustains us. Excelling in both traditional and innovative curriculum areas, our students will learn actively, think critically, and solve problems creatively and collaboratively, developing the knowledge and skills to redesign our communities for social, economic, and ecological sustainability.” 

Opponents of the school felt that the current economic climate was not conducive to opening a new school, that public funds were too sparse and endangered to justify it.  What went unspoken was the opposition to the “Sustainability Curriculum.”  Many New Roots supporters were demonized by the opposition who accused the school of planning to “indoctrinate” children with a liberal curriculum.  Isn’t indoctrination the whole point of public school?  It seems like the opponents were just upset that New Roots students wouldn’t receive the usual form of state sponsored brainwashing.

While I’m no fan of public education, New Roots has some good things going for it, especially when considered against the backdrop of a world on the downside of Peak Oil.  The school is housed in a historic downtown building, a creative form of adaptive reuse.  The curriculum emphasizes sustainability and social justice as core principles.  There is a strong service element to the work required of the students and the idea of “learning from the community” is incorporated into the activities the students undertake.  Most importantly, the charter school provides a model for what the public schools of the future might look like.

It took $5.00/gallon diesel for everyone to sit up and take notice of energy costs in relation to busing students from the rural hinterlands to a centralized public school.  The proposed solution at the time was higher taxes.  How much will it take before taxpayers demand a more common sense solution to the problem?  Like it or not, small neighborhood schools will be the wave of the future in an energy poor world.  We’ll simply have to scale back our expectations and adapt in a creative manner to the demands of Peak Oil.  New Roots is a sign of things to come.

Arm of Kali #5:  Historic preservation vs. practical utility

Markles Flats and the Tragedy of the Commons, an Ithaca Christmas Carol!


Delapidated, toxic Markles Flats

The Markles Flats building was a 19th century industrial building once used as a coal gassification plant, the “Clean Coal” of the 19th Century.  Like many former industrial sites around Ithaca, there is a toxic plume underneath the building and block upon which it sits.  New York State Electric and Gas is currently removing contaminated soil from the block around the building.  The soil on the block and underneath Markles Flats is contaminated with carcinogenic coal tar.  NYSEG has agreed to remove the coal tar underneath the building if it gets demolished first.  The only problem is that the building is protected by a historic designation.  The Ithaca City School District is the current owner of the building and they, too, would like to see it demolished.  Unfortunately, the Ithaca Landmarks Commission has ruled that the building must be preserved.  While it might make sense to preserve the building if it were in decent shape, Markles Flats has fallen to ruin.  It may be architecturally unique, but there is nothing practically redeeming about this building from the standpoint of utility–the cost to preserve it would have to be borne by an already overburdened taxpayer base and there is a potent carcinognen lurking beneath the building that renders it uninhabitable for future reuse.  In a dream, I learned of a more creative way to use the building and block upon which it sits…

I was visited by three ghosts.  The Ghost of Christmas Past showed me that the entire City of Ithaca was built upon a toxic waste dump.  He warned me that we must do all we can to avoid adding more to the toxic legacy and to take advantage of the present to mitigate it.  The Ghost of Christmas Present warned me that I would be spending Christmas alone if I did not watch my preachy and pedantic Doomer ways.  I thanked him for the warning and told him to screw off.  The Ghost of Christmas Future, instead of a figure of Spectral Sorrow, turned out to be none other than Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson!  As we explored the burned out husk of Markles Flats together, we had a most illuminating conversation.

Ithaca Mayor and Ghost of Christmas Future, Carolyn Peterson

“Mayor Peterson,” I asked, “What do you see as the future of this building?”

“I know,’ she said, “That the days seem dark, that the forces of mindless, impractical bureaucracy seem to be winning, but have faith.  I plan to overrule the decision of the Landmarks Commission.  There are better uses for this neighborhood site.  When you are in a triage situation, as we are now with Peak Oil, you do not undertake to preserve the unpreservable.   We are going to demolish the building and clean up the toxic waste.  We will donate the bricks to anyone who wants them to build a rocket stove in their backyard.  We’ll even supply a consultant to assist city residents with the project.  I see a vibrant urban permaculture project for this inner city neighborhood!  We’ll bring in Growing Power founder, Will Allen, to guide us in turning this block into an urban oasis of gardens, aqua culture ponds, and a food forest.  He’ll be a much better choice than the usual overpaid douchebags we hire for this sort of thing.  I envision a program for local youth, apprenticeships in small scale urban farming.  I see rainwater harvesting!  I see a flock of urban sheep, who could trim the lawns in city parks!  We’ll put Gary (Ferguson, Director of the Ithaca Downtown Partnership) in charge of them!”

“But Mayor Peterson,” I asked, “Wouldn’t the Markles Flats site be better used to build yet more overpriced, ugly ass condominium housing and retail selling shit that no one needs so that we can build up the tax base?”

“No, my friend,” she answered. “We have asked much of the citizens of Ithaca over the past several years.  It’s time we gave something back to the community.  Instead of symbolic, yet ultimately meaningless gestures, like Martin Luther King Jr. Street, the Markles Flats community farm will be a gift to the future, and a model of what can truly be done in terms of adapting in place for a low energy future.  For now, we’ve got the new Olive Garden moving in on Route 13 south to enhance our tax base.”

“What do you think about that by the way?”

“To quote Phillip Levine, it makes me want to “squeal and shit like a new housewife discovering television for the first time.”  We’re in for a little Gastrointestinal Doom here in Ithaca!  Bwahahahaha!”

“Wow, Mayor Peterson, Phillip Levine is your favorite poet too?”

And with that, I awoke, shaken, but hopeful, realizing that the whole dream was probably the result of having eaten way too much vegan eggplant parmigiana.  MerryXmas Ithaca!




  1. Oh if only your dream were true!

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