Shaping a City : Mack TravisShaping a City, Ithaca, New York: A Developer’s Perspective

Picture your downtown vacant and boarded up—while the malls surrounding your city are thriving. What would you do?

In 1974, the politicians, merchants, business and property owners, community leaders and the public teamed up to transform the main street of downtown Ithaca into a pedestrian mall.

Cornell University began an Industrial Research Park to keep and attract jobs, while developers began renovating run-down housing. Planners focused on downtown redevelopment by creating long-range plans, which included State Legislation to form a Business Improvement District (BID) with the authority to raise taxes up to 20%.

Shaping a City is the behind-the-scenes story of one developer’s involvement, from first buying and renovating small houses, gradually expanding and evolving his thinking and projects to include a recognition of the interdependence of the entire city—jobs, infrastructure, retail, housing, industry and City Planning.

It is the story of how he, along with other developers transformed a quiet, economically challenged upstate New York town into one that is nationally recognized as among the Best Small Cities in the country. They were able to accomplish this by adopting an approach of cooperation and mutual support. Working through their local BID—the Downtown Ithaca Alliance—to produce feasibility studies, ten-year strategic plans, affordable housing, and tax abatements.

The lessons and principles of personal relationships, cooperation and collaboration, the importance of density and the power of a Business Improvement District to catalyze change, are ones you can take home for the development and revitalization of your city.

Shaping a City, New York: A Developer’s Perspective, published by Cornell Publishing, an imprint of Cornell University Press, is excellent reading material, and could serve several purposes; a real estate or urban planning development guide, a potential student reference, or required reading material, a model for revival and sustainability of small-town downtowns, as well as a commentary on business through social interaction, public involvement, cooperation and collaboration.

Book Recommendations:

“Mack Travis is one of Ithaca’s most creative thinkers and doers. His ideas on downtown revitalization, quality development, and community planning have helped to transform Ithaca. Shaping a City tells the story of Ithaca’s evolution and provides a practical guide to creating better, more livable and walkable communities.” — Ed McMahon, Senior Resident Fellow, Urban Land Institute and Chairman of the National Main Street Center, Washington DC

“Ithaca, as an isolated city, is a laboratory and case study for community development. Mack leads us through the minefields of diverse interests culminating in cohesive teamwork focused on a common goal.” — Kenneth Danter, The Danter Company, LLC
“Mack Travis’s reflections on the trials and tribulations of development in a progressive community are truly insightful. As a state legislator for thirty-two years, I was proud that our action in authorizing BIDs, a rare positive action on our part for upstate economic development, was met with appreciation from the community.” — George H. Winner, Jr., retired New York State Senator.

“When you read his many stories you might think Mack is exaggerating. To the contrary, he understates his integral contributions. Mack’s knowledge and experience, combined with compassion and good-natured approach to everything, provide the reader with a human perspective on how a community develops and changes over time.”—Alan J. Cohen, Mayor of Ithaca 1996-2003

Shaping a City is about shaping community, a family, a portfolio, and a livable city. Aligning apparently competing interests for the mutual benefit of community is a profound and refreshing conviction that is articulated here. American sprawl is a cancer that requires this books enlightened approach to address town by town nationally.”—Tom Rossiter, Fellow, The American Institute of Architects

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Shaping a City : Mack Travis

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