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Sustainable Tompkins is organizing a series of opinion pieces this spring in the Ithaca Times where we will be looking at the challenge of sustainable development in the face of rapid growth in housing demand.   The opening editorial by ST president Gay Nicholson and the second in the series by Frost Travis of Travis Hyde Properties will be followed by perspectives from elected officials, nonprofit developers, and community leaders. Our hope is to help advance the local conversation by improving our shared understanding of how the housing system is working in Tompkins County so that we have a better idea of where and how we might intervene to nudge outcomes toward economic and social justice and environmental stewardship.

The op-ed series is in support of our annual Earth Day Ithaca event on Saturday, April 23, 12-3 pm at The Space.  We’ll feature the annual People’s Choice ‘Signs of Sustainability’ Awards along with music, exhibitors, and featured speakers. In addition, this year we will be revisiting the teach-in format of the original Earth Day and participating in the International Earth Day Network’s Global Day of Conversation.  We envision hosting a discussion about densification, gentrification, carrying capacity, and how to distribute costs and benefits as we add people to our community.

We hope to seed interest in the teach-in by running this series of op-eds that explore the topic from a variety of perspectives.  Of course, these issues won’t be resolved in a two-hour discussion on Earth Day.  Our objective is to create a space for critical thinking about the assumptions underpinning our arguments and to develop more of a shared understanding of the systems in place and how they might be redesigned. In 2015, we saw many contested debates on proposed development projects and arguments over the best policy framework to assure adequate affordable housing.  Typically, these debates focused on the merits of individual projects, which may have obscured our collective ability to examine underlying economic theories and governance philosophies.  We need to have a deeper discussion about rates, distribution, and limits to growth and what endpoint we have in mind for ourselves. It is clear that Ithaca’s popularity is causing a housing affordability crisis for those already here.  The Ithaca area is slated for continued growth with additional infill projects, significant waterfront development, and housing complexes in several municipalities.

As the series progresses, we especially want to invite members of the Sustainable Tompkins community to go online and add comments or send in letters to the editor with content that you think will be useful for our collective understanding.  Data or anecdotes, insight or critique.  Please share what is constructive.