Designed with extensive public outreach and opened in the summer of 2016, the Ithaca Commons is the now enlivened heart of this eclectic and lovely city nestled in the Fingers Lake region of Upstate New York. The design demonstrates the best of well-orchestrated streetscape design – creating a vibrant public realm that knits together an economically-significant downtown district – while also providing for improved environmental health through integrated sustainable design features.
The Commons itself is a pedestrian mall – one of many created in America’s college towns during the second half of the 20th century. Many of these “closed streets” did not persist into the 21st century, undone by the perceived convenience of suburban shopping malls. The Commons did survive, but had suffered from many years of deferred or under-funded maintenance. Further, utilities beneath the surface lacked the capacity for today’s retail needs or were on the verge of time-induced failure. This was the context when Sasaki’s design team, led by Gina Ford, was tasked with a master plan for upgrades.
Inspired by the regional ecology, the project’s design draws inspiration from the geometric pattern of Ithaca’s famed gorges. Its paving pattern references this regional natural context while also honoring historic circulation patterns. Amenity zones within the streetscape reinforce visual access to the rows of storefronts while providing lush green places for people to sit. Bank Alley, a cross-street to the Commons main thoroughfare, serves as a gathering place with a fixed stage for concerts, protests, and performances.Project Images