Ithaca, 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 Central New York.



Cascadilla Creek, one the main gorges in Ithaca, in Winter
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.

The gorge of Cascadilla Creek in Spring
The gorge of Cascadilla Creek 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, as almost 20,000 students are enrolled at Cornell, with an additional 6,300 students at Ithaca College. The Ithaca City School District, which encompasses Ithaca and the surrounding area, enrolls approximately 5,500 K-12 students in eight elementary schools, two middle schools, Ithaca High School, and the Lehman Alternative Community School.

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 (, a civic orchestra, much parkland, a science museum ( for children, and a new paleontological museum ( They continue to attempt to maintain a traditional downtown shopping area, a mix of a pedestrian mall (the Ithaca Commons) and a small, moderately 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.

Some in the community regret that the existing downtown has lost ground to two expanding zones of commercial space to the northeast and southwest of the old city. These areas contain an increasing number of large retail stores and restaurants run by national chains. Others argue that this increased development has benefited those with lower incomes by offering more inexpensive prices on everyday goods as well as increasing sales tax revenue for the city and the county. In the past, many residents traveled to Cortland, Elmira and Syracuse in order to shop at these popular chains. The tradeoff between reducing sprawl and spurring economic development continues to be debated throughout the city and the surrounding area.

Missing image
The Clinton House, a 19th century building in downtown Ithaca

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. The collective Moosewood Restaurant, founded in 1973, was the wellspring for a number of vegetarian cookbooks; Bon Appetit magazine ranked it among the thirteen most influential restaurants of the twentieth century.

The city is also home to one of the United States' first local currency systems, the Ithaca Hours which has failed to catch on among most residents. Ithaca has also 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, the Cornell Daily Sun, the Ithacan, and the the Tattler. (The latter three are run by student staffs at Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Ithaca High School, respectively.) Local residents often subscribe to out-of-town papers as well. The Post Standard of Syracuse and the New York Times are popular among many community members.

Local government

The name "Ithaca" actually designates two governmental entities in the area. The Town of Ithaca is one of the nine towns comprised by Tompkins County. The City of Ithaca is surrounded by, but legally 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:

The Town of Ithaca is bordered by other towns of Tompkins County as follows:

The East Hill area of the city:  Cornell campus and Collegetown
The East Hill area of the city: Cornell campus and Collegetown

Population and income figures

For census and income data on the two municipalities called "Ithaca" see Ithaca (city), New York and Ithaca (town), New York.

Ithaca town serves as a Central Place town for 90,000-100,000 people.


Missing image
Location of Ithaca within New York State

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, located about three miles to the northeast of the city center. US Airways Express offers flights to New York LaGuardia and Philadelphia using a mixture of small jets and propeller craft. Northwest Airlink provides twice-daily service to Detroit Metro airport. Many residents travel to Syracuse Hancock International Airport or Greater Rochester International Airport for more service options.

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 state rural highways. There is frequent intercity bus service by Greyhound, Adirondack Trailways, and Shortline (First Transit), particularly to New York City. Tompkins Consoldiated Area Transit ( operates thirty nine public transit routes. GADABOUT Transportation Services, Inc. provides demand -response paratransit service for seniors over 60 and people with disabiltiies. Ithaca Dispatchand ( Finger Lakes Taxi provide local and regional taxi service. Ithaca Airline Limousine connects to the airport. Regional short haul 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. One key problem is transportation. As a growing urban area, Ithaca is facing rapid increases in levels of vehicular traffic on the city grid and on the state highways. The city is at the convergence of many regional two-lane state highways: Routes 13, 13A, 34, 79, 89, 96, and 96B. Ithaca is one of the few small urbanized areas without direct access to the American Interstate highway system. The City's emphasis is on traffic management and better using the existing road capacity rather than building new roads. The Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council ( is the coordinating body for federal and state funded transportation projects covering Ithaca.

One positive trend for the health of downtown Ithaca is the new wave of increasing urban density in and around the Ithaca Commons. But as multi-story mixed-use projects (of offices, hotels, shops, parking and residences) are built, traffic congestion around the Commons will progressively increase.

Retail development trends in the city have created traffic pressure in neighborhoods. In the late 1990's, the City decided to encourage "big box" retail development in an area known as the Southwest. To influence traffic traveling through neighborhoods, the City Government ({A32743F9-A812-49AA-8CC6-5BAA46CFF96C}) adopted traffic plans to introduce traffic calming elements on City roads including, traffic tables at intersections, mini traffic circles, traffic humps, and a traffic rotary. The City also rebuilt a bridge over Six Mile Creek.

In 2005, Mayor Peterson emphasized pedestrian and bicycle circulation, safety education and traffic enforcement. Highly publicized pedestrian-vehicle and bicycle-vehicle accidents have focused attention on these traffic conflicts. Underfunding of sidewalk construction and maintenance are basic pedestrian infrastructure issues facing the City.

Ithaca is the center of an extensive public transportation system, Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit ( (TCAT) which carried 2.8 million passengers in 2004. TCAT was reorganized as a non-profit corporation in 2004 and is primarily supported locally by Cornell University, the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County.

The near-disappearance of grocery stores from neighborhood areas (replaced by larger stores in the commercial strips) has made it harder for Ithacans without cars to shop for food.

For decades, the Ithaca Gun Company dumped lead near Fall Creek (a tributary of Cayuga Lake) and Ithaca Falls. A major clean-up effort sponsored by the United States Superfund took place from 2002 to 2004.

Since the Tompkins County Assessment Department re-assesses property values annually, significant increases in property values in the City cause burdens to property owners facing higher local property taxes for the Ithaca School DIstrict, City of Ithaca and Tompkins County. House shopping is very competitive.

Transportation, development, income distribution, pollution and taxes are some of the issues being considered locally by people intersted in sustainable development (

External links

Flag of New York

State of New York




Adirondack Mountains | Capital District | Catskill Mountains | Central | Finger Lakes | The Holland Purchase | Hudson Valley | Long Island | Mohawk Valley | Shawangunks | Southern Tier | Upstate | Western

Major metros:

Albany | Binghamton | Buffalo | New York | Rochester | Syracuse | Utica

Smaller cities:

Amsterdam | Auburn | Batavia | Canandaigua | Corning | Cortland | Dunkirk | Elmira | Geneva | Glen Cove | Glens Falls | Gloversville | Goshen | Hornell | Hudson | Ilion | Ithaca | Jamestown | Kingston | Lockport | Malone | Massena | Middletown | New Paltz | Newark | Ogdensburg | Olean | Oneida | Oneonta | Oswego | Plattsburgh | Port Jervis | Poughkeepsie | Riverhead | Rome | Saratoga Springs | Warwick | Watertown


Albany | Allegany | Bronx | Broome | Cattaraugus | Cayuga | Chautauqua | Chemung | Chenango | Clinton | Columbia | Cortland | Delaware | Dutchess | Erie | Essex | Franklin | Fulton | Genesee | Greene | Hamilton | Herkimer | Jefferson | Kings (Brooklyn) | Lewis | Livingston | Madison | Monroe | Montgomery | Nassau | New York (Manhattan) | Niagara | Oneida | Onondaga | Ontario | Orange | Orleans | Oswego | Otsego | Putnam | Queens | Rensselaer | Richmond (Staten Island) | Rockland | Saint Lawrence | Saratoga | Schenectady | Schoharie | Schuyler | Seneca | Steuben | Suffolk | Sullivan | Tioga | Tompkins | Ulster | Warren | Washington | Wayne | Westchester | Wyoming | Yates

de:Ithaca eo:Ithaca (Nov-Jorkio) fr:Ithaca (New York)


  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools