Ithaca is a great place to live. We have more restaurants per capita than New York City*. There are plenty of excellent places to seek higher education, like Cornell, IC and TC3. We host music festivals, food festivals, and we even dedicate an entire magical weekend to Harry Potter. There are beautiful gorges to hike through, awesome local and state parks to enjoy, rolling hills all around, a lake for swimming and boating. There’s even a huge waterfall LITERALLY across the street from Ithaca High School. As an adult who has chosen Ithaca as my home, my super biased opinion is that Ithaca is AMAZING.
But what about the people living in our cool little city who don’t live, work, or study here by choice — the ones whose parents moved here for work, or who have grown up here from birth? What do they think of Ithaca?
This week, YES asked students at IHS and LACS what they thought would make Ithaca a better place for teens. Some of them told us that they think Ithaca is already great as it is. As summed up by one teen, “I think Ithaca is dope.” Teens who feel this way tend to be really connected to their school and community. They are teens with easy access to transportation, ties to sports teams or school clubs, and plenty of time to spend with their friends. When pressed for a way to make Ithaca even better than it already is for them, many told us they’d like to see a Chick-Fil-A or a Sky Zone in Ithaca. No argument there. We do have a real shortage of fried chicken and trampolines, here at the bottom of Cayuga Lake.
When asked what they thought would make Ithaca better, though, the vast majority of teens said they would like one of three things: more free places to hang out (especially in the winter), more free activities, and a better shopping mall where they can hang out and shop for designer brands.
free places to hang out
One of the biggest suggestions for making Ithaca better for teens is having more free places to hang out, especially when the cold weather renders the Commons and the local parks unpleasant. Sure, they could hang out at a cafe or go ice skating, but those things cost money, and not every teen has money to spend.
Although there’s always room for improvement when it comes to creating safe spaces dedicated to teens, Ithaca is off to a good start. Here are a couple of places to check out, next time you want to hang out:
Tompkins County Public Library
Our friendly neighborhood library just did a HUGE overhaul on their teen section by building a room just for teens. Sit in a booth with a friend and chat about life. Grab a book and spin while you read in a spun chair. Surf the web on their computers. Or take advantage of one of the many teen programs the library offers. Check it out here.
GIAC Teen Lounge
The GIAC Teen Lounge is open to all local teens. You can get help with your homework, get some food, join a hip-hop dance class, or just hang around and enjoy free time. Check here for more info.
Ithaca has tons of teen-friendly activities -- skating or swimming at Cass Park, shopping on the Commons, we even have a state-of-the art rock climbing gym, if you feel like trekking up to Cornell. The problem, as one teen put it: “There’s plenty to do, the sad part is, nothing’s ever free.”
There are a lot of activities in Ithaca that aren’t free, but free activities are out there. You just need to know where to look. Here are a couple to get you started:
Southside Community Center
From basketball clinics and tutoring sessions, to barbeques, festivals and parties, Southside has so many teen-friendly activities, and their offerings are always growing. Check out what’s up at Southside by following on Instagram @ithacasouthsidepride or on their Facebook page, Southside Community Center, Inc.
AskPearl puts Ithaca in your pocket. It’s a free app for your smartphone that lists places, food and events in Ithaca by relevant categories. There are even categories for free upcoming events and events specifically for teens. AskPearl will keep you up to date on everything happening in Ithaca. Next time you find yourself wishing there were something free for your to do, just AskPearl.
a "better" mall
A big part of the reason so many teens claim to want a “better” mall in Ithaca goes back to wanting more places to hang out, especially when the weather is not conducive to being outside. That being said, a lot of them also want easier access to specific stores, like H&M or Forever 21.
If you’re finding yourself dissatisfied with the lack of your favorite brand-name stores nearby, here are some alternatives to consider:
The Commons, the Dewitt Mall, and the Farmer’s Market are full of really fun and interesting stores and vendors. You may not be able to get the exact brands you’re looking for, but you’re sure to find some unique clothing and accessories. Also, supporting local businesses is a great way to help boost the local economy.
Open a Bank Account
If you can’t find a place to spend your money, maybe it’s time to consider opening a savings account. Save up for college, a car, or a new cell phone. Or just save for the next time you can get to one of your favorite stores outside of Ithaca. Establishing a solid routine of saving even a little every month is a great way to set yourself up for success in the future, and saving your money now will help you gain financial independence from the adults in your life.
Ithaca may not have anywhere to get fried chicken or jump on huge trampolines. We may not have all the big name stores that teens wish were here. But we’ve got a lot of great resources for teens. No matter where you go, there will always be room for improvement, but Ithaca is pretty great. If you need help connecting with the resources in our community, give YES a call at 273-8364. Our mission is to prepare teens for success and connect them to opportunities.