For the past several weeks, many of us have had one eye on our cell phone as we monitored and voted for Ithaca as the “Best Outdoor Town in America”. The contest, organized by Outside Magazine, started with 64 contestant cities and pitted them one against another against in a tournament elimination format. Ithaca emerged as a “final four” city from the East, out voting competitor cities Newburyport, MA, Gettysburg, PA, Portland, ME, and Burlington, VT along the way. It is a privilege to be part of such an outstanding group of cities.
As most of us already know, Ithaca missed becoming a finalist by the scantest of margin (51%/49%) to the West winner: Provo, Utah. As Outside magazine reported, this was the closest of races. The Magazine reported that the lead changed at least 11 times on the last voting day- Sunday, as each city worked to get out its fans and supporters. The voting ended at 11:59 pm-Ithaca was actually ahead at 10:00 pm, but couldn’t hold its tenuous lead. Provo is now in the finals competing against semi-final winner Duluth, MN.
What struck me about this experience was Ithaca’s ability to pull together and work for a common goal-promotion of the community. Being selected as a one of America’s best is not new for Ithaca. We are recipients of a number of top rankings and accolades. But seldom are we called upon to demonstrate our civic boosterism and pride. This we did over the past several weeks— beating several amazing communities-Portland and Burlington, and then almost beating a city three times our size that is very, very experienced in civic boosterism: Provo.
That’s the interesting point here. Having lived in the Midwest and the West, I can speak firsthand about the level and intensity of civic pride and boosterism that takes place in cities such as Provo and Duluth. These communities, like so many cities from that expansive part of the country, are truly isolated and have needed to engage in the art of boosterism since their inception. Their engines of civic pride are revved to full throttle and when they are in a contest such as this, it is easy to see their civic engagement in full form. Here in Ithaca, and quite frankly throughout the East, this phenomenon is less prevalent.
Yet, we were able to muster 34,000 plus votes in five days, go toe to toe with an excellent national competitor, and very nearly win. Being the number three ranked city-that’s a definitely a big deal. But even bigger is demonstrating to ourselves that we have the civic pride that can bond and unite a community. Last week that civic pride was all about winning a contest. As we look forward, the same civic energy can be unleashed at structural poverty, at racism and prejudice, at sustainable community building. That’s an exciting vision and prospect. So thank you to all who participating and rallied for Ithaca. It felt good, and it will feel even better as we harness that same enthusiasm for building a better community.