Letter Concerning Redbud Woods

July 12, 2005

President Hunter Rawlings
Day Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14850

Dear President Rawlings:

Welcome back to this important leadership post. Thank you for your willingness to jump back into the fray, as all true leadership is required to do, to help guide Cornell in this interim time.

I am told you are now deliberating on the matter of Redbud Woods, and I want to weigh-in with you and with the larger public about my stance. I want to strongly urge that you make the decision to preserve this small, natural wooded area in the city and on the Cornell campus.

The former Ithaca Unitarian Minister, Jack Taylor, wrote many short essays, and I remember one entitled "Sacred Places", in which he spoke about a city needing sacred places if it is to have a soul. My reading of things is that Redbud Woods has become for many - students, faculty and townspeople - such a sacred place. Of course, the Cornell campus as a whole is a sacred place, and the Plantations within it. But most of that sacred place is well-manicured and often-touched by human hands, much deliberately added or changed.

Redbud Woods has sprung up naturally and is full of natural species, volunteer redbuds everywhere, and I think that is significant here. It is really a very sweet and lovely spot, a small refuge from the city around it. When I went to visit the spot recently, I thought of the Harvard-owned gardens in Washington DC - Dumbarton Oaks - that goes from very manicured gardens near the museum building and gets increasingly wild and untended the further one walks away from the building. I could imagine this becoming such a minimally-tended, "wild place" at Cornell, easily accessible to the neighbors and others.

I know some of the students well enough to believe that they may well be the best of the next generation. They are sincere and amazingly without ego for their age. They truly care about this little spot of natural beauty and peace, and they truly worry, for all the right reasons, about the larger environment - the entire planet. Perhaps we can’t expect them (or any of us) to care about the environment of the whole world if they can’t care deeply and passionately about this one little, seemingly insignificant, spot. I know some of the townspeople and faculty much better, and know them to be good, reasonable and committed people who will work over the long term on real solutions to the parking and transportation issues that Cornell and all of us are facing. I pledge to do everything I can, as well, to assist in such long-term planning.

I know Cornell won the court case and has the right to proceed, but it is a wise leader and a wise institution that choose not to use the power they have. I urge you to listen deeply to your students, those young people that Cornell has taught and nurtured, and to listen to so many of your faculty, the city and many area residents, including me. I hope you come to see how important this has become to so many. I hope you have gone to Redbud Woods yourself and, perhaps, feel what I felt on my recent stop there. The beauty of the natural world is right here, not just in far-off Alaska or other places people are working to protect. With all of the many building projects at Cornell, taking us into a futuristic world of nano-science and bio-science and space, perhaps it is, indeed, necessary to say "no" to a parking lot and "yes" to this small, natural preserve.

I know it would be difficult to do a U-turn at this point, but it would be a powerful statement about Cornell’s values and its willingness to listen. I hope you will consider doing so.

Barbara S Lifton
Member of Assembly
125th District