Median age: 22
Med. household income: $21,400
Med. home value: $183,500
Avg. commute: 14 mins.
Largest employers: Cornell U., Ithaca College, BorgWarner, Ithaca City School District, Cayuga Medical
Read more on visiting Ithaca.
THE REVIVAL: It's not too hard to shine when you boast more than a little Ivy League intellect, but even this progressive, two-college town at the foot of upstate New York's Finger Lakes has had a run of bad luck. In the '60s, the loss of small-scale manufacturing along the city's Cayuga Lake waterfront sent Ithaca into prolonged stagnation.
Thankfully, with Cornell University and Ithaca College facing off above town, locals didn't have to look far for creative solutions. Phase one: transforming two and a half blocks of downtown into the Commons, a mid-'70s version of Burlington's and Boulder's trendy walking malls. Things got crunchier in 1996, when the country's largest EcoVillage, a 60-home sustainable community with two organic farms, opened outside of town. The pace of change has only escalated in the past ten years, with a much-needed spiffing up along Cayuga's shores. Two miles of paved waterfront trail have already been finished, with four more to go, and local visionary Mack Travis and his son, Frost, are cleaning up and transforming the Ithaca Gun factory (a crumbling brick structure with a lead-contaminated field next to 150-foot Ithaca Falls) into condos. Downtown, the old Woolworth building is now the library, an abandoned printing plant is now live/work, and the EcoVillage is adding another 30 homes.
THE LIFE: Locals cycle centuries around Cayuga, trail-run portions of the 562-mile Finger Lakes Trail, and hike to Lucifer Falls, in nearby Robert H. Treman State Park. The legendarily veggie Moosewood Restaurant has been a Seneca Street landmark since 1973.
THE WORD ON THE STREET: ITHACA
"Where else in the U.S. does the Dalai Lama have a residence?"