The future of urbanism according to the 27-year-old mayor of Ithaca•
Jeff Guo, Staff Writer
When — at 24 — Svante Myrick became the mayor of Ithaca, N.Y., there loomed the unavoidable comparison to that other oddly-named, biracial politician raised by a single white mother.
In high school, Myrick’s grandmother had given him a copy of “Dreams from My Father,” which he devoured with an eerie sense of déjà lu.
“It was like reading my diary with wisdom inserted in,” he told theSyracuse Post-Standard after his election in 2011.
Upon taking office, Myrick was profiled on “Rock Center with Brian Williams” in a segment that highlighted his hard-knock upbringing. His father struggled with drug addiction. His mother worked three jobs to raise him and his siblings. Early on, the family slipped in and out of homelessness for a while.
Now 27, Myrick, a Cornell graduate, is entering the final year of his term a six-year veteran of city politics.
Ithaca’s prosperity defies the woes blanketing the rest of upstate New York. In 2013, the New York Times ran an admiring story on the college town. Having Cornell in its back yard helps, of course; but the Times also credited Myrick for his leadership and his idealism.
At the National Opportunity Summit, a conference about youth unemployment Thursday in D.C., Myrick joined the mayors of Philadelphia and Birmingham in a discussion about extending opportunity to those systematically starved of it.
“In many of our neighborhoods, our young people die from a lack of exposure to what the world is beyond the three blocks around their house,” said Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia.
Nutter talked about the importance of giving young people early work experience, to teach them skills and to teach them how to dream bigger.
Myrick added that workforce training was equally important, and that cities could do better at connecting their own citizens to the companies who need workers.
“For young people, particularly people who are not succeeding in schools, they need to see a clear bright line between that employment training program and a job at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
In Ithaca this past year, Myrick opened a hospitality training program in preparation for several hotels being built downtown. “We could say, that building you’re seeing being erected is going to need 40 people to work there. And we’re going to give you a certificate that will prepare you on day one to walk in and ask for a job,” he said.
Thursday, Myrick sat down to chat about the future of cities. He has a politician’s polish, but few of the hammy tendencies. In speeches, and especially in conversation, he turns the volume down to signal that the topic is serious.
Myrick has a millennial’s vision of city life: walkable and dense. (Thursday, he sported a black Jawbone fitness tracker.) He believes that environmentalism implies urbanism and vice versa. As mayor he oversaw rezoning efforts to attract more and higher development downtown. He takes the bus often and regards parking lots as a blight.
When asked three years ago, Myrick told “Rock Center” that New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (D) was his role model. Booker later invited him to visit; they have each other’s numbers now. Myrick says he’ll text Booker for advice when he’s having problems.
As his term wraps up at the end of the year, Myrick won’t say where he’s headed next. He’s having a lot of fun as mayor, but politicians are supposed to keep their options open, you know?