March 29, 2010

Cornell Bridges Get Ugly

I returned to Pittsburgh yesterday after visiting my son and daughter-in-law in Ithaca, New York, for a few days. My son recently began graduate study in winemaking at Cornell University, and the school was on its spring break last week. I had never before been to the Finger Lakes region of New York, so we did a lot of sightseeing.

One of the most unusual and picturesque features of the Cornell campus is the deep gorges that run through it. They are crossed by a number of vehicular and pedestrian bridges. (See campus map here.) As a fan of both scenery and bridges, I had to have a look.

Alas, all has not been well at Cornell of late, and I am not referring to its basketball team. Apparently, there have been six student suicides this year, and students seem to have developed the distressing habit of jumping off bridges into the gorge below. (See New York Times story here.)

Concerned about this trend, Cornell took advantage of spring break to install tall, chain-link fencing on its bridges. (See New York Times story here.) One can understand this response, of course, but it is difficult not to see the new fencing as an architectural travesty. The fences may prevent students from jumping off bridges, but Cornell students, even depressed ones, are likely imaginative enough to find other ways of doing themselves in if they are so determined.

The fencing mars the view of the gorge and creek below, not to mention giving the bridges the look of prison- rather than campus architecture. Happily, the wires at the tops of the fences are plain strands, rather than barbed- or razor-wire. One could surely climb over the fences, though not easily or inconspicuously.

According to the Times, Cornell is considering less obtrusive suicide-prevention barriers. I must say, however, that the installation of the current fencing does not seem at all temporary.

Cornell footbridgeA wire-cable suspension footbridge over Fall Creek, one of the longer and more interesting of the Cornell bridges. One can clearly see the fencing rising above the suspended trusses. The view is from a path that runs down the wall of the gorge. (Click photo for larger image.)

Memorial on bridgeTurston Avenue Bridge over Fall Creek. A wilting memorial bouquet can be seen here below the bridge railing. The silver pipes are posts for the eight-foot chain-link fence newly installed on the bridge. Beebe Dam is in the background. (Click photo for larger image.)

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