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Recycle Ithaca's Bicycles

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Recycle Ithaca's Bicycles (RIBs)
Founded 1991
Dissolved 2020
Location Ithaca, New York, United States
Services Offered
Mission Statement

Early on, in the early 1990's, Recycle Ithaca's Bicycles was simply a project to give primarily Black children of Ithaca's inner city something productive and positive to do with their time, through making use of a great surplus of abandoned bikes readily available throughout the city streets. The idea was germinated through a series of discussions between a local Black reverend and members of Ithaca's Green Party.

Into the early 2000's, not only had the city begun to change, but the need of the city's Black youth did as well. Due in some part to RIBs' mission, but perhaps more generally due to an overall rise in standards for municipal organization and general standard of living for residents, discarded bicycles were no longer littering the city streets, and Black inner city youth now had a wider variety of options for activities.

By this time, Recycle Ithaca's Bicycles had developed a strong volunteer (mostly non-Black) DIY culture that maintained the shop, and while catering to the needs of Ithaca's Black youth, had through publicity and popularity broadened its clientele to include anyone in need, or with a passion for environmentalism or bicycles (being a majority non-Black city, the majority of the city's impoverished and homeless were themselves non-Black).

At this point, the shop was more or less a socialist cooperative functioning in earnest for the public good. Probably because of its pre-Southside origins in the Ithaca Green Party, it had always had an almost subliminal culture of environmentalism as well, and this emerged as a more conscious mission around this time.

Around 2002 or so, RIBs had solidified into a project that prioritized community and individual empowerment and ecological responsibility, and which fostered these ideals through an open and collaborative skillsharing environment.

The Black children of Ithaca were still an important part of this practice, but as the program had never attracted a critical mass of Black staff, mostly the introduction of this important demographic to the program was left to the responsibility of the all-Black administrative staff of the Southside Community Center, who over time devoted less and less bandwidth to consideration of the RIBs program. This contrasted sharply with the level of development the program had attained, well beyond its simplistic origins. The staff and volunteers of the program by this time featured a significant quantity of professionals, academics, activists, and experienced nonprofit workers, and procedures at the shop were not only well established, but complex and streamlined.

Eventually, through sporadic yet consistent closures over the decades, some of which spanned several years, these tensions came to a head toward the end of 2020 as the pandemic conditions were winding down. The administration of the Southside Community Center, arriving at a consensus that RIBs had for years been developing along its own evolutionary path, decided to fire all staff and shut it down.

Their intentions were to eventually reuse the RIBs name and reopen its old address under that name, with a keener eye on maintaining control of its operations and culture. Almost a year after the closure of RIBs' old location, they reopened the building and claimed to be also reopening RIBs.

As of January 2024, the only mission statement the SsCC administration has provided for activities at the old RIBs address is "To Affirm, Empower, and Foster Black Leadership and Liberation Through Bicycling in Our Community". The building is consistently closed in contradiction to its advertised hours, has no experienced mechanics or workspace managers on staff, and has lost a large amount of its parts and tools to theft and neglect. The few experienced staff hired after 2020 left, in most cases after only a few months.

Whether or not this is true to the history and purpose of the program is a matter of wildly disputed public opinion in Ithaca.

Location and Hours

Once upon a time but no longer, 530 W. Buffalo St., Ithaca, NY 14850

General Information

Recycle Ithaca’s Bicycles was a community bike program that operated in Ithaca for almost thirty years, and which was sponsored by Ithaca's Southside Community Center for around twenty of those years, up until its closure by the administration of the SsCC in September of 2020.

RIBs accepted donations of bicycles and bicycle parts and rerouted them from landfills, saving objects of history and usefulness from the scrap stream. While it was in operation, RIBs provided a collegial environment where people of all ages and backgrounds could learn about bike repair, reuse, engineering, ecology, and how to work cooperatively and constructively with others. RIBs was a pioneering program in the sustainability movement, developing and sustaining methods and principles for circularity and zero waste decades before the terms became popular in public discourse.

The primary function of RIBs was open shop. That environment was open to both youth and adults, and required no fees or memberships, though donations were always welcome. Used parts were at various points available either in return for volunteer hours, or on a pay-what-you-want basis.



See Also