Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

DC Library Planning Part ?

Martin Luther King, Jr. Central Library, Washington, DCMartin Luther King, Jr. Central Library, Washington, DC, Washington Post photo.

Today's Post has an article about the DC Library "planning" process, "Overhaul Urged For D.C. Libraries." From the article:

More than $450 million is needed to properly fix the District's public library system, a task force said yesterday, because the buildings suffer from years of neglect and should be almost entirely rebuilt. The draft report released yesterday marks the launch of the public phase of an effort by Mayor Anthony A. Williams to change the face of the frayed library system.

It calls for adding at least 400 computers in the city's 27 libraries, replacing half of the books in the next three years and expanding and reorganizing staff. The decision to release the report hours before the first of a series of public-comment meetings drew fire from critics... The task force, appointed last year by Williams (D), said that a new library headquarters was needed and that most neighborhood branches should be rebuilt as large, single-story facilities attractive enough to draw in passersby.
Note: I will interrupt here to say that this is EXACTLY THE WRONG DIRECTION. Buildings shouldn't necessarily be one story sprawling facilities, but community assets tightly integrated into neighborhoods and neighborhood commercial districts, and designed in ways that are in concert with urban design principles and push forward neighborhood stabilization and improvement. One story buildings generally are not the way to go in urban centers. DC is a city, not a suburb, and the building forms, especially those constructed by the City Government, need to reflect this reality.

However, I have not yet read the Library planning documents, so I have to lay off further comments. (Although I am printing them off right now--or at least parts--the "Draft Technical Report" is 328 pages.)
...Williams appointed the panel to survey libraries across the country and draft a blueprint for remaking the D.C. system. He included such respected people as Vartan Gregorian, who led the rebuilding of New York's public library system, National Geographic chief librarian Susan Fifer Canby and Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham.

But skeptics questioned whether those luminaries played a significant role in the panel's work and said the 37-page summary report -- lofty at times in rhetoric but short on specifics -- gave little evidence that they had. "I could have written this report in a week, and it would have been every bit as good as this and better," said Leonard Minsky of the D.C. Library Renaissance Project, a group started three years ago by consumer advocate Ralph Nader to call for changes in the system.

Minsky blasted the task force's decision to issue its draft report hours before the first of 10 scheduled "listening sessions" through which the panel hopes to glean public input before completing its report. The task force, he said, should have held such community forums at the start of the process, then done its work and reported back. "It's all backwards and upside down," Minsky said. "It shows real contempt for the public and for real public input."
Initially, Hill had not planned to release the draft report, saying members of the public might wrongly assume its recommendations were final. But in the face of public criticism, he relented.
Speaking of library planning, check out this article, "Wichitans want more from libraries: Survey finds library patrons would like bookstore-style amenities," from the Wichita Eagle, where as part of the library planning process a survey of users and non-users was conducted. (Note that some of the findings in Wichita are similar to those proposed in the DC Library planning documents.) From the article:

As part of the board's effort, Robert Ross and Esther Headley of Wichita State University's Center for Management Development, surveyed 500 Wichitans and conducted four focus groups last fall. The survey collected information on how often and which libraries people use, what additional services they would like to see and how far they are willing to drive to a library. The survey included frequent library users and non-users.
The survey indicates that people want:

• Extended branch operating hours and check-out times.
• Updated book, CD, video and DVD collections.
• More computers and service options such as online check-out and wireless Internet connections.
• Cafes or coffee shops in libraries.

Imaginon -- Children's Library/Theater, Charlotte, NCImaginon -- Children's Library/Theater, Charlotte, NC. Architect rendering.

Augusta - of Maine Library, Museum, and Archives. Boston Globe photo.

Watha T. Daniel Public Library, DCWatha T. Daniel Public Library, DC, (A9 photo).
T his urban brutalist-designed library was built in the urban renewal period, probably the very early 1970s. Plans are to demolish this building and replace it. Which should be an example that single use facilities aren't necessarily the way to go forward.

Northwest Public Library, NW 23rd Avenue, PortlandAttractive "storefront" window of the Northwest Public Library, NW 23rd Avenue, Portland, Oregon.

Slideshow.jpgG. Marc Benavidez/The Wichita Eagle. Sarah Sheltlar, a reference librarian for the Wichita Public Library, looks at art prints that can be checked out for six weeks, including the print at right, "Young Girl in Green," from a 1927 work by Tamera De Lempicka.

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