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.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Another reiteration of the soundness of my recommendations: DC's Central Library

Since 2001, revitalization of DC's Central Library, the Martin Luther King Junior Library on G Street NW in Downtown DC (pictured at left) has been a top of mind issue.
  • The Downtown Action Plan of 2001 recommended that the library be expanded into a premier cultural asset for the city.
  • A few years later it was suggested that the current library be abandoned for a new building as part of what is now CityCenter DC.  Many people opposed the move because it called for a smaller library and there was a lack of trust that the city would follow through.
  • A few years ago, the library system did a put up job, commissioning a study by the Urban Land Institute who accepted the scope given to them that a renovated library could happen, but should be smaller, and could involve mixing unrelated commercial or residential space within the building footprint.
  • Afterwards they commissioned a study to see if this were possible.
  • And then had a design competition to further elucidate the concepts and to pick a winner, which is Mecanoo, designer of the Library of Birmingham in the UK and the Dudley Square Municipal Building (which I wrote about here, "Public buildings as vehicles for community improvement (continued)") among others.  
I argued against mixing unrelated use, but have no problem with mixing for profit uses related to media, communications, publishing, education, and culture and laid out the argument here ("Civic assets and mixed use: Central Library edition" and "The DC Central Library, the Civic identity and the public realm") and in various meetings with advocates and library officials, including the new director.

And I criticized having a design competition without a planning process beforehand.  Although later I came around to the value of having architects-designers involved earlier rather than later, because the drawings and renderings help to make the argument in favor of funding an improved library.

Imagine my surprise to see that according to the Washington Business Journal ("D.C. rethinks its central library plans, goes bigger") the Library system now believes--after a public comment process--that they need to expand the building and its cultural functions.

Unrelated mixed use still a potential element of the project. Although there is still talk of the potential for adding a three-stories of unrelated space on top of a building expanded to five stories.

I think that's a bad idea as argued above.  The Central Library is a community's most prominent cultural and civic asset.

DC is an odd case, because it is a national capital and a local city, so some of the more prominent cultural assets, like the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, are federal.  But for the city to have its own identity, it needs to develop, enhance, extend, and coordinate its own set of civic and cultural assets.

The Central Library is usually a city's most prominent local cultural asset, often including an auditorium, meeting spaces, galleries and exhibit spaces.

And no major city in the world has put unrelated mixed uses within the building footprint of its central library or city hall (although Syracuse does rent out some un-used space in its city hall, but then, Syracuse isn't a world city).

Medellin as a counter-example.  While not a national capital, Medellin, Colombia exemplifies the point of utilizing libraries as a key element of a network of civic and cultural assets focused on uplifting citizens and improving neighborhoods through the expansion of cultural, parks, and public space and services with a library as the anchor.  See "A city rises, along with its hopes," from the New York Times and "Library Parks Foster Community to Colombia" from Pacific Standard.

Obviously, these arguments are extendable to the city scale.

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At 1:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that Mies VDR thing is an atrocity and should be painted bright colors or something to lessen its drab and deadening modernist effect to this part of the city. MVDR was a horrible "architect" who made some really bad buildings often tearing down beautiful older specimens or REAL architecture he had no business going near. This thing is an eyesore and was an eyesore the minute it was built.


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