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, March 27, 2015

The essentiality of determined advocates ignored in Post editorial on the Martin Luther King Library

The Washington Post has an editorial, "Finally, a ‘more delightful’ MLK Library," about how great it is that the Library system has moved away from earlier proposals to build housing on top of a renovated library, and to expand the library by one floor, and improve.  From the article:
The plans were developed after library officials received feedback from more than 3,000 residents about what they want in a library and studied successful central libraries around the world. Traditional features such as a reading room and book stacks would remain. But there also would be hands-on learning areas, a digital commons, performance rooms and collaboration spaces, enabling a “dizzying array of services,” Mr. Reyes-Gavilan says. Daily users, he projects, would rise from 2,000 to 5,000. The facility would be a resource for city agencies and like-missioned nonprofits: The Department of Employment Services would teach people to apply for jobs there, DC Health Link would walk residents through how to apply for health benefits. Young children would be made to feel welcome.
Actually, the Post fails to acknowledge the key role of determined advocates in opposing earlier plans which were focused mostly on adding unrelated commercial or residential space on top of the library, and not developing a more wide ranging "program" of services within the library.

That the Library board has "capitulated" was a big shock, even for the select group of advocates, primarily the DC Library Renaissance Project and the Friends of the MLK Library, both led by Robin Diener, myself, and others.

Repeatedly--in the face of neoliberal arguments laid out in the Washington City Paper and Greater Greater Washington--we laid out the case for why including unrelated mixed use within the city's primary "local" and foremost civic and cultural asset was decidedly the wrong direction, in a series of meetings, submissions to and participation in the Section 106 process, etc.

- Civic Assets and Mixed Use: Central Library edition
- The Central Library planning process in DC as another example of gaming the capital improvements planning and budgeting process
- A follow up point about "local" library planning and "access to knowledge
- More thoughts about broadening how we think about 'The Central Library'

I was shocked at the November meeting of the Section 106 review (a historic preservation review process triggered by the proposal) when the director of the library, Richard Reyes-Gavilan, spoke on the topic, using the language and argument that I had laid out in a meeting of the Friends of the MLK Library many months before, where he was first introduced to us.
Martin Luther King Jr. Library, Washington, DC
2.  Even so, my criticism of the process remains, something that I said at that early meeting is that "an RFP isn't a plan."

Despite the Post's waxing poetic about the 3,000 comments, there isn't a published document listing and organizing those comments.

There still isn't a plan for what the program should be, if the city wants to fully realize having a premier cultural-civic-knowledge-media promoting facility.

That's the next step.  There needs to be a robust planning process on what a great library AND cultural facility could be.   And note that such a facility could incorporate "for profit" uses, so long as they are related to the cultural-knowledge-media function.

3. Note though from the perspective of achieving a great library, the Mies-designed building is not very good, basically an office building, and the fact that it is landmarked significantly constrains what can be done.

It raises a tough issue in preservation policy, in that is a building important and worth landmarking and saving because it's in your community, even if overall, it is not a particularly noteworthy example of the architect's ouevre?

Personally, were I in charge of the library system, I'd probably push for demolition, and go through the Mayor's Agent appeal process.

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At 11:38 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Bravo. To quote WIlliam Buckley, "Stop!"

I actually like the building, but think you could activate the roof quite a bit. Given the mad-men memes running around you could do up the inside quite nicely.

The real problem is the homeless. I don't know how the CPL did it but they managed to keep the homeless out of the very nice library in the 80s.

The west end library has been torn down.

At 2:28 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

the building is fine on the outside, bad on the inside. But what I'd prefer is to build up the building a few floors, exactly the same, and redo the interior.

that is precluded if it stays as a landmark building, probably.

plus, it's just so costly to fix the building rather than start over. although fixing is what is going to happen. It's another example of 60s and 70s buildings not being built very well in terms of cost effectively using them over many decades.

homeless, I haven't figured that out yet.

with the roof, the wonderful thing about the Salt Lake City Central Library is how they have a green roof and it is open to the public.

the Vancouver central library (which the SLC lib. is a mini version of) has a green roof not open to the public.

the same for the Chicago city hall green roof--it's not open to the public.

slc does have an issue with the homeless, but they seem to manage it better. to be fair to librarians, I don't think they get much training in MLS studies on how to deal with that...

The WE library is going to be part of the condo building. That's another story. I am fine with that, but I think DC left too much on the table with the developer.

DC Lib. Renaissance Project sued the city over it. I think they were right to do so. But only the philosophers among us residents seem to think that was the right course. Residents (and the City Paper) made them out to be ogres, rather than working to better get the city to represent its interests.

I am not sure the lib. that the developer designed is as good as it could be, or how I would have done it. Plus they've saddled DCG with the costs of maintaining all of the ground floor street around the building, even though upper story residents equally benefit from such maintenance.

At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

something needs to be done to expand homelessness into the suburbs- maybe soup kitchens in Tysons? It is just not fair to DC to burden us so much with all of the region's ills. It is getting worse around 8th street SE.

At 7:56 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wait til you see homelessness in a city like San Diego. It's nothing here by comparison.

Even SLC. The reason I was clued into how things work there is I had a conference at the library, scheduled first thing in the morning, before the library opened, and there was a long line of mostly homeless people waiting to get in.

In San Diego, homelessness services seem to be concentrated in the area around where they built the new library, but I can't say exactly, as I don't know the geography that well. I remember being in San Diego a few years ago, maybe 2009 or 2010, and we were driving in the area where the shelters are, and I was shocked.

SLC's services are concentrated in the area by the multimodal transportation center (bus transit, light rail, train, inter-city bus, and hey, bike share), which as you can imagine, has some impact on the "pleasantness" or "unpleasantness" associated with going there

At 8:15 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

SF too. Many of the homeless there are profoundly disturbed. We had run ins with the same person in two places, on Market Street Downtown and then in North Beach. When you're with people who are less mobile and/or less familiar with dealing with such, it's a real problem.

That being said, I'm fine with regional equalization. I keep meaning to write about an element of the dealing with homelessness issue, but haven't gotten around to it.

Mother Jones has a cover story on "the solution," which is a "solution" that has been pushed for 10+ years.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a similar article in 2006 for the New Yorker.

The problem with "the solution" is that the analogy for homelessness is a river, not a lake. So it keeps replenishing. It depends on the "segment" of the market you're addressing. Severely disturbed/substance abusers are helped, and it's cheaper for the city to do so, by providing housing.

But there are other segments that are more fluid, and not relatively fixed. It's like the story about the kids falling into the river. Do you focus on rescuing each one, or on eliminating the problem that is leading them to fall into the river en masse?

Anyway, a lot of homelessness is "regenerated," so if you provide housing to one cohort, then you are faced with the next cohort, and then the one after that.

Plus the border between DC and Maryland is pretty fluid, and you have a lot of homeless people that move back and forth across the border.


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