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Why libraries are critical economic engines

Why libraries are critical economic engines

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  • 1. Inside you'll find a complimentary copy of the feature article from our Learn to Speak P L A N N I N G Summer 2009 issue, "Libraries at the So People Heart of Our Communities." Will Listen C O M M I S S I O N E R S Feel free to distribute on becoming this Some tips or print out pdf file. Printa more effective public copies of our Summer issue can bespeaker. either through ordered our web site:3 www.plannersweb.com or by phoning us at: 802.864.9083. Are We Check out our web site for a variety There Yet? of information & resources on planning andWhere use related land benchmarks topics ... andand indicatorsEditor follow PCJ show Wayne Senville's value. across their travels America at: www.CircleTheUSA.com 4 N E W S & I N F O R M A T I O N F O R C I T I Z E N P L A N N E R S Circle the USA Reports on: adaptive Libraries AT THE HEART OF OUR COMMUNITIES reuse; downtown parking; and connections between college and community. 6 Planetizen Update Six books of special interest to citizen planners. 10 Libraries at the Heart of Our Communities Why libraries can be one of the best “economic engines” for downtowns. 12 The Nine Circles of Planning Commission Hell But are there are ways to escape? 19 Follow PCJ Editor Wayne Senville’s reports on planning and land use issues. PLANNING COMMISSIONERS JOURNAL / NUMBER 75 / SUMMER 2009 www.plannersweb.com
  • 2. FROM THE EDITOR CONTENTS P L A N N I N G C O M M I S S I O N E R S Libraries Bring Value 3 Learn to Speak So People Will Listen to Our Communities by Elaine Cogan Sometimes the key to a vibrant, healthy Planning commissioners can be of great ser- community can lie right under our nose, vice in speaking to community groups and Champlain Planning Press, Inc. hidden in plain sight, so to speak. organizations. Some tips to help you become P.O. Box 4295, Burlington, VT 05406 That’s the sense I got after researching a more effective speaker. Tel: 802-864-9083 • Fax: 802-862-1882 E-mail: pcjoffice@gmail.com and writing the article about public libraries that starts on page 12. For too long, 4 Are We There Yet? plannersweb.com libraries have been under-appreciated, often by Jim Segedy and Lisa Hollingsworth-Segedy drawing less interest and attention than a Taking on the tasks identified in your com- Editor Editorial munity’s plan may be a little like riding in the Advisory Board new sports arena, shopping complex, office Wayne M. Senville tower, or theater. But the good new is that back seat of a car for a road trip where you Larry Frey, AICP this has begun to change, as more commu- don’t know the landmarks. That’s where Office Staff Bradenton, Florida nities are recognizing the value that having benchmarks and indicators show their value. Elizabeth M. Krumholz Lee A. Krohn, AICP a strong library brings. Manager 6 Circle the USA Manchester, Vermont Not only do libraries provide valuable Margaret Ellis-Green services for residents of all ages, incomes, PCJ Editor Wayne Senville is hitting the road Ross Moldoff to report on local planning and land use Assistant Editor Salem, New Hampshire and ethnic backgrounds, but they can also inject a healthy dose of vitality into issues. Three reports from the first leg of his Larry Pflueger travels: Clearwater, Florida Christine B. Mueller downtowns, main streets, and neighbor- Lawrenceburg, Indiana hood centers. • how the adaptive reuse of an old factory is PCJ Columnists In times of economic stress like we’re key to a Vermont town’s future. Irv Schiffman • why a city in upstate New York has elimi- Elaine Cogan Chico, California currently experiencing, libraries provide Portland, Oregon especially important services to those trying nated downtown parking requirements. Lisa Hollingsworth-Segedy Dave Stauffer to find a job, or residents just looking for a • a look at the connections between college Jim Segedy Red Lodge, Montana and community in a small western Pennsyl- place to read a book, listen to a CD, or go Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania vania city. Barbara Sweet online, without racking up a bill. Ric Stephens Hyde Park, New York But the most interesting thing I discov- 10 Planetizen Update Beaverton, Oregon ered is that libraries in cities big and small Ilene Watson The Editors of Planetizen highlight six books Hannah Twaddell are becoming dynamic places, actively Charlottesville, Virginia Kelowna, B.C. of special interest to citizen planners. seeking to engage the community. Instead of simply providing a place to read or take Cover Illustration Design 12 Libraries at the Heart of out a book (as important as these services Our Communities Paul Hoffman Ned Corbett are), libraries are expanding their mission. Greenfield, Massachusetts Ferrisburgh, Vermont by Wayne Senville There’s one troublesome cloud over this There’s been a dramatic change in the mission bright picture. In almost every state (the of a growing number of libraries across the most notable exception being Ohio), country. No longer just static repositories of Subscription Information libraries receive close to no state financial books and reference materials, libraries are Published 4 times/year. Standard Rate: $67/year. Addition- assistance. Yet our states lavish support on increasingly at the heart of our communities, al subscriptions mailed to the same address: $12 each/year. many “economic development” projects, of providing a broad range of services and ISSN 1058-5605. Postmaster and Subscribers: Send sometimes questionable value. address changes to Planning Commissioners Journal, P.O. activities. They are also becoming important Box 4295, Burlington, VT 05406. Visit your public library, and help it “economic engines” of downtowns and neigh- become the hub of your community. borhood districts. Editorial Policy Please feel free to Articles and columns contained in the Journal do not share a copy of our arti- 19 The Nine Circles of Planning necessarily reflect the views of the Journal. The Journal is copyright protected by Champlain Planning Press 2009. cle with your local Commission Hell For permission to reproduce or distribute any portion of the librarian. by Ric Stephens Journal, contact the Editor. This publication is designed to Planning commission hearings can sometimes provide accurate and authoritative information on the sub- bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the ject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting descriptions in Dante’s epic poem. But there or other professional services. If legal or other expert assis- Wayne M. Senville, are ways to escape, explains PCJ columnist tance is required, the services of a competent professional Editor Ric Stephens. should be sought. PLANNING COMMISSIONERS JOURNAL / NUMBER 75 / SUMMER 2009 2
  • 3. F E AT U R E Libraries at the Heart of Our Communities by Wayne Senville Is there a place in your community: the 20th, when cities such as Boston, • where residents of all ages and incomes New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, and “THERE IS visit and enjoy spending their time? Chicago built ambitious public NOT SUCH A libraries.” CRADLE OF • where people go to hear interesting DEMOCRACY speakers discuss new ideas, books, trav- It’s important to recognize, however, UPON THE el, and a broad range of topics? that it’s not just big cities that benefit EARTH AS • where comprehensive databases are from libraries. In fact, smaller cities and THE FREE available free of charge? towns may have even more to gain from PUBLIC • where you can get help when applying a having a thriving library as they don’t LIBRARY, THIS REPUBLIC OF for a job? have the range of community gathering LETTERS, WHERE NEITHER RANK, • where you can stop by and take home a places that larger cities often have. OFFICE, NOR WEALTH RECEIVES book, CD, or DVD at virtually no cost? Reporter Annie Stamper writes that: THE SLIGHTEST CONSIDERATION.” That’s also a place: “No more just a place to find books, – Andrew Carnegie • that’s “owned” by everyone in the com- today’s library is a place that extends far munity? beyond its physical walls with the addi- their past, fill them with pride, and rein- • and can be counted on, day after day, to tion of digital information and access. force their sense of belonging.”3 draw people downtown or to main Particularly in small towns, the library is Keeping libraries in the center of street? town, and having them reflect In a growing number of cities high standards of design, is a chal- and towns, there’s one answer to lenge a growing number of com- all these questions: the public munities are successfully meeting. library. Hudson’s Star Attraction ANCHORS FOR OUR CITIES I stopped in Hudson, Ohio, & TOWNS this April as part of my “Circle Dramatic new or renovated The USA” trip to learn about their libraries have become corner- library. Hudson is a small city stones of downtown in dozens of (population 22,439), midway cities, including Denver, San Anto- between Cleveland and Akron. It nio, Des Moines, Indianapolis, and has elements of both a suburb and Salt Lake City, to name a few. a small town. In the center of Noted architect and writer Hudson is its historic Main Street Witold Rybczynski offers an The central rotunda inside the Hudson, Ohio library. business district, home to the online slide show titled, “How do city’s library. you build a public library in the age of often the hub of the community, provid- Opened in 2005, the library is housed Google?”1 His main point: libraries are ing a place for residents to meet, as well in a stately brick building, with function- far from dead in today’s Internet age – in as to learn.”2 al but very attractively-designed interior fact, they’re making a comeback as key Libraries, like city halls and post spaces. The focal point of the library is its anchors in our downtowns. Indeed, offices, are key to strong communities. rotunda, proof that the design of libraries they’re bringing us full circle to the “end Ed McMahon, a senior fellow at the today can match that of the classic of the 19th century and the beginning of Urban Land Institute, has pointed out Carnegie library buildings of a century that “public buildings and spaces create ago. 1 Available online at: www.slate.com/id/2184927/ identity and a sense of place. They give New libraries tend to need consider- 2 In an article in the June 2006 Champlain Business communities something to remember ably more space than their earlier coun- Journal, “Libraries Anchor Small Communities.” and admire. The challenge facing public terparts. That’s the case in Hudson, 3 From “Public Buildings Should Set the Standard” (PCJ #41, Winter 2001); available to order & down- architecture is to provide every genera- where the new library building (at load at: www.plannersweb.com/wfiles/w206.html tion with structures that link them with 50,000 square feet) is much bigger than PLANNING COMMISSIONERS JOURNAL / NUMBER 75 / SUMMER 2009 12
  • 4. the old building (at 17,000 square feet). For planners, however, I want to Carnegie’s Legacy At first blush, this seems counter- touch on what may be the most interest- to America’s Cities intuitive. Why in today’s Internet and ing aspect of the Hudson library: its loca- & Towns digital age would libraries need to be tion. It is part of an expansion of larger? More importantly, why do they Hudson’s Main Street district. Many cities and towns across America seem in even greater demand? Indeed, you could say the library is are still blessed by what was perhaps the greatest philanthropic legacy this country I asked Assistant Director Margie Main Street’s star attraction. As Hudson ever received: Andrew Carnegie’s grants Smith what draws people to the Hudson City Planner Mark Richardson told me, program to help fund the construction of library. “It’s become the cultural, enter- “you can’t just rely on retail in downtown libraries in communities large and small. tainment, and social hub of Hudson,” expansion, you need an activity center From 1896 to 1925 Carnegie provided she replied. “The library programs a lot like a library.” “The library,” Richardson grants for the construction of 1,681 of readings, there are musical perfor- continued, “fulfills its role as the anchor libraries in 49 states (plus 156 in Canada) mances every week, and we also have by creating opportunities for multi-stop – only Rhode Island was somehow left meeting rooms.” trips downtown.” out! About 70 percent of the Carnegie The library also provides over 50 pub- The Main Street extension (called libraries were built in small towns with lic computer terminals, access to state First & Main) consists of a mix of retail, fewer than 10,000 people – with the first and local databases, and a collection of office, and housing. The City has archi- of the typical Carnegie-funded libraries more than 7,000 DVDs. There’s also a tectural design standards for the area. As being constructed in Fairfield, Iowa. Invariably, a Carnegie library was a coffee shop to hang out in, and an out- Richardson notes, “the idea was for it to well-designed building, often a local land- door patio. You can even borrow laptops be a natural extension, not a replication, mark in the center of town. Fortunately, from the library, and use them anywhere of Main Street.” The streets are laid out in most of the Carnegie libraries are still in the building or on the patio. What’s a grid, connecting with the old village. standing, many remaining in active use as more, the Hudson library doesn’t close From Richardson’s perspective as a local libraries, treasured by generations of till 9 pm, Monday through Thursday, and planner, having the library downtown is residents. is open a total of 69 hours each week, also cost-effective. As he explains, “the In my making it even more accessible. library’s location downtown has helped hometown of facilitate numerous partnerships and col- Burlington, laborations with the merchants; the pub- Vermont, lic, private, and parochial schools; and that’s certainly the City of Hudson because they are all the case – the Fletcher Free located in close proximity … these col- Library was laborations have allowed the library to built with a stretch its tax dollars and, at the same $50,000 gift time, more effectively serve the needs of from Andrew Hudson.” Carnegie in The Economic Benefits of Libraries 1904. Mark Richardson in front of the Hudson library. As is the case in Hudson, libraries can bring substantial benefits to downtowns The library is funded primarily and main street districts. Planning con- through a property tax levy (raising $1.4 sultant Robert Gibbs million), with just over $1 million more has observed that “a from the State of Ohio. The library also makes extensive use of volunteers, typical public library including “tech wizards” who help out in draws 500 to 1,500 the computer center. people a day, that’s The residents of Hudson have decid- close to the draw of ed that the library is a key service they a small department want for their community. The numbers store.” Public build- attest to this, as there are more than ings like libraries, he 23,000 registered library users, who notes, “add to the checked out 736,000 items last year. The authenticity of a library counted more than 700,000 visits, town … they make an average of well over 2,000 every day it was open. continued on page 14 The Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont. TO ORDER PRINT COPIES OF OUR SUMMER 2009 ISSUE CALL: 802.864.9083 13
  • 5. valuable service in this rural community where residential broadband service is limited. Internet Access, p. 16. The library’s beautiful new building is located within walking distance of the town center (less than half-a-mile away) and next to a co-op market and senior housing. The new building was made W. SENVILLE possible in part from a generous donor, but also through extensive fund-raising Left, view of Hudson’s Main Street. Right, commercial development is adjacent to the library in the Main Street extension. in the Putney community. The importance of libraries like Put- Libraries small Vermont town (population 2,600), ney’s to village and town centers was continued from page 13 a good library works a lot like a harbor. It underscored in a public forum sponsored it less of a shopping center and more of a provides a place where people can dock by the Windham Regional Commission town center.”4 themselves for a while, socialize with oth- (the WRC’s service area includes Putney, Seattle is another city that has gained ers, and feel some comfort and security. Brattleboro, and 25 other small towns in substantial economic benefits from its When I met with Coronella, he southeastern Vermont). As Kendall Gif- new downtown library, opened in 2004. explained that over the years libraries ford, a planner with the WRC, told me, it An economic assessment prepared for have become more multi-faceted. They’re “opened up perceptions of what libraries the City found that “the Library is associ- no longer just places to read and take out have to offer.” ated with $16 million in net new spend- books (though that’s still a key function). One by-product of the forum was the ing in Seattle in its first year of operations Increasingly, libraries are providing a formation of a task force to develop rec- – equal to $80 million for 5 years,” and broader range of services, from access to ommendations for strengthening local that “nearby businesses report increases research databases, to loaning videos and libraries within the region. The task in spending associated with Library visi- CDs, to providing Internet access, to force’s report, The New Heart of the Old tors.” As a result, “the increased number offering space for lectures and public Village Center: The Role of the Library in of Library visitors contributes to Down- meetings. Community Development, includes a town vitality and vibrancy, making The Putney library attracts one hun- series of recommendations centered on Downtown a more attractive residential dred or more people on a daily basis, and three goals: to achieve universal access to and commercial market.”5 forty or fifty more often show up for library services; to assure adequate fund- As Brian Murphy of the Seattle-based evening programs. You’ll find people of ing for libraries; and to use libraries to Berk & Associates, which prepared the all ages, incomes, and backgrounds using strengthen village centers. economic assessment, told me, “the the Putney library. Its seven public access Susan McMahon, another planner library has become an important part of a computers are very popular, and offer a with the WRC, has been struck by how network of attractions in Seattle.” In often people have mentioned the value of part, this is because of the library’s dra- their libraries “as community places, matic design. Its location close to down- where you can see your neighbors,” and town residential neighborhoods and the by the importance that seniors, in partic- city’s retail core is also a big plus, he ular, place on having a library nearby. added. One problem facing local libraries in Perhaps more surprising is another Vermont – and many other states – is the major draw that Murphy pointed to, the Seattle library’s extensive genealogical resources, which attract visitors from a wide area. Indeed, the library has more than 40,000 items in its collection, and three full-time genealogy reference librarians to provide assistance. “A Harbor You Can Sail Into” Those are the words that Stephen Coronella used to describe the role of the Views of the Seattle Public Library. Left: “Living Room” by Padriac, www.fickr.com/photos/padraics_ Putney, Vermont, public library. For travels/2179049925. Right: “Seattle Public Library” by Rodefeld, www.flickr.com/photos/rodefeld/ Coronella, who’s the librarian in this 1622522316. Images licensed, Creative Commons. FEEL FREE TO DISTRIBUTE COPIES OF THIS PDF DOCUMENT 14
  • 6. ALL PHOTOS W. SENVILLE What’s the State of Your Library? Putney library and librarian Stephen Coronella, below nearby food co-op.. Due to the recession and hard economic times, many libraries lack of state financial support. This puts have been cutting their hours, and some the burden on cities and towns to pro- have even been forced to close down. vide funding from their municipal bud- In researching this article, I came across get. Not surprisingly, this can be a major countless news reports from across the hurdle, especially in communities with country with examples of this. limited resources. What’s the State of Your Ironically, it’s during an economic Library? downturn that libraries are in even more demand, both as a resource for job seek- While private organizations like the ers, and as a place where people can bor- Freeman Foundation (in Vermont) and row a book, video, or CD, or spend some the Gates Foundation (nationwide) have time using the computer. Moreover, as stepped up to provide financial support, you’ll read elsewhere in this article, this is not a long-term solution. Recog- major league baseball games was 81 mil- libraries are too often under-valued for nizing this, the Windham Regional Com- lion and NFL football, 22 million – add the economic benefits they also bring to mission task force report points out the in NCAA men’s and women’s basketball downtowns, main streets, and neighbor- importance of educating legislators, (43 million) and football (49 million) hood commercial districts. community leaders, and residents about and the total is less than 15 percent the How much support do libraries libraries’ funding needs “in the context of number of visits to public libraries.7 receive from state government? Data all the positive community and econom- Yet libraries may well be the single from the U.S. Department of Education’s ic benefits” they bring. most important civic institution in National Center for Educational Statis- America today. As scholar Vartan Grego- tics (Public Libraries in the United States: From a national perspective, why Fiscal Year 2004) shows there’s an shouldn’t libraries be more highly val- rian has noted, “Across America we are extremely wide variation in state fiscal ued? In 2006, the most recent year for coming to realize the library’s unsur- support for public libraries. On a per which data is available, there were some passed importance as a civic institution capita basis, it ranges from $40.06 in 1.4 billion visits to the nation’s 9,208 … In our democratic society, the library Ohio and $19.51 in Hawaii (the two public libraries.6 stands for hope, for learning, for highest) to virtually zero in South Dako- To put library visits in perspective, progress, for literacy, for self-improve- ta and just over 1 cent per person in consider that in 2007 the attendance at ment and for civic engagement. The Vermont (the two lowest). The national library is a symbol of opportunity, citi- average is only $3.21 per person, a very 4 Quoted by journalist Phil Langdon in “Public Build- zenship, equality, freedom of speech and low figure.* ings Keep Town Centers Alive” (PCJ #49, Winter freedom of thought, and hence, is a sym- Once the economy is back to full 2003); available to order & download at: bol for democracy itself. It is a critical strength, consider ways in which your www.plannersweb.com/wfiles/w144.html. state can better support local libraries. component in the free exchange of infor- 5 The Seattle Public Library Central Library: Economic mation, which is at the heart of our It can be done. Ohio, for one, provides Benefits Assessment (prepared for the City of Seattle substantial financial support to its Office of Economic Development and The Seattle democracy.”8 libraries, with a dedicated 2.22% of all Public Library Foundation by Berk & Associates, July The Hub of Moab 2005); available at: www.spl.org/pdfs/SPLCentral_ tax revenue from the state’s General Library_Economic_Impacts.pdf. Twenty-two hundred miles west of Revenue Fund going to public libraries. 6 Public Libraries Survey, Fiscal Year 2006 (Institute of Putney, Vermont, is the small city of Perhaps this explains why Ohio has Museum & Library Services, Dec. 2008), pp. 4-6. Moab, Utah. Their new library, opened in more public libraries – and higher levels 7 Sports attendance data from The 2009 Statistical 2006, is just two blocks off Main Street in of library use – per capita than any other Abstract (U.S. Bureau of the Census), Tables the heart of the city’s compact down- state. 1204/1205. Unfortunately, the Statistical Abstract does not include attendance for all sports, but you get town. * This data is available online at: http://nces.ed. the picture. continued on page 16 gov/pubs2006/2006349_1.pdf (Table 16). PLANNING COMMISSIONERS JOURNAL / NUMBER 75 / SUMMER 2009 15
  • 7. Internet Access Libraries since there are few large parcels available continued from page 15 close to downtown). Valdes believes that One of the essentials of Moab is located in a remote, but spec- keeping the library downtown was criti- being informed today is hav- ing Internet access. That’s still a problem tacularly beautiful, corner of Utah, and is cally important. As she put it, “every- in many rural areas, and for low-income home to Arches National Park, a thriving thing that happens in Moab, happens households. Public libraries are a critical- recreational industry, and residents who downtown.” ly important resource in terms of broad- love the outdoors.9 But it is also home to Owing to its welcoming environment, ening the availability of this access. a fine new county library, at 15,000 expanded size (allowing for the addition A nationwide survey conducted last square feet, triple the size of its former of a dedicated children’s room), and the year by the Florida State University’s location. state of the economy, library use has Information Institute focused on the The library itself is a delightful place. surged – from an annual average of about Internet and libraries. Two of the most 90,000 visits before the new building When I stepped inside, it was a beehive striking findings: 72.5 percent of opened to 150,000 last year. It has of activity, with people of all ages libraries reported that they are the only engrossed in reading and, yes, in using become, says Valdes, “a true community provider of free public computer and the Internet. center.” Internet access in their community, while 98.9 percent of public libraries indicated In fact, Internet use has been boom- LIBRARIES MIX IT UP that they offer Internet access.* More- ing. When I followed up with Library Director Carrie Valdes this May, she told “Among private sector developers of over, according to the Institute of Muse- um & Library Service, in 2006 a total of me that the number of online sessions malls, commercial corridors, mixed-use 196,000 Internet computers were avail- last year exceeded 93,000, up from developments and joint-use facilities, able in America’s public libraries (3.4 per 75,000 in 2007. The library building is libraries are gaining recognition for other 5,000 people).** also wireless. In part, the growth in Inter- qualities – their ability to attract tremen- Another sign of the times: the rapid net use owes to the fact that anything dous foot traffic, provide long-term ten- increase in the number of libraries offer- faster than dial-up service is very costly ancy, and complement neighboring retail ing wireless access – an increase from in Moab. Valdes also believes that the and cultural destinations.” That’s from a 54 to 66 percent of libraries in just the economic downturn has led to increased recent report, Making Cities Stronger: past year.*** Wireless access is of value Public Library Contributions to Local Eco- use, especially as more people are look- not just to residents, but to tourists and ing to access online job search services. nomic Development, prepared by the business travelers when they visit a com- The Grand County library is part of a Urban Library Council.10 munity. small complex of public buildings, mak- As the report continues, “Library ing it even more convenient for area resi- buildings are versatile. They fit in a wide * Public Libraries and the Internet 2008: Study Results and Findings. dents. Right next door are the municipal mix of public and private sector develop- ** Public Libraries Survey Fiscal Year 2006 (Insti- offices, in a recently rehabbed former ele- ments. Library leaders and private devel- tute for Museum & Library Services, Dec. 2008), mentary school building. opers across the country are beginning to p. 5. The Library Board saw the need to notice distinct advantages to incorporat- *** Id. Public Libraries and the Internet … purchase the property the library is now ing public libraries into mixed use, retail and residential areas.” You can now find libraries not just in malls, but as part of residential develop- ments, and other mixed-use projects. In the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines, the new library – which opened in August 2000 – is located next to a stop on one of the METRA commuter rail lines. It is the central element of 8 Vartan Gregorian, “Libraries as Acts of Civic located on several years Renewal” (speech given in Kansas City, Missouri, July 4, 2002; available online at: www.carnegie.org/sub/ ago. It wanted to “lock in” pubs/gregorianspeech.html. a downtown site for use 9 See also my report from Moab (part of my Crossing when the time came for America on Route 50 trip) at: www.rte50.com/2007/ expansion (important 07/two-moabs.html. 10 Prepared by the Urban Library Council (Jan. W. SENVILLE Views of the Grand County 2007); currently available at: www.urban.org/ library in Moab, Utah. publications/1001075.html INTERESTED IN LAND USE ISSUES? VISIT US AT: PLANNERSWEB.COM 16
  • 8. W. SENVILLE The Des Plaines library seen on right of above photo; adjacent housing on the left. Center photo shows library’s interior. a 6.2-acre redevelopment that also includes 30,000 square feet of retail, a 180-unit condominium, and a parking garage. This mix of complementary uses W. SENVILLE has created a hub of activity in the heart of this suburban city of 58,000.11 In putting together the project, the library served as the traffic anchor, ground parking below (for library downtown, makes its community room “much like a large retailer would” patrons). available at no charge to local organiza- explained Stephen Friedman of S.B. The project grew out of a desire by the tions three evenings every week. The fact Friedman & Co. His firm, which special- City and neighborhood to redevelop that it is public space, Carbone notes, izes in advising communities on pub- what had been the site of an adult enter- makes it a more comfortable meeting lic/private partnerships, worked with the tainment theater – a focal point of com- place for some than a church basement City of Des Plaines on the redevelop- munity anger – demolished after the City or a business office meeting room – even ment. Having a high quality library, acquired the property. The idea of a though these private spaces are typically Friedman adds, is also an important part mixed-use building emerged from a con- made available for community meetings of being a “full service” community, junction of interests: the City’s goal of in a spirit of good will. something that suburbs are increasingly providing more affordable housing and This message was reinforced in a con- focusing on as they seek to create a high the fact that the existing neighborhood versation I had with David Lankes, quality of life for residents. public library had outgrown its Director of the Information Institute at building.12 Syracuse University. As Lankes observed, Another interesting point that Fried- According to Alice Neve, Supervisor libraries are in a pivotal role because man makes is the importance of libraries of the Rondo Area Libraries, having the “there are very few civic organizations in middle-income communities like Des library in the same building as the hous- left today” that can provide a space Plaines. “People can’t always afford ing provided some significant economies accessible to everyone in the community. Barnes & Noble or Borders,” he notes, of scale, allowing for more space than if But for Lankes, the role of today’s but many middle-income individuals are the library had been built as a stand- library goes beyond providing communi- highly educated, “so the library becomes alone building. Families living in the ty space. Libraries, he argues, should also a critical public service for them.” apartments above, Neve notes, are also be actively seeking ways of “enriching In St. Paul, Minnesota, the 31,000- and enhancing” issues people are most square foot Rondo Community Outreach (not surprisingly) frequent visitors to the interested in. library is on the ground floor of a new library. To cite one example, Lankes told me building that includes three floors of A HOME FOR ALL OF how in several cities, librarians have mixed-income housing, plus a floor of THE COMMUNITY developed training sessions – open to all parking immediately above the library Libraries provide something increas- – covering the basics of setting up a new (serving the apartments) and under- ingly scarce in our cities and towns, what business, and putting together a business Brattleboro, Vermont, library director plan. Along the same lines, some 11 The City of Des Plaines even offers a video tour of Jerry Carbone described to me as “neu- libraries are teaming up with local com- the library, accessible from their home page: www. desplaines.org/. tral public space.” munity development agencies to provide 12 For more on the Rondo library: www.stpaul.lib. Carbone explained that Brattleboro’s job counseling centers. This level of mn.us/locations/rondo_about.html. Brooks Memorial Library, in the heart of continued on page 18 PLANNING COMMISSIONERS JOURNAL / NUMBER 75 / SUMMER 2009 17
  • 9. Libraries reasons including taking computer class- Libraries have been especially proving continued from page 17 es and attending special programs. Young their worth during the current recession. engagement goes well beyond the “tradi- people find willing, friendly help at the As Feldman explains, “we’re clearly the tional” role of just providing books about library … and yes, though, the library place where people are coming for job how to set up a business or find a job.13 wasn’t designed to be a hygiene center or information, for preparing online job Another valuable role that libraries daytime shelter, some homeless people applications, and for basic financial liter- play is in integrating immigrants and find the library the most welcoming acy … and we provide them support in other newcomers into our communities. place to spend their days.”15 doing this.” As national columnist Neil Peirce There’s been a “sea change” in the SUMMING UP: reports: “In immigrant-heavy suburbs of past five to ten years in the role libraries Washington, D.C., many public libraries are playing in communities, says Sari The 21st century library has arrived. have recast themselves as welcome cen- Feldman, Director of the Cuyahoga Its mission goes far beyond loaning out ters. Some checkout desks have signs in County, Ohio, Library, which operates 28 books and providing reference materials. Korean, Chinese, Spanish and Viet- branches in Cleveland’s suburbs. Feld- In fact, in a growing number of cities and namese. A recent immigrant from the man, who is also President-elect of the towns, the library has become the hub of Dominican Republic said: ‘I come to the Public Library Association, told me that the community, drawing large numbers library almost every day. And two days a “libraries have become vibrant centers of of new users. This is happening because week I follow the conversation classes. community interaction,” with librarians libraries are providing programs, meet- We have the opportunity not only to working more closely with community ing space, computer access, and re- improve our English but to get new groups and businesses. In Cuyahoga sources that are responding to a broader friends from all over the world.’ ”14 County, notes Feldman, “the library does array of community needs. At the other end of the country, Seat- extensive focus groups, polling, and mar- Moreover, when libraries are located tle’s Kent Kammerer points out that ket research” to better learn what the in downtown, village, or neighborhood “Seniors now flood the libraries for many community wants. centers, there’s also a special synergy at work. Libraries generate increased busi- ness for local merchants, while those shopping or working downtown visit the In the Neighborhood library as part of their day. ★ Libraries and community. They’re While this article has focused on the positive impact that libraries really inseparable. ◆ can have on downtowns, let’s not forget the Wayne Senville is Editor of powerful benefits that libraries can bring to the Planning Commission- neighborhoods. Take a look at an excellent ers Journal. His previous short report prepared by the Urban Library articles and reports for the Council, The Engaged Library: Chicago Stories PCJ include “Downtown of Community Building.* It tells of the impor- Futures” (PCJ #69, Winter tance Chicago has placed on strengthening W. SENVILLE 2008); “Crossing Ameri- neighborhood libraries: ca” (PCJ #68, Fall 2007); “Libraries are uniquely positioned to con- “Bright Ideas” (PCJ #61, tribute to the local economy. They are local Chicago’s Northtown Library is at the heart of a ethnically diverse neighborhood, and is Winter 2006); and “Preservation Takes Center employers. More often than not, libraries located just a block from the neighborhood’s Stage” (PCJ #52, Fall 2003). bring foot traffic to the neighborhood com- mercial district. … The Chicago Public retail district. Library has built 40 new branch buildings in 13 To learn about other creative ways in which the last 11 years. Many of these buildings have libraries can engage with their community, see the gone into areas previously avoided … Often, Project for Public Spaces’ “Libraries That Matter,” at: CPL has used its capital investments to buy www.pps.org/info/newsletter/april2007/libraries_that sites that have been neighborhood eyesores. _matter; and Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Liquor stores or abandoned buildings are torn Contributions to Local Economic Development (cited in footnote 10). down to be replaced with public libraries, changing the streetscape completely. For this 14 “Libraries and New Americans: The Indispensable Link” (April 13, 2008, for The Washington Post Writ- strategy to be successful, library administra- ers Group); available at: www.postwritersgroup.com/ W. SENVILLE tion and planners have to tap into community archives/peir080413.htm. knowledge and listen to community requests.” 15 Kent Kammerer, “A new librarian faces tough eco- nomic times,” on Crosscut.com (May 19, 2009); * The Engaged Library is available through the ULC http://crosscut.com/2009/05/19/seattle-city- web site: www.urbanlibraries.org. hall/19003/ PLANNING COMMISSIONERS JOURNAL / NUMBER 75 / SUMMER 2009 18
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