On the eve of the City Council vote concerning the fate of the Mies van der Rohe designed Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, former City Paper writer Bradford McKee provides an even-handed look, in the November issue of Architect Magazine .
Over the past six weeks, our Project has been in the field with various Ward 7 ANC Commissioners surveying members of the community about their ideas for a new Benning Branch Library, and their reaction to a proposal to build housing over a new library facility. Results from last Saturday’s rally confirmed what we were already seeing.
Here are the top ten findings to date:
- Members of the community are not necessarily opposed to mixed-use on their library property, but are almost universally opposed to housing, from affordable housing across the board to luxury condos.
- Almost universally, the initial reaction of each community member suveyed was to call for "just a library," as had been promised. However, as we talked, it turned out that many would approve of things that support the library mission of education, such as a fee for service tutoring company (like Sylvan Learning Center), a career training center, an adult literacy center, or continuing education like the "Classes East of the River" proposed some years ago, according to many we interviewed, but which never materialized. The next strongest possiblity — daycare — was not as widely supported as the above but had enough interest to be important to consider. Nothing else came close. Given the generally high interest across the country in having coffee shops in libraries, surprisingly few people surveyed in Benning felt positively about that idea. Most said they believed it would encourage loitering or that people wouldn’t want high-priced coffee.
- Benning residents overwhelmingly want the library and its property to remain in public hands.
- They approve of the idea of creating revenue streams for the library by leasing part of the building — but, again, only if consonant with the library mission.
- They are fiscally conservative — concerned about the impact of stadium cost overruns and declining home sales. They would like to see due consideration given to plans that might be less costly (i.e., renovation, remodeling, adding another floor to the existing structure) than the proposed demolition and rebuilding estimated by DCPL to cost between $11 and $12 million. Many people were under the impression, when their library was closed, that it was going to be renovated, not necessarily torn down and built new.
- Residents of Benning are wary of development ideas and mistrustful to the point of cynicism. Many people predicted to us that if the library is torn down, it will never be rebuilt.
- They are angry that their council members and DC Public Library have not communicated with them directly about the library in nearly two years.
- They are angry that a promised bookmobile took 20 months to arrive. And now that it has arrived, they feel the bookmobile is not being promoted adequately.
- They resent the top-down planning process where ideas come from left field and are fast tracked into existence before a genuine process of community involvement and assessment can take place.
- Many young people said their teachers tell them to use the library, but then the government closes them down. The young people say they feel the adults in charge are "hypocritical."
We will continue to update this posting as more information comes to our attention. We welcome the participation of anyone who wants to help with this project. We invite residents of Ward 7, who have not been surveyed, to weigh in with us directly. Write to me: [email protected]