With all due respect to the men and women who decided to invest our taxpayer dollars in order to construct a $1.5 million library in an upper-class subdivision with a population of less than 800 people (with the excuse of replacing a centrally-located library that served many subdivisions), WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

lakesdistrictlibrary

Photo: The Town Talk

Let’s all get this straight: They are going to close and abandon the current (and unfortunately named) Fuhrer branch, which is located on Parliament Drive in between multiple neighborhoods and which serves more than 10,000 residents, in favor of a constructing, from the ground-up, a new (and beautiful) facility located on the outer reaches of town, in an area that is currently underdeveloped.

I guess I shouldn’t be criticizing: My uncle built all of the townhomes and condominiums in the neighborhood, and my mother owns a choice lot on the bayou (drainage ditch) there. And believe me, they didn’t decide to invest because of the prospect of a new library nearby.

But I still have to question the wisdom, the practicality, and the feasibility of constructing a new public library, a facility that is being built by public dollars in a predominately upper-class neighborhood whose residents, no doubt, do not and will never have any interest in patronizing a public library.

Alexandria, like its namesake, could be a city that celebrates libraries. But instead of investing in a centrally-located, state-of-the-art library, we’re more comfortable with using taxpayer dollars in order to increase value for sprawling, underdeveloped areas, serving investors, developers, and speculators before attempting to serve the folks who actually want to check out a book or two.

Although the Downtown library is outmoded and insufficient, the Lakes District gets a new, awesome library, and while City Park, Frank O. Hunter, and other inner city parks need reinvestment, Johnny Downs (a facility to which not a single child can walk or ride their bike) is sparkling, pristine, and, of course, remote.

To be sure, this has nothing to do with the decisions made during the past two years, and we all need to recognize and appreciate how these planning mistakes and misappropriations have contributed to disinvestment and blight within the inner core. It’s easy to claim that 28 West is the most significant growth corridor in Alexandria, considering that the area has been gifted with a publicly-funded, massive sports complex, a publicly-funded, brand-new, and completely out of the way golf course, and, now, a publicly-funded library (not to mention all of the money given to help offset infrastructure costs, even for Walmart), all within a period of five years.

The same people who claim that 28 represents Alexandria’s “free market” are those who believe that Downtown has somehow been overly subsidized– with its small-scale (and federally funded) streetscape project, its convention center, and the privately-funded performing arts center donated to the public. Somehow, Downtown is dead, and the future is 28.

Give me a break. Publicly-funded libraries, golf courses, roads, soccer fields, and baseball diamonds should, ultimately, directly serve the public, not simply the well-connected investors who buy up and develop cheap farmland on the edge of the City with the expectation of public subsidization, regardless of how beautiful the farmland is.

The adage is: If you build it, they will come; not we will build it, so they can get rich.

16 thoughts

  1. Lamar
    You hit the spike with the sledge hammer on this one. While the down town library is busy and full of patrons almost all the time, the new branch will echo with emptyness for years to come. Everything you have said I agree with. I know most of the fine folks in the lake district and it’s as you said. The library will be if not under used, never used.. I am afraid the round building down the road will be replaced in a nonproducing area also. Just to make some peoples pants pockets bulge a bit more. It’s pathetic, but true. Are folks going to speak up? Fraid not friend.
    Alex

  2. One could argue that it is “smart” to do all these new public developments ( Ball Fields, Soccer Complex, Golf Course, Library and infrasturucture that steers and enables all the private speculative development) on the front end of growth so that these areas are properly served once the private development happens. And I guess if our population was actually increasing by 10-20 thousand people per year that would be a viable argument. But it’s not. We continue to expand our city in terms of developed land area, yet we have no more people or funds to maintain the city with. At the same time we are “investing on the “edge”, there is an equal disinvestment somewhere else. I don’t think we have all the solutions yet (and fortunately we aren’t the only ones tackling this issue) but at least folks are beginning to think and discuss. Keep beating the drum brother!!!!!

  3. Oh, and the golf courses are another subject by themselves.. You never build two golf courses back to back. One suffers and in this case it’s the city complex. Duh.
    Alex

  4. I really think this sort of money would be better used to provide free internet access to everyone in the parish or to at least make sure broadband is available to the rural areas.

    A digital library is much more viable these days and less financially intensive than a bricks and mortar library.

    It’s about access, and this new library gives access to those whom really have no problem attaining access. Whereas, a digital platform could serve everyone.

  5. Alex and Darren, we are in total agreement. I must admit, however, that I am not exactly enamored by the Rapides Parish Coliseum. Multiple problems, notwithstanding the fiduciary and managerial neglect: We need a multi-use arena, but it’s not easy to use the same facility for basketball games, high school graduations, concerts, AND rodeos and monster truck shows. I think we can keep the Coliseum as a place for the fair and rodeos, but we need something NEW for big cultural, athletic, and entertainment events. Just my opinion.

    And Drew, I agree about broadband, with the caveat that a digital research library in the middle of town would be fantastic and that broadband and a centrally-located digital library are not mutually exclusive.

  6. Lamar, I agreement with you on all your points. Yes, 28 West is rapidly developing, but there are a lot of people who don’t have adequate transportation to get out there. With the library being where it is now, some of our senior-citizens are able to walk there from their homes, but how many of them will be able to go to the library on 28 West.

    The libary going up in The Lakes District is another example on the good-old-boy network. Someone greased Steve Rogge’s hand, and thus, the new library going up in the exculsive community of The Lakes District.

    As you stated, I can’t see the “rich fok” going sit among the “plain jane” fok and mingle with them.

    Keep up the good work.

    Leonard

  7. I wonder how it feels to be dependent on corporate welfare?

    Lamar, you are right on the mark with this post, and Darren has gotten to the meat of the issue with his insightful comment, “At the same time we are ‘investing on the edge’, there is an equal disinvestment somewhere else.” I cannot forsee the library even being used very much at all. Priorities are being set by those with conflicting personal business interests, and that is unacceptable. My family heavily used the Fuhrer branch all throughout my childhood, partly because it was conveniently located. I don’t see many lower income families taking the bus (will a bus even service that location?) to go to a facility located far away. It just doesn’t make sense.
    We are seeing the same phenomenon over and over: Spend billions of taxpayer money to build new facilities while enriching private developers, and let the old buildings remain unused and add to city-core blight. I’m not saying that the Fuhrer branch will become blighted. Since the facility is so conveniently located, the land will likely be usefully applied for something else (community center, preventative medical center, etc). However, blight does exist in Alexandria, and inequitable concentration of resources in the new fringe of the city sets the conditions for future blight and socioeconomic depression in more centrally located areas. This is rather obvious, and we have observed this scenerio in many examples since the post-WWII suburbanization.

    Was there any attempt to get community / citizen input on this project? Was there ever any public meetings, forums, surveys or focus groups done with key players and informants, like the folks that actually use public libraries? This reeks of irresponsibility. In the more distant future, an unused library building on the edge of Alexandria will serve as a monolithic reminder to our children’s and grandchildren’s generations about the remarkable lack of forsight of our parents’ generation.

    Keep up these kind of posts, they generate a kind of crucial thoughtful discussion that has been missing from the “discourse,” or lack thereof. Thanks!

  8. One observation that hasn’t been made thus far…when the Fuhrer branch was built, it ALSO was placed in a sort of white flight neighborhood which served the area’s wealthy new suburbanites.

    Much of Charles Park, Whitefield, and such was only built in the 80’s and 90’s. Castle Village was there, as well as Parliament (or whatever that spot between Castle and Parliament is called). But, at the time, those were all fairly sparsely populated upper middle class car-driving families.

    I’m not saying the fuhrer branch was ever a bad thing, but it’s not so different than what’s going on here today.

    What I’ve never understood is why we don’t have a true community library system that combines the Public School Libraries and the Parish libraries under one management and resource sharing program.

    It would cut costs, provide for more content, and schools are generally located in places people need them. We do it with pools and ballfields (such as Ruby-Wise and Buckeye). Is it too big of a leap to put books in the same category of community use as basketballs?

  9. Not entirely accurate, Drew.

    While it’s true that some of Charles Park was built in the 80s and 90s, most of it was developed during the late 1960s and early 1970s by my grandfather and my great uncle Charles. The older sections of Charles Park, like Willowick, are close to the library. My late father developed Charles Park Extension, the area near Nachman Elementary and Compton Park, during the mid 1990s.

    Incidentally, when most of this area was being developed, it was in concert with the construction of multiple apartment complexes such as Trafalgar and Parliament Square (built around 1976 by Mr. Carruth, who also built the nearby Nottingham Apartments and the Gingerbread house subdivision off of Castle Road). Indeed, the area around Parliament Drive probably has the highest concentration of rental units in town.

    The same thing can be said of Castle Village and Briarwood as well as Mayflower, Hunter’s Grove, Highpoint, Claremont, and Good Earth, all of which were all built in the late 70s and early to mid 80s. I believe the final pieces in the puzzle were Lancelot (built in the early 90s) and the subdivision anchored by Rue Notre Dame (built in the mid 90s). There was a real middle class housing boom then, which is not true today, particularly in the Lakes District.

    This was/is a mixed-income area before people used the term mixed-income, and remember, the new library at the Lakes is being built in order to replace the existing library.

    I understand your point, but frankly, I think you’re comparing apples to oranges. Don’t get me wrong: I like the Lakes District model, and I hope it succeeds beyond belief. But when you look at the sheer number of housing units constructed during the time, there’s no comparison.

    On your other point, I completely agree. A multi-governmental system that is centrally-located and services the maximum number of residents who can use those services is exactly what we need.

    Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful contribution.

  10. I go to the Fuhrer Branch a couple times a week. Frequently it is difficult to find a parking spot. The place is packed all the time, and has run out of room. I do not think they have much walk up traffic, and the visiting public will not find it difficult to go to the Lakes District to visit the library. While I am not a fan of wasting my tax dollars, I think you are going a bit far on this one. People of all socioeconomic classes use libraries, and they are a valuable asset to the community. If having a brand new big facility gets people in there, especially kids, it improves quality of life in the area.

  11. Another small plug: you can get books on tape, on CD, Movies on DVD, large print, regular print books, best sellers, old classics; you can have online computer access. If the Fuhrer Branch doesn’t have the book you want, they will order it from another branch and call you when it gets there. If the Rapides Parish Library doesn’t have the book you want, they can go thru interlibrary loan from all over the country and have the book for you in less than a month, usually. Of course, in these days of instant gratification, you can get any book/tape/CD/DVD on amazon.com or alibris.com and order and pay for whatever you want, but I’m a cheapskate.
    I really think people either grow up using the library or don’t, and that leads to their views on its value. I happened to grow up 1/4 mile from the Baker Branch library, and checked out books constantly as a kid. My best friend, who is also professionally educated, hates reading and thinks the library is a giant waste of his tax money. I don’t play golf, but have no problem with public courses. A good library system is like parks, theatre and other publics facilities, and I am looking forward to the new branch.

  12. Mung, I have taken some time to consider and think about your criticisms and the notion that I am making too big of a deal out of this. Perhaps I am, but the central problem I have is that public funds are being expended to replace an existing library in a central location, a location that, as you imply, services a great number of people, with a brand-new location on literally (pardon the pun) the edge of town.

    I have to wonder about all of the other locations in town that could benefit from a new library, and I have to wonder why this location was selected, particularly considering that it presumes to duplicate/replace the services provided in a more centrally-located and heavily-trafficked area. (I’d also restate Michael’s questions regarding the public vetting and input process). To be sure, the extension of Versailles Boulevard will open the area up for more development, but that is still years, if not a decade away, from being fully-realized, at least with respect to the increased development of additional housing opportunities.

    The Fuhrer Branch opened in 1982, and as I described in a previous post, the sheer number of housing units in the area at the time, including all of the rental units, easily justified its development.

    Today, the Rapides Parish library system has one branch in Boyce, one in Glemora, three in Alexandria (Fuhrer, Main in Downtown, and King in the Lower Third area), one in Hineston, one in Lecompte and three that service the Pineville, Ball, and Tioga areas (Gunter, Martin, and Robertson).

    As Michael said, Darren really gets to the point when he questions the feasibility of public investment on the front-end, particularly when it’s an investment in an institution on the edge of town. Also, wisely, he notes that when you invest in the Lakes, you’re actually de-investing in the more central area of town. You’re taking an institution away from Parliament (and with that, all of the value that it brings to the area) and placing it on the edge of town.

    The mission of a library system (as it relates to the development of new branches) should be to locate in areas that can service the MAXIMUM number of people, not in steering residents into new, underdeveloped areas. Simply put, that is not best practices “master planning.” I know you’ll drive to the new branch, and I understand your anticipation of a new library. Again, I think it’s a beautiful facility.

    But I still question the location. And it’s not because I don’t believe in the model of the Lakes District; it’s because I think that, for $1.5M, we could have either dramatically improved the existing facility (which, as you state, is already overwhelmed) or developed a new library in an area (like Martin Park and Deerfield) that is currently under-served.

  13. I’m guessing along with the logic of better spending that 1.5 million applied to the model of opening school libraries to their prospective neighborhoods would also have gone quite a ways. We could have probably gotten 6-7 additional neighborhood branches out of this same expenditure. And we know people already live near their schools.

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