Monday, July 11, 2011

My 'Outdoor Adventure' to the New Main Library

(originally posted at

Mark June 16th on your calendars, folks! We are finally going to be hearing back from the consultants hired by the Town about future uses for the (now former) library buildings at Bruce Street. It's being billed as a 'public information session', which is Town-speak for "the decisions have already been made", and given that the new library is already open and the old one closed, I'm guessing that decision won't involve maintaining a branch library at Bruce Street.

In the end there simply weren't enough of us who will be hurt by this to override the wishes of the majority. But more on that later.

Apparently June is 'Walking Month' (who knew?), so in order to promote more physical activity - and, perhaps, to counteract the criticisms that the new library is too far to get to easily from downtown - the Library has been encouraging people to walk, bike, or take transit to 'Main@Main':

"Make each visit to the Main Library an outdoor adventure. Take a hike or ride your bike. Take to the trails or take transit. Take time to play at a park. Walk, stroll or saunter!"

Since I've been one of the ones doing the criticizing, and since it was such a lovely day yesterday, I figured I'd take them up on it. I wasn't going to walk, of course - that's about a half hour each way from my house, and I'm simply not that energetic. So I decided to take my bike.

On the way, I stopped by the old library (which is only about a ten minute walk from my house, BTW). I took a peek in the windows and was rather shocked by what I saw. You see, when the arguments were being made about just how prohibitively expensive it would be to maintain a branch library there, one of the biggest expenses was supposed to be replacing all the shelving and furniture that was going to be moved to the new site. Hundreds of thousands it would cost. Really.

So imagine my surprise when I saw this...

As far as I can tell, not a stick of furniture has been removed. Not a shelf, not a table, not a chair. Hell, even the computers are still there!

Actually, I'm not surprised at all. From the very beginning I had questioned why the Library would want all that tacky old shelving in their shiny new facility. And now we know.

I continued on my merry way, perhaps unwisely choosing to take the Main Street route to my destination. It's not a pleasant route, especially with all the construction that is only going to get worse as they move forward with the rail underpass. In fact I took Child's Drive home, which is really the best way to go if you're coming from the south-west. But I wanted you to see that section of Main Street from ground level so you'd have some idea of what sort of "outdoor adventure" they're asking the seniors in those Millside apartment buildings to go through as they make their way to the new library.

The Main Street underpass is slated to take three years to complete

In the winter this is usually blocked with snow.
And watch your bike tires don't get stuck in the rails!

This is how most kids coming from schools south of the tracks get to Main Street

I take it this is NOT one of the 'trails' they're talking about

Things improve east of the GO station

I am assured that the bike racks are on their way

You will note that I was riding my bike on the sidewalk and not on the street, which is generally a no-no. In fact, I saw six or seven cyclists of all ages on this section of Main and not one of them was on the street - and for very good reason. Between the heavy traffic, the narrow lanes, and the sinkholes that tend to form around manhole covers there, you'd have to be suicidal to try it. And that's speaking as someone who used to commute along King Street in downtown Toronto on my bike every day.

I must say, when I finally got inside the new library I was very impressed. It's beautiful - big, well stocked, lots of cool features like a silent study area and a room where some kids were playing Kinect. My main complaint is that my favourite section - the local history and microfilm area - seems to have actually shrunk (just for the record, I'd be happy to help them develop a proper genealogy section for a reasonable fee).

I also found the place a little... well, bland. But I'm sure it will warm up once they've been in there a few months.

Let me be clear: I've always been in favour of having a new library and arts centre. I think it's a lousy location, but I never disputed the need for a larger, more modern main library. And count me among those who love the design of the new building.

What upsets me - and what upsets a lot of people, especially in Ward 2 - is that our concerns were never taken seriously. If they had been, this 'feasibility study' would have been done as soon as the project was approved - not six months before the buildings were to be vacated. In fact, the effects of removing the library from downtown Milton on the social and economic fabric of our central core and the town as a whole would have been examined and analyzed many years ago, as soon as the idea was first conceived.

Instead, we were thrown a bone. We're lucky it was an election year - otherwise they wouldn't have even bothered with that. But at least now our Ward 2 councillors will be able to make their token 'Nay' votes and tell us with pride that hey, they fought the good fight. Just don't ask them why they approved the bloody thing in the first place.

Having spent spent much of the past six months in seemingly endless debate with both councillors and residents who are unwilling to see the Town spend money to keep a branch library at Bruce Street, I can honestly say that, while I continue to disagree with them, I have a much better understanding of their perspective. You see, from their standpoint the new library is a net gain for the town as a whole. While some people will have reduced access, even more will have their access increased, so obviously it's a win. And from a purely linear point of view, ignoring all the physical and psychological barriers between here and there, it really isn't that far at all.

If that was all there was to it, their perspective would make perfect sense. If Milton was a single, homogenous entity with one part exactly like every other part, then it really wouldn't matter where we put facilities like libraries as long as they were evenly distributed. If 'downtown' was simply wherever the planners or the mall developers decided it was, then we could just call Main and Thompson 'downtown' and turn the old one into a tourist attraction.

Unfortunately, real live towns just don't work that way. And that's what I can't seem to get them to understand.

No comments: