Feedback on library might get loud; is Ottawa council listening?

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Metro's Steve Collins argues city council will need to hear from the community more on the plan to move a library out of the core.

By Steve Collins, Metro

City council meetings have rules and procedures that sometimes seem aimed at insulating public officials from too much unfiltered public input.
You could immediately tell the difference between those and last week's open house on the central library. Andrew Haydon Hall was packed, for starters.

Council attendance skewed 100 per cent urban (downtown councillors Catherine McKenney, Jeff Leiper, Tobi Nussbaum, Mathieu Fleury and David Chernushenko). Judging by a show of hands, the vast majority of public attendees came from downtown as well. After all, the main library is their local branch.

Instead of city staff, an expert panel (University of Ottawa's Elizabeth Kristjansson, Ecology Ottawa's Graham Saul and retired architect Tony Griffiths) was on hand to talk about the social role of the library, the importance of its accessibility to pedestrians, and how it should fit into the city’s fabric.

Griffiths got applause — another phenomenon actively discouraged at regular city meetings — for rejecting the library's currently recommended site at the eastern edge of LeBreton Flats as too far from the city core. He instead favours Confederation Park, which was never in active consideration, chiefly because the National Capital Commission owns it.

Unlike at committee meetings, where members of the public can register to speak but not to ask questions, the open house heard lots of good ones.

One woman asked, how is the library still a free service if she'll have to pay a transit fare to get to its new location? Another wanted to know — since most of the sites between Bronson and the Rideau Canal had been rejected as too small — whether the proposed partnership with Library and Archives Canada had inflated those space requirements. Had anyone considered the steep slope down to and back up from the proposed site and what it might be like to get there with say, a wheelchair or a stroller?

The recommended site got dismal marks from those in attendance, but key decision-makers conspicuously weren't there to hear it. So, how much effect will their input have on upcoming committee and council votes?

"I would not have invited 200 people out here tonight," Coun. McKenney said afterward, "If I didn't think there was some hope."