Catherine McKenney and Tobi Nussbaum, Ottawa Citizen
The prospect of a new central public library in our city is an exciting one. Successful central libraries offer citizens a one-stop shop of diverse civic and cultural life. Across the country, new libraries have breathed additional life into downtown cores, from Vancouver to Halifax. In that context, the recommendation to move Ottawa’s new Central Library from the downtown core to the edge of LeBreton Flats raises important questions that Ottawa residents need to consider before the Ottawa Library Board convenes at the end of January. Here are three questions worth asking.
First, how was the feedback from the extensive public consultation reflected in the recommendation? The three highest-ranked criteria during the online public consultations on location were that the site be easy to access: for people with physical disabilities, by foot and by bus. On the face, it is not clear how a site separated from downtown by an escarpment, further removed from the residents who live or work in Centretown, and located more than two km from the crossroads of the city’s bus routes at the Rideau Centre reflects these priorities. Although the recommended site is close to an LRT station – a necessary condition for any future site – library-user surveys indicate that 81 per cent of current users arrive by foot.
Second, how would the recommended site serve the three identified target demographic groups: local residents, other residents of Ottawa, and visitors? Demographic analysis suggests that even assuming LeBreton Flats is fully developed, in 20 years it will still have less than half the population of Centretown. For other Ottawa residents, any location on the LRT would provide transit access. For the almost 120,000 downtown workers who make up one-quarter of the visits to today’s Central Library, the proposed site would be harder to access. The most visited sites in Ottawa are clustered close to the Hill and include Parliament, the ByWard Market and the Rideau Centre.