The thing people aren’t getting about the library

The past position of essentially all central-Austin neighborhoods (and, impotent stomach unfortunately, current position of many, including my current one and the last one) regarding high-density development was “none, never”.
Now, there appears to be, in some of the more enlightened neighborhoods, a position which they believe to be sufficient which is certainly BETTER than the old “none, never”, but still has some problems. I call it “stick ’em in high-rises downtown”, and it goes something like this:
“Preserve our single-family character by banning all apartments in and near our houses – instead, support more density downtown. Apartment dwellers want to be where the action is, anyway, don’t they?”
Unfortunately, in my response to a thread along these lines in one neighborhood’s yahoo group, I completely forgot the economic argument – namely that condos like my unit in Clarksville are affordable, but neither the high-rise downtown nor the single-family house in Rosedale ever will be.
Here’s what I wrote in that last response to that group. (I’ve paraphrased the quotes I responded to in parenthetical double-quotes below).

(“Central Austin is still desirable because most people want to live central in houses”)
I prefer to live on Congress Avenue in a mansion. There appears to
only be one way to do that, though, and as Tony Sanchez can tell you,
being rich doesn’t necessarily cut it.
There is a lot of unfilled demand to live central. When all other
things are equal, the majority of people would prefer to live in close
proximity to their job or other frequent non-home activity center.
When all other things are equal, the majority of people would prefer
to live in single-family housing on big lots. Where things get
interesting is where we are now, when those two forces come into
conflict (i.e., there is no possible way to satisfy both to their
fullest degree).
(“The multi-family building, not the tenants, being the problem” – part of this discussion centered on renters being bad neighbors, to which I responded with my theory about rental houses being much worse for neighbors than apartments or condos)
With all due respect, I do not think this is a strawman argument at
all, given how many people in this very discussion have complained
about the behavior of renters (usually packed into HOUSES). It’s
fairly obvious to me that if you restrict the development of
multifamily buildings in the central city, you will get more people
living together in rental houses, and that those tenants are more
difficult to control when they are renting from one landlord each
without the oversight of a HOA (as in a condo building). What about
this is difficult to agree with?
(“Center-city neighborhoods restrict multi-family housing; leads to downtown becoming like Vancouver; and I’m OK with that”, implication being that this satisfies the ‘problem’).
This leaves no room for moderate-density housing, which, for most of
US history, was the development style which the market provided for
most people. The fact that, before zoning restrictions and many of the
governmental economic activity that affects housing development today,
the market tended to provide mostly townhouses, rowhouses, etc. shows
to me that this style of moderate-density housing IS the sweet spot
where the demand for central living and the demand for space are best
For instance, the condo unit I lived in for 6 years (and still own) is
one of 14 on Waterston Avenue (Clarksville) which takes up the space
of about 3 single-family houses. I slept with my windows open at
night. Can’t do that in one of those high-rises. On the other hand, I
can’t walk to the grocery store from my single-family house. Frankly,
if we had rowhouses here in Austin in a walkable neighborhood, that’s
where I’d be. We don’t have them, not because there’s no demand, but
because neighborhoods have forcibly kept them out.
To say that there’s no place for anything between (single-family
house) and (high-rise) seems to me to be not much better than saying
that everybody must live single-family.

If I forget, I’m counting on my three devoted readers to please remind me to expand on the rental house vs. apartment/condo issue in the future. OK THANKS BYE.

With the call to build it somewhere pretty or where they can build it bigger is:
The people who most need and use the library currently are quite likely to get there on the bus. Yes, viagra 40mg the bus you think nobody uses; although if you stand outside the current library and look at those buses go by, you’ll quickly be disabused of that particular brand of suburban idiocy.
The current library works well because it’s on one of the two most heavily bus-travelled corridors downtown (Guadalupe). A location on Cesar Chavez too far from Congress, on the other hand, won’t be an easy trip for many of the current patrons.
Look at the map (zoom in on the lower-right inset). Notice how many buses go right next to the thing. Most of the rest of the buses are three blocks away on Congress. So, a huge chunk of routes don’t require any walk at all, and most of the rest require a 3-block walk at most.
Now, consider the proposed new site at what’s now the water treatment plant. Going by current routes, two come fairly close, but the big conglomeration coming down Guadalupe/Lavaca will be about two blocks away; and the Congress routes about five blocks away.
This doesn’t sound like much to walk, and it wouldn’t be for most of us. However, as somebody who hasn’t been able to walk well for quite a while now and used to serve on a commission where we were often taking up issues important to those who are mobility-impaired, I have more appreciation than most for what a pain in the ass this is going to be. Oh, and don’t forget, unlike most of the people involved with this decision, I’ve been to this library many times – and I can tell you that at any given time, a huge number, possibly even the majority of the patrons arrived on the bus, and a large fraction of those are either elderly or in wheelchairs or both. For THOSE people, two more blocks is a lot to ask.
Don’t move somewhere which makes the library less accessible to those who need it most just for the sake of being pretty. Please say no to moving the central library off the main bus lines.
Update: Several commenters have commented along these lines (paraphrased, with my response):
“Isn’t commuter rail going to a transit hub at Seaholm anyways?” – please do yourself a favor and read this category archive and start with this post, OK? Short summary: It ain’t going to Seaholm for decades, if then. And Seaholm is still a couple-blocks’-walk from this site.
The buses will just be moved to go by the library – this isn’t going to happen either, folks. Long-haul bus routes don’t make two-block jogs just for the hell of it (people already complain about how supposedly indirect these things are). Each one of those bus routes might deliver a dozen passengers a day to the existing library – enough to make it a valuable part of the demand for the current route, but not enough to justify hauling a long, heavy, bus around a bunch of tight corners.



9 thoughts on “The thing people aren’t getting about the library

  1. First, I don’t use that particular location much myself. I’m closest to Twin Oaks and Ruiz and with the online book requests, there’s really no reason for me to trek downtown and hassle with parking.
    I can understand your position M1EK, but are there alternative locations downtown to the one proposed? It’d have to be a fairly large site. Does anybody know what they plan to do with the old location if they do move elsewhere?
    My next question would be what percentage of Faulk’s patrons on average are disabled/elderly/handicapped and how does that compare to other branches.

  2. I have only used the Howson and Cesar Chavez branches, but I can tell you that neither one had the disabled and/or elderly patronage that downtown does. And downtown really does have the goodies – the branches are OK for light reading, but if you’re looking to do some research or something, downtown is where it’s at.
    Yes, there are alternative locations to the water treatment plant. Originally, a block closer to City Hall was under discussion; and there’s nothing wrong with reusing the spot it’s in now, except that it wouldn’t give the fundraisers as much of a cause celebre, I suspect. Having no library for two years and then a bigger one in the same spot would actually be better than permanently requiring these people to hoof it a few extra blocks – again, until you’ve been in their shoes you have no idea how much work it is to go that much extra distance.
    (and the existing building appears underutilized too – there’s a whole floor that isn’t open to the public. If it’s offices, kick those people to leased space somewhere else. If it’s storage, get storage somewhere else.)
    Let’s just leave it at this: It’s a no-brainer that the library should be right next to a bunch of bus stops. Does anybody disagree?

  3. I think you are spont on. My family has been there on many occasion, even though the nearest branch is at Spicewood Springs. (Currently closed for remodeling.)
    If I remember correctly, there were significant numbers of elderly and college kids, although the latter may bike there as well. The main library is where most of the books are, and where most of them ship from if I order them from the local branch.
    I like your idea of opening the 4th floor, and as you said, moving the offices/storage somewhere else. Then just remodel the whole thing.
    Do you have enough experience to know whether they could add another floor or not? Some buildings cannot support this, but I have heard of a few that could.
    It just seems that with the downtown traffic and limited parking the bus routes would be very important. Not to mention that building a new building either on this spot or another would entail a huge traffic problem for quite some duration.

  4. Isn’t the commuter train gonna stop over there near Seaholm which is next to the Green treatment plant?
    Just saying.

  5. The current building was built to serve Austin when the population was 300,000 (now 700,000). The structure was built to accomodate vertical expansion when the demand warranted it, but in 1984, the city and state adopted Capitol View Corridor (limits height in certain areas to preserve views of the state Capitol), and the building can’t expand, couldn’t even be built as tall as it is now if built today. I think the Austin History Center would like to expand its archives into the current Faulk space.
    And yes, the Seaholm area is supposed to become a multi-modal transit hub, and the east-west connector line should be within walking distance of Green. They are planning for the library to open in 2012, time enough for transit planning?

  6. Try reading my “Don’t Hurt Us Mr. Krusee” category archive for my feelings on the likelihood that commuter rail will make it to Seaholm. And the buses that run down Guadalupe aren’t going to detour through there either.

  7. Hi Mike. Kristina from Austinist here. My (day job) company worked on a project that involved the Austin Library Foundation, and I got to know the then-director. They have been desperate for *years* to get a new site, because the current site is way, way to small. In fact, the current site is a joke compared to other cities that are comparable in size. There’s so much more they can and will do in a larger location.
    I think you make valid points, but at the same time something’s gotta give. That is a very central location for a central library, and with all the development going on there I suspect it will end up getting a little more love from the bus lines eventually.

  8. Kristina,
    I definitely think it’s small for the size of the city – but nobody’s addressed the third floor (not used for the public), and frankly, if it gets further away from the bus lines, it’s going to be useless. The target market for the public library is NOT people who can easily walk a couple of extra blocks, or people who can drive to Seaholm, or people who live in northwest Austin and can drive to a commuter rail stop, assuming it ever goes to Seaholm, which it won’t.
    Again, I think the people involved are getting too excited about a new building and aren’t thinking about their customers.
    It’s nice to think that it’ll get more bus action, but it won’t. You aren’t going to see these long-haul bus lines make a two-block jog out of their way just to run by the library.

  9. It needs to be on the bus line; anybody who thinks otherwise doesn’t use the library. It’s not a pleasant walk even for the able-bodied to get over to the proposed new site, particularly not in the summer. Administrative space (third floor where once there were shelves) and computer equipment have been installed where once there were books. The de-accessioning that’s been going on is sickening. Austin once had a better collection of books than it does now. What’s really sad is to see library-bound children’s books being put out to be given away. The trend here in Austin for the branches has been to make them less accessible for those walking. Twin Oaks (going to the old post office) is an example; the Riverside, now Ruiz, branch is another.

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