Thursday, February 12, 2009

civic activism 101: show your research

A group of Wheaton residents is fighting a proposal to move the Wheaton Regional Library downtown, where planners say it could revitalize the CBD.

Despite recent bad news about the Wheaton CBD, talk of its redevelopment has become increasingly urgent since Park and Planning started working on a new Sector Plan last spring. Last summer, planning consultants proposed moving the Wheaton Regional Library at Georgia and Arcola avenues into Downtown Wheaton as an anchor for the business district, and a group of residents wants to put the kibosh on that fast. They're circulating a petition to "Save Wheaton Library" with a website stating plain and clear that this is a "Bad Idea." The website lists a series of reasons why the move is a poor choice, none of which are backed up by any facts or supports.

It wasn't too long ago that I learned how to write an essay in high school, and I still remember quite clearly that if you're going to make an argument, you have to back up your facts. Let's go one-by-one:

1. The current Wheaton Library retains an easy and familiar presence.

Elaborate, please, and define "easy and familiar" as you would like them to mean in this context. Making an argument is all about definitions. I'm "familiar" with the library because I went there once a week growing up. But if you're saying that someone new to the library would say it looks "familiar" because it looks like a library, that would be something else entirely.

2. The Library reaches out to novice and first-time users (especially children and immigrants). Moving the Library risks alienating a developing set of new patrons, especially those in this multi-cultural hub of the county.

Most libraries reach out to children and immigrants - both groups want to learn how to read or speak English. This isn't really news, or really special to the Wheaton Library, making it a lousy support. You want to make it clear that the library as-is makes a contribution that it couldn't elsewhere. It's also not clear what moving the library would do to "alienate" anyone. Elaborate!

3. Planning for saving the Rafferty Center is part of a vision including the Wheaton Library, the Rafferty Center and the Rec Center as the heart of our youth development focus providing "wise choices" for the growing number of latch-key children. This is especially critical since the library is in close proximity to the children of modest income families who can profit from organized programs.

This is actually a salient point. The possibility that the Rafferty Center (the former gym of Good Council High School, now condos) and the Library could become a center for local youth is a good reason in support of keeping everything as is. But you could say the same thing about the library moving Downtown, where it could work with the Gilchrest Center for Cultural Diversity and the Mid-County Regional Services Center.

4. Parking at the Wheaton Library's present site is ample, free, and there are no complications about misuse (as is the case in other CBDs).

What case? You have to provide an example. You could be talking about the controversy over free parking at the Rockville Library (located in Rockville Town Center) but we can't assume. It's worth noting, though, that #2 and #3 discussed the vast numbers of [presumably low-income] immigrants and latch-key children using the library. Perhaps parking isn't as big an issue as general access, and while the current library can be reached by a number of Ride-On and Metrobus routes, a Downtown library would be a short walk from even more bus lines (including the heavily-ridden Metrobus Q2) and, of course, the Metro.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

5. Parking at Wheaton serves the handicapped very well since the entrance is close at hand, not true with some other CBD libraries within the county and in Virginia.

Again, supports! Why should I take you seriously if you won't give me a) case studies or b) names of libraries? Why don't libraries in Virginia like handicapped people? Is that even relevant? And, besides, most of the current library is located upstairs, meaning that a person in a wheelchair still has a hard time getting from their car (or bus, or train) to a book.

6. Low income patrons are further encouraged to use the library since parking is free.

See #4, and note that plenty of people pay to park in Downtown Wheaton when going to shop or eat, many of whom could be called "low income," according to the Census. As Councilmember George Leventhal found while researching the free parking issue last year, public libraries in Baltimore and the District - and even Philadelphia, whose Benjamin Franklin encouraged literacy - charge for parking.

7. Some residents state they would not use the library in the CBD (nor allow their children to do so) due to the heavy traffic and difficulties in crossing the streets.

Which residents? PROVIDE SUPPORT FOR YOUR STATEMENTS (interviews, testimony, etc.) OR THEY ARE WORTHLESS.

8. In these tight financial times it makes no sense to reinvent the wheel, to spend precious taxpayer dollars moving something valuable just to rebuild it a few blocks south.

This is true. The burden lies on the County to prove that moving the library downtown will provide the return-on-investment that they want (a revitalized CBD) despite the economic downturn. Rockville Town Square cost $100 million to build, $20 million of which went to the library there, and it's been regarded as a success.

9. The Library as currently situated is easily, safely, and pleasantly accessible by foot and public transportation to thousands of residents in its surrounding neighborhoods.

You have to define "easily, safely and pleasantly" for this to have any impact. Some would say that walking five long blocks from the Metro is an unpleasant walk to the library. Others might say that they'd rather not have to drive to the library, and they'd prefer it was easier to reach by public transportation.

There's a quote by Margaret Mead that goes "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world." Sometimes, it's true. Sometimes, it's a small group of thoughtful people that, despite their good intentions, ignore everything taught to them in high school English about how to construct a good argument for their cause. Whether or not you agree with moving the Wheaton Regional Library, it's worthwhile to do your research before start to speak.


Mortis Olaf said...

What won't people protest against these days? I think moving the library downtown is a great idea. That's how it should have been in the first place.

Sligo said...

As long as they don't take away the book sale in the basement.

Thomas Hardman said...

With all due respect, the County and the Planning Board have had years to prepare their presentations, but the people attending this particular meeting had, what, 10 days to prepare?

And again, probably not something that the folks in opposition know to phrase in this way, but we've been through this before.

The current library is a building, and a parking lot. One side faces a major arterial, one side faces a minor arterial, and the other two sides are exposed to and have continuum with the neighborhood. The library is accessible to the general public via arterial on either public transit or private vehicles, and by foot from the surrounding communities. It's also a short walk to the Wheaton Regional Park.

In contrast, the proposed variants for a new Wheaton Library are hardly neighborhood extensions. They all qualify as "a building on a campus", with the campus in question being CBD ("Central Business District").

While probably most people who had a good time at school -- or even a tolerable one -- actually enjoy being on campi, for many of us, campi in the modern sense are tolerated as necessary evils at best, and horrid open spaces of desolate manmade surfaces filled with too many people and few or no opportunities to sit and relax.

The current library site serves both the gregarious and the non-gregarious persons; the proposed new sites pretty much by definition and architecture exclude the non-gregarious.

It's sad, in a way, that most of the folks that I shall call "the Beehive People" have excellent educations and understand how to do a presentation; after all, college was apparently designed to exclude the non-gregarious (and agorophobic) as it was to provide an education only to those who can tolerate wide-open spaces with no place to hide that are filled with bustling strangers. Yet because people might have been uninterested or unable to get a comparable education because of agorophobia is no reason to deny them the homey refuge of a non-campus library that is a part of their neighborhood.

Please remember, I can probably help them do their paper for them. And I didn't learn English and composition at college (which I utterly loathed); I learned it in my nice, homey, part-of-the-neighborhood community library.

On the other hand, replace all of the neighborhood libraries with repellent CBD Big Boxes O' Books, and there won't ever be anyone like me again, which I suppose would perfectly suit people who want to create a permanent underclass of people who are shy, retiring, and prefer to be in places other than office/campus environments.

WashingtonGardener said...

This all sounds too familiar and I'm too over it - first Germantown, Rockville, then Silver Spring, now Wheaton. Once the new improved libaries are done attendance shoots up, the only folks I see against it are the current library's direct neighbors who fear what MAY move in to the vacant spot.
One person quoted in the Gazette said his "worst case scenario" wou;d happen if the library moved and just what was this unholy terror "townhouses." Really?!?! I mean THAT is your WORST case and fear?? You must be shaking in your shoes at the possibility of rubbing shoulders with townhouse folks. *sigh*
C'mon folks - get a grip and get real! In-fill townhomes on Ga Ave are not the smartest growth option, but they are a step in the right direction of more sustainable future communities.

Jeff said...

Dan, I can't speak to all the facts but here are a few:

Fact #1: The community that uses the Wheaton Regional Library is not only concerned about the future of the Wheaton Library but about the future of the communities surrounding and serviced by the present library. Over two hundred people attended last week's meeting to discuss this issue. We who live in this area are rightful lobbyists for how we want our neighborhood to be.

We are concerned that the County, in its efforts to see development in Wheaton is ignoring the very reasons many of us chose to live in this suburban setting. In the last few years we have seen the County create a new high density zoning designation never before used in the County in order to allow a developer to create hundreds of new townhouses and thousands of new residents at the Good Council site in what has been a neighborhood of low density family dwellings.

For over 25 years the Wheaton Rescue Squad tried to find a larger piece of land within the Central Business District to relocate but received no help from the County to do so (this was told to us by the head of the Rescue Squad in a community meeting). Consequently, they bought land outside the downtown area in our neighborhood. The community was concerned about sound pollution and worked with the Squad to adjust the sound levels and rules for using the Squad's sirens to something we could all live with.

In addition, it was the neighborhood who successfully lobbied to retain the Rafferty Center to benefit the children and adults in this area. If it wasn't for our efforts the Rafferty Center would have been destroyed and a valued community asset lost. We have been lobbying the County for years to improve the Rec Center, located next to the library, with no results. This facilities at this Rec Center pale by comparison to those in other, more upscale parts of the County. And, so far, the needs of our children and our neighbors have been ignored. So, you see, the people who attended last week's meeting have a vested interest in the quality of life, not just downtown but on our streets.

When Rob Klein, the County official who heads the Wheaton Redevelopment effort states publicly: "If moving the library downtown is the right thing for development, the government has an obligation to do so" (as reported in last week's Gazette), this concerns us. Given our experiences as stated above, we feel these public opinion meetings are often pro forma, with decisions being made with little regard to our desires and needs. His comments reinforce that fear and distrust. Yes, the County wants to attract new businesses and residents to downtown Wheaton. We don't object to that. We do, however, object when it's at our community's expense.

Fact #2: The redevelopment of Wheaton Central Business District does not hinge on the relocation of the Wheaton Library. The County Library, which ran last week's meeting, organized the event to discuss EITHER renovation or relocation of the library. However, it was suggested by an attendee that these two choices were not the only ones. If the library was renovated instead of moved, the money saved (approximately $10 million) could be used to build a smaller satellite library downtown. This would be a win-win situation.

Fact #3: At this meeting the representative from the County Library System said that they could not guarantee how the property that the library now sits on would be used should it be relocated. And they wouldn't be able to tell us until way after the library was moved. The choices are to allow other County departments to use it for office space or to (once again) sell the property to developers for more high-density housing. Neither of these two choices was acceptable to those who attended last week's meeting. There are too many ifs in this plan and, given our past experiences with the County as stated above, we simply don't want to take our chances.

Fact #4: The County Library representative who ran last week's meeting said that if the library was renovated it would be closed for 1 /12 to 2 years. However, a member of the community who is in construction responded by saying a "rolling renovation," where part of the library remained open during construction, was indeed possible.

The County is trying to convey the issues surrounding the future of the Wheaton Library as "either or" black and white issues when they aren't. In fact, the best part of last week's community involvement was clearly the fact that there are choices the County hasn't even considered. I'm sure there are others who can speak to the facts you are looking for. The facts I've just stated, though, are just as important.

Noah Wolfe said...

I am a regular user of the Wheaton library and Wheaton library bookstore. The plan to move the library to the Wheaton Central Business District doesn't make any sense to me.

Personally, I find the CBD a difficult area to access. It's boxed in by Georgia Avenue, Veirs Mill Road and University Boulevard. I don't see the logic in tearing down a fine existing facility so that a new one can be built just half a mile down the road.

Further, if the plan is to build housing where the current library sits then we will be exacerbating the already awful traffic situation on Georgia.

I also doesn't make any sense for the county to sell off assets like the library's land. If we really need a new library find the cash in the budget or make a bond issue. Once we sell the land we will never get it back.

I've created a Facebook group to build support for keeping the library where it is. I hope you will join it and the cause.

Noah Wolfe said...


I hear that the bookstore may not survive the move. :(

Please join the FB group: