Tuesday Keynote: Libraries as Community Revitalizers
Storm Cunningham, CEO, ReCitizen, L3C and author of the forthcoming book, ReCivilizing, was the Tuesday keynote speaker. He described community revitalization and concluded by listing some roles that libraries could play.
There are 3 strategies important in revitalization: physical, supportive, and catalytic.
- Physical: For example, Seattle used its library to revitalize its downtown. Sometimes libraries renovate other buildings, such as the Oyster Bilingual School in Washington DC. In that case, there was no land available for multi-family residences, but the 21st century fund renovated the building at no cost to the public, and the school had a little extra property which was used to build a multi-family apartment building.
- Supportive: providing meeting spaces, incubators of new business and social enterprises. This is what libraries have been doing all along.
- Catalytic: Computer-based crowd technologies, which are knowledge-based, not capital intensive–and could be free.
Three trends are affecting the catalytic strategy.
- Restorative development: New developments and maintenance/conservation lead to restorative development. We cannot grow based on maintenance so we must restore and revitalize places already developed. Redevelopment isn’t sprawl–you can’t do too much of it. His book described 8 categories of restorative development, shown below.
Conservation agencies are now focusing on restoration; the earth is contaminated, so everything is a restoration opportunity. We are spending a lot on restorative development, but we are not teaching it in schools. The next generation needs a whole new mindset. We need to change from development to redevelopment. The world is severely damaged. Everything can be a restorable asset–dumps, demolition sites, etc. If we are going to restore, let us build restorable libraries so our grandchildren can have their own restoration economy. Many cities try to revitalize but never achieve critical mass. Effort, money, passion, and ideas are not enough; we must not focus on the product without the process. Does your city have a public engagement challenge? Your passport to the restoration economy is a simple prefix change:
- Citizen leadership: Citizens are traditionally involved in protests and polling. They are the only ones who can run ongoing programs because elected officials come and go. Agencies and institutions tend to operate in solos. Our ideas of leadership are being challenged. Citizen-led renewal leads to more effective government in tough economies. This is going on all over the world, and there is a huge tide of ideas welling up. For example, see the High Line Park in Manhattan. Through public engagement, the city approved the project. Redevelopment along the park has been stimulated. This phenomenon has spread to other countries; here is an example from Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
- Crowd technologies are laying the fire under redevelopment and citizen leadership and allow us to create projects. Kickstarteris the largest funding site and has helped over 60,000 creators raise $261 million. One example, a LowLine park in New York City, which is the world’s first underground park. The developers raised $155,000 in just 30 days from 3,300 supporters. This has spread all over the world (see photo of Rotterdam above). Crowdmapping uses citizen’s eyes to map disaster situations. They can find out where the danger areas are, direct the responders. The Chinese are heavily involved in this kind of activity. Even military projects have been crowdsourced. This light combat support vehicle, the world’s first crowdsourced military vehicle, was prototyped in 14 weeks for under $700,000 instead of taking 10 years and $1 billion.
Climate change, community renewal, urban farms are all crowdsourced projects. Crowd technology is not “groupthink” or “mindless mass”; everybody is free to harness their genius.
The key to making this work is to make it fun and keep it simple and quick.
What does this all mean for libraries?
Cunningham’s recommended reading is Public Libraries and Resilient Cities, by Michael Dudley and available from ALA.
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