Combining Libraries and Housing: Boston City Councilors, the BPL and the Walsh Administration Are Considering Mixed-use Developments that Include New Branches and Affordable Housing

Delridge public library branch in Seattle, WA, has three levels of housing on top A city council hearing last December 12, organized by councilors Sal LaMattina and Frank Baker, looked into the possibility of combining affordable housing and branch libraries in Boston. City agency heads --of Inspectional Services, Housing, and the Boston Public Library-- attended the December hearing as well and, if the enthusiastic response of the attendees was any indication, such mixed-use developments could happen in Boston in the not-too-distant future. Councilor Baker's district includes part of the South End and the Dorchester Fields Corner branch, the latter vastly overdue for renovation and expansion. Baker said he hopes to get a proposal for this type of mixed-use development off the ground this year. Representatives of the Fields Corner local business community who testified at the hearing indicated their support. Longtime advocates for a new Chinatown branch in attendance also embraced the concept of mixed-use housing and libraries,

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and are said to be looking into city-owned property downtown for such a project with representatives of relevant city agencies. The building for the Chinatown branch of the Seattle Public Library includes housing and a community center Combining libraries and housing in a range of sizes has been done successfully in other cities: the St Paul, MI, public library in 2007 opened a new branch of more than 31,300 square feet with 98 units of housing above it. In Seattle, WA, the Chinatown branch of the public library system, in operation since 2005, is on the first floor of a five-story structure that offers housing and a community center. It is smaller than the St Paul Rondo Library, less than 4,000 square feet. Also in Seattle, the Delridge public library branch, completed in 2002, anchors the first floor of a three-story building that features 19 apartments. That branch's library area is 5,600 square feet. St Paul's (MI) Rondo Outreach Library branch building includes 98 affordable apartments The Rondo Outreach Library of the St Paul Public Library, which opened in 2007, got its name for a reason: extensive outreach by the library's staff to the surrounding community helped create a branch that met the stated needs of local library users: low-income residents, immigrants from many nations, students, and members of the Rondo African-American neighborhood that thrived there until an interstate was built through it in the 1960s. Rondo residents told the library staff they wanted classrooms and art in the new branch, and that is what they got: classrooms for after-school programs, tutoring, ESL classes and a range of workshops line the library's interior walls. Work by many local artists is on display and represents different cultures, reflecting the neighborhood's diversity. In another bow to residents' need for community space, a separate entrance allows local groups to have access to the library's community room for meetings when the branch is closed. In Brooklyn, NY, moreover, several proposals are being considered to add housing on top of first- floor branch libraries that need to be renovated and expanded. According to the New York Times's architecture critic, Michael Kimmelman, the dilapidated Cadman Plaza branch in the well-to-do Brooklyn Heights section of Brooklyn could be turned into a 21,ooo-square-foot library with 38 floors of market-rate housing on top. Affordable housing units for this project are proposed to be in a different location, a detail seen as "a red flag" by Kimmelman, although conceding off-site subsidized housing would allow for more affordable apartments. In a less affluent neighborhood in the same borough, the 12,000-square-foot Sunset Park library would become a 20,000 square-feet ground-floor new library with a seven-story tower on top, including affordable units. For details on the article, click here.