The PTO at Panorama’s school made the mistake of inviting me to join, so last night I went to my first meeting. She’s been going to that school for almost three years now. I’ve avoided joining the PTO because while you may not have met me, I’ve met me. And I am pretty annoying. We were ten minutes into the meeting when my friend had to stomp on my foot as I started to ask if I could see mission statement for the organization and get a copy of their strategic planning document. “We’re planning a spaghetti dinner, not a land product for Asia,” she whispered through clenched teeth.
One of the project ideas was around library improvement, and it reminded me of the master planned community I mentioned we are working on yesterday. My town already has an above average public library, but it is about a mile from the elementary school.
The whole meeting I kept thinking about what a waste it was to have a redundant resource. We talk about sustainability. We talk about switching lightbulbs and using bamboo floors, but all to often we neglect the things that would make a huge difference in the amount of waste.
When Arnab and I were trying to figure out what elements our central area should have, we knew we wanted buildings that were community based, multifunctional and walkable. They should be the kind of buildings you want to walk by on your way home from work, but equally appealing on a Sunday afternoon. We settled on things like: an elementary school, a daycare/preschool, a community center, a gym, a playground, maybe some shops and places to eat.
I often call upon my visits to see family in Ontario when picturing how someone would move through the day. My brother-in-law walks one son to daycare, walks the other one to the elementary school, grabs a double double at Tim Horton’s, then walks to work all while making a big circle. On the way home, the process repeats, but this time they might stop at the playground or the library and grab some takeout. My sister-in-law can walk or ride a bike to the light rail for her job.
So why aren’t more schools tied into the local public library? There are things we could do with the layout to keep a separation between the school access and the general public access. They could even be separate buildings, just close together. We could also adjust the library hours so that the school use was, say, only on certain days or during certain hours. The benefits of pooling resources for building cost, maintenance, computer infrastructure, etc. would far outweigh the logistical work required.
The rise of ebooks makes this even more interesting. Many libraries have even worked out systems for lending ebooks. I don’t feel libraries will become irrelevant. I agree with Seth Godin that the library is no longer a warehouse for dead books. The library is evolving into a place of shared resources. A place to work, to read, to connect, to sift through data. What does that look like? Feel like? How does that tie into my elementary school PTO? I have no idea.
Maybe I should just focus on the spaghetti dinner. Seems less messy somehow.
Right after I published this, I noticed this podcast from the AIA. Ellen Dunham-Jones teaches at my alma mater, Georgia Tech, so of course that automatically makes her awesome. Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs From the description: Her book examines more than 50 case studies across North America of "underperforming asphalt properties" that have been redesigned and redeveloped into walkable, sustainable vital centers of community—libraries, city halls, town centers, schools and more. ~dana