APL Adults

Fine Print Sneak Peek: Community and Economic Development of a New Library

There are as many different definitions and meanings of community and economic development as there are people who practice these professions. The definition from the Economic Development Handbook states, “from a public perspective, local economic development involves the allocation of limited resources-land, labor, capitol and entrepreneurship in a way that has a positive effect on the level of business activity, employment, income distribution patterns and fiscal solvency”.

There is a difference between community development and economic development.

The United Nations defines community development broadly as "a process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems". Community well-being (economic, social, environmental and cultural) often evolves from this type of collective action being taken at a grassroots level and it is the process for making a community a better place to live and work.

The Appleton Public Library building project began six years ago. This project is many things, including both an economic and community development project. APL’s building project is an essential strategy to the vitality of our city from the stand point of financial growth as well as quality of life.

One of the most important tasks to the success of this project is a critical approach to the site selection process. Usage of library services is but one measurement to success and like other economic development projects, success will be determined by where the facility is located. This crucial task of site evaluation and selection was critically and thoroughly approached by the Appleton Public Library and involved numerous community stakeholders and industry professionals.

Downtown Appleton is a successful and thriving downtown, defined by College Avenue, resulting in a narrow, linear focal point with the areas on the periphery not as prominently highlighted. The proposed site between Lawrence, Oneida and Morrison does something no other proposed location could do. Building the Appleton Public Library on this site will expand the depth to downtown beyond that narrow strip while increasing connectivity raising awareness of surrounding businesses and community amenities as the library provides state of the art services to a projected 2,200 customers daily. This infusion of vibrancy, vitality and activity will be noticeable from College Avenue.

The visibility of this location from our newly renovated Houdini and City Center Plazas encourages multi modal transportation between multiple community destinations. No other site will add this visible depth simply because of existing structures. From the south, this is an engaging location that serves as the gateway to the city and will play a major role in defining the skyline for Appleton. An inspiring prominent civic structure such as the public library, filling that skyline location, would be an inviting and welcoming gateway feature.

Downtown Appleton is a fascinating place to look at from a development and construction standpoint. Historically a large ravine stretched through much of downtown. Today much of that area has been filled and developed but you can still see evidence in Arbutus Park and Jones Park. That ravine leaves challenges to construction throughout much of downtown, especially in the area between those parks, but those challenges are not insurmountable.

The proposed location sits atop a bluff that overlooks the flats which served as the foundation of innovation and industry in Appleton's early years. While an elevation differential such as this can provide development challenges, it also provides opportunities. Building the library on this site provides the opportunity to bridge the 46 foot elevation differential finally connecting the riverfront, flats area from our current downtown to the Historic Fox River Mills and to Jones Park. Providing connectivity to these areas is a priority for the City of Appleton and Appleton Downtown Incorporated, and the library project will give the City of Appleton the ability to work in earnest to pursue linkages between downtown and the riverfront. If we design a connection from downtown to the flats and Jones Park we will achieve connectivity to both ends of the central business district and provide real opportunities to put a lasting imprint on how we want our downtown to be positioned for the future in terms of walk ability, connectivity and urbanism - all important elements in attracting economic development and achieving community development.

The proposed location also has valuable synergies with neighboring institutions such as the YMCA, Lawrence University, Fox Valley Family Medicine Residency Program and other neighboring businesses, because the library's presence in this area will provide a willing collaborative partner and a destination anchor to this part of downtown in a manner that strengthens visitor traffic without serving as competition to the businesses and services in the area. It will also allow long standing parking needs for this area of downtown to be addressed in partnership as well as provide solutions and the impetus change and improved access along Lawrence resulting in safer passage for both pedestrians as well as vehicular traffic.

Of the 17 locations evaluated for the potential future site for the library, this particular proposed location is the only one that provides the vibrancy, effectiveness and efficiency to answer all these issues. The length of this article precludes me from sharing each criteria evaluated while assessing the proposed site, but I encourage you to review the criteria matrix created to evaluate all the potential sites. The library’s lengthy and thorough participatory engagement process provided them with context to provide a solution for the library’s needs that also worked to strengthen downtown, connect to the riverfront through the flats and work in partnership to solve other community problems while providing us with a library that addresses current and future needs.

Karen Harkness, City of Appleton Director of Community and Economic Development

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