The hot topic around Cambridge lately appears to be the new library project that is going on in the Old Post Office in Downtown Galt. There seems to be loads of negativity from a vocal minority of people deriding any number of aspects about the project. Most are of the typical refrain of “waste of tax dollars” or “too much glass” without ever taking a wider view of the project. Libraries do certainly serve a purpose in this day and age and I think it’s wonderful that something is being done with this building. As someone who didn’t live in Cambridge until 2007, Fiddler’s Green(the previous restaurant tennant) was practically the reason to come to Cambridge. It was a beautiful building that my friends and I used to love to come to. I even had the good fortune of being there one night when they had the elusive 3rd floor lounge open. It was a really cool space and it has been quite unfortunate that the building had fallen into disrepair. The fact that the City is breathing new life into this heritage building is awesome.
Now having been a keen observer of what’s gone on with this building since Fiddler’s closed I thought I would tackle some of the myths that seem to be involved in many of the complaints about this project.
Myth #1 – This Project Is Moving Too Fast
People seemed to be pretty revved up about this because they feel this is sudden and that the outgoing council is looking to pull a fast one. Not so much in this case. This project was initially announced in September 2012 with a plan being completed in late 2016. I found this article mentioning the possibility of the City purchasing the building back in 2011. The reality here is that the moving gears to this project have been going on for 2 years now. Council already approved the expenditure of money for this in 2013. So if you’re hopping up and down about this project not having enough consultation you’ve been napping for the last 2 years. If council deferred everything to allow every shortsighted naysayer in town their input the project would never get done.
Myth #2 – This Is Just An Expensive Restaurant/Coffee Shop
From the article Cambridge Libraries page on The Old Post Office project
After Fiddler’s Green closed in 2007, the Post Office was purchased by the Landmark Group which intended to renovate it as a restaurant. Instead they ended up renovating another historic riverside building just upstream, the Dickson Mill at the Parkhill Bridge, that has become the Cambridge Mill restaurant. The City of Cambridge became the owner of the old post office once more.
Now the Landmark Group has done some fantastic work in renovating the Cambridge Mill into a highly regarded restaurant destination in Galt. Many people I know that live outside the area will bring up coming from out of town to go to this restaurant. Essentially they restored a landmark and made it even better. When selling the Post Office building back to the City the Landmark Group made it a stipulation that they would retain the rights to being the food vendor. And given the smashing success that project was, why wouldn’t you want them involved? They already have experience with revitalizing Cambridge landmarks.
As someone who attends meetups of all sorts in Kitchener/Waterloo/Guelph I’ve found viable meeting spaces are at a premium in Cambridge. It would be great to have a meeting space that would allow you to have a group as well as order food and drinks. Many of the restaurants in town simply don’t have private spaces. I know to the average Cambridge person they might not care, but as someone who wants to see more community events happening in this town this type of space could be ideal.
Myth #3 – It Won’t Mesh With The Existing Architecture
In case people haven’t been paying attention, Downtown Galt has been evolving for years now. The City Hall project did a wonderful job of meshing new and old architecture into a cohesive civic space. We have the Dunfield Theatre that has a large glass front facade with a second floor glass area that juts out from the building, almost in some ways mirroring the new design of the Old Post Office project. There is one Waterscape condo tower built, with a second on its way. Down the other end of downtown there are the Grand Lofts condominiums with another set of modern condominium towers being built right beside with the Riverside Condo project. As mentioned before, the Cambridge Mill was recently renovated, adding a glass pavilion right beside the dam. If you think Galt is all old stone and brick work you just haven’t been paying attention. Give it 5 years and this library will fit right in with the modern direction Galt is going.
Myth #4 – This Will Just Be Some Yuppy Hangout
This is probably my favourite criticism I’ve heard of this project. I paraphrased a bit referring to this tweet I received about the project
— omnigorn (@omnigorn) July 11, 2014
When thinking of this particular criticism I couldn’t help but see through it. Why exactly wouldn’t you want upper-middle class people spending time and money in the largest of Cambridge’s downtown cores? The City has been working rather hard to intensify the population of the downtown core. As I previously mentioned with all the big condo projects, Cambridge wants people living in their downtowns, that’s a no brainer. The reality is this is the type of project that can make people consider living in Cambridge. It can draw in families by having great access to children’s programs. It gives people a reason to spend time downtown. When people are downtown they will spend money on goods and services at local businesses in the area.
Libraries As Vehicles To The Future
Most people with this project seem to be hung up on the concept of what a modern library is today. I know myself growing up in the 1990s I wouldn’t be where I am today without a library with internet access. I learned many of the basics of HTML coding and started building my own web pages by going to the library and using their internet access, which wasn’t as readily available to everyone back then. Those foundational skills I learned in a library are what employs me to this day. This next generation of library is offering stuff like access to a 3D Printer. I can only imagine what I could have cooked up in my teenage years with access to one of those. My guess is most people in Cambridge don’t even know what a 3D Printer is or how it’s going to shape our future. It could viably be as big as the introduction of the internet was to libraries back in the 1990s. Giving access to these types of tools is what this project is all about. Enabling the next generation to think bigger and bolder. A project like this is inspiring and I hope a majority of people in Cambridge can see that fact.