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A nice story: Kensington library opens amid throngs of happy people

January 11th, 2009 · 3 Comments

After all the sturm and drang of Friday’s Olympic village doom announcement, it was rather a relief yesterday to go to the opening of the new Kensington library branch at Kingsway and Knight yesterday.

For those of you who don’t remember the history (playing my Grandma “now gather round, children, and I’ll tell you a story” role), this library branch only came to be because the local residents banded together and fought for it. The site where it exists was once a Safeway store, which sat empty for years because Safeway had a covenant not allowing another grocery store and a couple of developers made proposals for some run-of-the-mill low-end housing there.

But the neighbourhood, which included not-yet city councillor Anne Roberts among many others, kept insisting that the site get a development that would provide something for the community. They managed to drive off the ho-hum development proposals and eventually worked out an agreement with Aquilini, the current developer, for something that included a library on site. It took 10 years in all.

It’s still seen as one of the most successful city-neighbourhood-developer negotiations in the city, one where the local neighbourhood ended up supporting the development instead of what has so often been the case of local residents bitterly unhappy about what they feel is massive densification being shoved down their throats. And this is a big development for them to have accepted. (For those of you who can’t quite place it, it’s that massive set of towers on Kingsway that looks like some kind of giant brick spaceship dropped in from New York or outer space amid the Vietnamese pho shops, mini-malls, car-repair places, and modest 1940s-era single-family homes all around. It’s also got this interesting grand archway on Kingsway, through which you see an interior courtyard and the entrance to the library, which I quite like.)

Okay, history lesson over. So whacks of people turned out yesterday for a very heartfelt celebration of the opening of the 7,500-square-foot library, which replaces the one that had existed for 28 years previously in a couple of storefronts across the road. The branch had people lined up to get in the first day and it’s been getting an average of 500 visits a day since it opened Dec. 16.

Mayor Gregor Robertson showed up to do the official opening and he proved once again that, whatever negative coverage he might generate in future years because of decisions he makes, he is what all of our mothers would call a Very Nice Young Man. When branch librarian Yokiko Tosa, who is about a foot short than anyone else present, stepped up to the mike to say thanks, Gregor was the one who jumped forward to adjust the mike down for her.

He himself acknowledged that he was a “Johnny come lately” piggy-backing on the work of previous councils, as he got to do the honours of opening the library And he hung around afterwards, so that every Vietnamese family who wanted a picture of him with their daughters in the little performance group of same could get that picture.

Lots of gracious speeches surrounding that, from long-time library board member John Buckberrough (“what a long road it’s been”), architect Keith Hemphill, board chair Joan Anderson, and the city’s public-art co-ordinator Bryan Newsom, who gave some context to the very interesting sculptures that sit in the courtyard outside the library.

“This is not artwork that panders,” said Newsom. “This is not Louie, Dewey and Huey. We’re confounded by it and we should be.”

The sculptures include a fierce-looking condor, poised on the ledge just outside a second-floor condo, some wicked looking three-toed sloths hanging around the archway, and others. For a more complete description, read Kevin Griffin’s description here in the Vancouver Sun.

I didn’t get the details on what the new library cost, but I understand it’s less than a billion dollars.

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