Friday, May 27, 2022

My Future Omaha: A Checklist

Here's a checklist I brainstormed this morning over a hearty breakfast of pre-sweetened cereal. (Don't judge me, and I won't judge your venti upside down half-caf breve cappuccino, mmmkay?)

In no particular order. (Well, yeah, my brain picked the low-hanging fruit first, but all of these can be worked on in parallel.) Each of these will get a more in-depth analysis in the future.
  1. Amateur Sports
    Ever since the College World Series, Omaha has a tradition of supporting amateur sports. Omaha has hosted the Olympic swim trials, Olympic curling, equestrian events. But we don't really do regional sports tournaments very well. Tranquility Park can be expanded and improved to host regional sports competitions. 
  2. The Zoo
    The Henry Doorly Zoo is Omaha's amusement park. For the first time in 12 years, there is no construction occurring. But what if they expanded into Rosenblatt, where parking is now? What if they acquire land to the south or east? 
  3. The Airport
    Currently, construction will join all the concourses behind one secure checkpoint. There is a lot of space available for expansion (if the runways can handle the load). The airport is near to Downtown, and there should be more transit options. (Express bus. Streetcar.)
  4. The Convention Center
    First, MECA needs to add more events which use the entire building, like the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting. These big events sell hotel rooms, make more money, and raise Omaha's reputation as a welcoming city.
  5. Professional Sports
    Omaha has decent lower-league professional sports, with good fan support, as well as good management. The only question right now: Soccer. Where to build a stadium for United Omaha? 
  6. The Kiewit Foundation
    What if the Kiewit Foundation replicated the architecture program of Columbus, Indiana? 
  7. Building density
    This is already being addressed, but we need this everywhere. Replicate the many Main Streets in Omaha with every new development. Noddle is planning this for their farm project near Boys Town. You can still have detached single-family homes, but also townhomes, apartment buildings, condos...
  8. Connecting NoDo to the Old Market. (Old Ma?)
    This is more challenging, at the Landmark Center creates a giant roadblock between the Old Market and the Mall. There's also some traffic problems caused by I-480 exits, the open expanse of the Mall, and advertising.
  9. Connecting the Landing to the Mall to Heartland to Old Market to NoDo
    There are millions of dollars being spent on these three parks, but I am a bit pessimistic that it will be easy to walk between the Landing, the Mall, and Heartland without having to take the current detouring boardwalks.
  10. Vacant lots (ConAgra. Parking.)
    If the Old Market is such a destination for dining and shopping and tourism, why are there so many empty lots in that neighborhood? Should not every plot have a building? There are plenty of parking garages nearby (ugh). 
    (And yes, let's close off the streets for emergency vehicles only. Deliveries can happen in the early morning, or overnight.)
    And then there are empty lots over in ConAgraLand...
  11. Festivals! Fairgrounds!
    Omaha needs an anchored location for festivals. Given that the Landing is mostly paved, that would be ideal, especially since it's isolated from the rest of Downtown by the Union Pacific rail line.
  12. Streetcar!
    OOoooh... how far can it be expanded. Where? How far? 
  13. Image.
    What is iconic? What adds excitement, glamour? What diminishes, degrades, denigrates, derogates? Where's the vision, the drive, the chutzpah to make Omaha rival Denver, Kansas City, Chicago, and Minneapolis?

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

My Future Omaha: Omaha Public Library: Central Library

Disclaimer: I work for the Omaha Public Library.
I have seen some preliminary plans for the new Central Library before the general public.

What follows is not a critique of that design (which is being designed by Heritage Omaha and HDR, with some input from Library staff). 
I have no insider knowledge. Most library staff have been kept uninformed in the planning process, although staff have been invited to watch online presentations in advance of the public announcement. Aside from a few emails sent, short conversations with coworkers, and a nice chat with some designers at the open house at the Sorenson Branch, I haven't had any interaction with anyone working on the current project.

All that follows is myself studying the site, the requirements, the vision, and the challenges of building a central library building which serves as an icon of a city which will foster learning, innovation, and imagination for the next 150 years! (Omaha's first public library opened in 1872. Omaha has a history of discarding library buildings after 40 years or so...we should build for forever.)

I am an armchair architect and amateur city planner. I have no formal training, just decades of studying urban design, appreciating existing architecture, and living in Washington, DC (one of the first planned cities in the world), and New York City for 24 years total. (DC: 3, NYC: 21) I'm the proverbial lab rat who has run the rat race for 25 years, and now has the perspicaciousness to suggest how the maze could be improved!

So, first, the site, at 72nd and Dodge Street in Omaha.

Here's the Google Map:


It's a prime location. 72nd Street is the rare north-south sectional street which runs the full length of Douglas County. Dodge Street, which is part of US Route 6, is Omaha's Main Street, and this intersection has always been one of the busiest in Omaha, due to both commerce and commuters. In September 2021, an estimated average daily traffic count of 85,584 vehicles was tabulated, making it the third busiest intersection in the city!

North of this location is the Crossroads Mall, one of the first shopping centers in the country. Recently demolished, a town center is planned on 40 acres, featuring numerous retail and office buildings, all sharing an underground parking facility. Completion date is 2024. 

Less than a mile way is the University of Nebraska at Omaha, a major state university. To the northeast is the Omaha Community Playhouse, a respected regional theater, as well as the Omaha Conservatory of Music. The area is served by numerous bus lines, including a bus rapid transit line.


Cropped from the DOGIS.org viewer

Heritage Services, via the Community Information Trust which runs DO Space, owns(?) these three highlighted lots, listed from west to east:

Property AddressPINAcresSquare Feet
7337 DODGE ST8006100020.675629427.987
7215 DODGE ST8014600540.486221177.134
7205 DODGE ST8014600782.092191130.3046
Totals3.2539141735.4256

This is almost twice the size of the W. Dale Clark library downtown, which has a lot size of 1.6966 acres.
The current DO Space building on the site occupies 14,298 square feet of land, or roughly ten percent of the total land. This "island" building surrounded by surface parking lots is not uncommon in Omaha. The two vacant western lots are currently fenced off from use.

This is a busy intersection. Dodge Street immediately to the north has 8 lanes of traffic, and 72nd Street immediately to the east has 9 at the intersection, making it very daunting for any pedestrian to cross.

(Google Street View, looking east on Dodge Street, DO Space to the right: January 2022)

So, how should traffic be directed, as well as any pedestrians who might live nearby?

Here's the above DOGIS map, with annotations:

####
  • Eastbound traffic would turn right at 74th Street, then turn left onto Douglas Street.
  • Westbound traffic would turn south onto 72nd Street and then right at Douglas Street (or Farnam, if Douglas cannot be extended to 72nd Street).
  • Southbound traffic would do the same, turning right onto Douglas/Farnam.
  • Northbound traffic would turn left at the stoplight at Farnam and 72nd Street, and then turn onto 74th Street.
All traffic would lead to the library's underground parking garage at 74th and Douglas, indicated by the ★ on the map above. YES, underground parking. Omaha wastes square miles of valuable real estate with surface parking all over this city. It has to be plowed and maintained. Drivers have no protection from the extreme climate and weather, and sometimes have to walk long distances from the parking space to reach a locale. By placing parking underground along with other facilities, the City maximizes the available square footage of the lot, building a large and iconic building which serves as a landmark, which adds needed density, and which adds vitality and glamour to the neighborhood! (More below, when I delve into the actual structure.)

There would not be any new vehicular access to the site along Dodge or 72nd streets, as those lanes are already congested with turning traffic, and any library traffic would create difficulties for everyone. 

Any pedestrian traffic would be routed around the library via Douglas Street, as both 72nd and Dodge streets are inhospitable to pedestrians walking along the roads, or trying to cross these streets. 
There would be a crossing at 72nd and Farnam, where 72nd narrows, and offers a median for pedestrians. Crossings at that intersection could have their own interval with the stoplights, stopping traffic in all directions to offer greater safety to everyone.
To facilitate pedestrian access across Dodge Street, an underground concourse would connect the library parking garage to the underground parking at the Crossroads development immediately to the north, near the lot's western boundary at 73rd Street. City planners could copy the MTA's Under Bryant Park art installation, a pedestrian tunnel which connects the 7 subway line to the B/D/F trains under the iconic New York Public Library!

This quotation is from James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, p.216 lines 2-5

So, what would the building look like? What purposes will it serve, now, and in the future?
I'm not a trained architect, and I'll let those professionals work out the specifics. I'm just solving basic problems and contemplating what the library needs now, and what it can offer in the future.

Now, this might sound glib or simplistic, but libraries are first and foremost warehouses. Very nice warehouses, staffed with competent and expert staff, but warehouses nonetheless. The Omaha Public Library has limited space in their twelve branches, and staff actively curate what is found in those collections. Times are changing, and physical items are slowly being replaced by digital resources. 

What once were robust reference sections are now relegated to a few shelves in most branches, as it is easier to access information which can change daily, and digital databases can offer a greater depth and breadth of information, charging the library either a flat fee for database access, or per-use if that is more economical. This trend will continue in the decades to come, as fragile documents are scanned for protection and to offer greater access to resources. There is also the fragmentation of desktop publishing. Where the 1984 Macintosh inspired numerous print newsletters via computer design, and the World Wide Web of the 1990s created a plethora of websites serving diverse audiences, social media since the Millennium has facilitated publishing for everyone, where anyone can communicate ideas and creativity, build an audience, and possibly even a community. 

Who will curate this tsunami of research and productivity? While the Library of Congress has an archive of Twitter, who archives the posts from the Omaha History Club on Facebook? Where once libraries acquired mimeographed cemetery censuses bound with tape and staples, how are these libraries archiving the growing Wikis and blogs of crowd-sourced data? 

Of course, these digital archives need not be housed in a library building, but can be warehoused in a secure and inexpensive location miles away. But that information must be cataloged, indexed, curated, so that when someone asks a librarian, that librarian can locate factual and respected data.

They already do this, and the Central Library will house numerous physical collections already available at the Clark library downtown. Omaha history, genealogy, government documents, a pioneer's scalp...all that and other collections from other branches can be located here, just as other metropolitan library systems do the same nationwide.

As media migrates to the digital domain, legacy items become more valuable, as they do not require a fee to access, and certain titles will be forgotten or lost as owners deem them not worth the trouble of digitizing, or problematic in other ways.. Some digital offerings might omit ancillary material such as documentaries, computer files, or audio commentary found on older media. 

Then there is the Public Domain. It currently takes 95 years for copyright to expire. If a library owns a title copyrighted in 1926 or earlier, then that item can be shared freely. But until then, will libraries archive marginal materials? You may think that a million copies of a title would guarantee access and availability, but ask yourself, "When was the last time I saw a 10¢ copy of Action Comics #1 from 1938?" 

The current model of circulating items will continue for decades to come, as physical books and media are easy to operate. That is the primary service libraries provide: access to the best and the popular. 

The second most important service libraries provide is assistance.
Every librarian is trained to be able to help answer any question a person might have (within societal norms, of course). Almost every librarian you meet has a Master's degree in library and information science, and a Bachelor's degree in a particular field. Heck, even the frontline staff are experts in certain topics, just like many people you meet online or in person. Some of us have undergraduate degrees and like working in libraries. Others might not possess the training, but instead excel in experience. Or like many library users, we've read a lot of books, watched a lot of videos, done a lot of research. 

But many questions aren't as simple as "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?" (Answer: no one. Grant and his wife are interred in sarcophagi, on display.) Some might not have a quick answer, requiring a journey of discovery. Some librarians might need to recommend an organization or professional to help a person. Yet they are trained to help a person think about what they really want to know, to narrow the focus to make it easier for that person to find the right outcome. 

Librarians are also educators, and almost every visitor to a library is an active learner, seeking enjoyment, enlightenment, or escape. Everyday, library staff help patrons master technology. One might need to make a double-sided photocopy. Another might require assistance filling out an application online. Unlike most metropolitan library systems, Omaha has created a technology library separate from the public library: DO Space. Others can discuss how effective that is, but such needs are a necessity. Just as the library offers free computer access to individuals, not to mention access to expensive DVDs and books, so too can a library offer access to a Library of Things that people cannot afford or even need to buy. Power tools, cake pans, musical instruments, toys, seeds, museum passes...the list is endless. 

In addition to these items, libraries can also offer facilities where people can create onsite. It might be a media lab where a movie can be edited, audio mixed, or CGI perfected. It can be a maker space where plywood can be CNC'd, sculptures can be 3-D printed, fabric can be cut, embroidered, and sewn. As technology evolves and becomes affordable, the library can adapt, just as it has in the past with art files, vinyl records, VHS tapes, and compact discs. 

I hope that Heritage eliminates DO Space entirely. Ideally, the leadership staff would transition into a non-profit foundation supporting technology education for children and teens (and funding part of the library's technology acquisition, training, and upkeep). The bulk of the staff would transfer to the Omaha Public Library, and become technology librarians, both at the Central Library and at satellite spaces in other library branches. 

Then there are the spaces that all good central libraries have, but which are currently lacking in the Omaha Public Library system.

The biggest need is an auditorium space for lectures, screenings, and discussions. This is best placed underground, partly due to the needs of the space, and because of the infrequent use. The first basement level would be ideal, possibly opposite a gallery space.

Storage is another concern. Academic libraries keep titles for much longer, but move less popular titles to offsite storage where it must be requested for use later in the week. OPL doesn't have this great a need, although there are collections which are significant but which require instant access, such as genealogy or government publications. Compact and/or automated shelving can fulfill this need, and since weight loads are a concern, these materials could be placed in the bottom of the building underground, atop a reinforced foundation. This storage space can also hold other items, such as large print books, summer reading overstock, and surplus media.

What else? Well, let me create a simple layout via Google Sheets:

North Elevation, view to the south
Not to scale

Notes: 
  • A minimum of five storeys. It must be large and iconic and hard to ignore!
  • Small meeting rooms and study rooms are located on each floor, near the restrooms.
  • The top floor is a multi-purpose ballroom which can be subdivided into smaller spaces. 
  • Fortified against tornadoes. (See: 1975)
  • The children's floor would have a dedicated event space for storytimes and other events.
  • If extra public space is required, offices can be relocated to the lower parking levels. 
  • As the Little Papillion Creek is half a mile away, the water table should not be a concern. But if it is, a "bathtub" can be constructed.
  • The north and east facades are the WOW factor. Translucent by day, lit at night. LEDs? Built almost to the lot line, the ground floor would have protective barriers to prevent crashes. 
  • The south facade is the public face of the building, where the main entrance is located. 
  • The west facade: ground level has the cafe and the outdoor plaza. Above that can be a mural, perhaps a multi-paneled stained glass mosaic, highly visible from west Dodge Street. Since the cafe has an outdoor entrance, it can have different operating hours from the library.
  • The outdoor plaza would have ground level access to the pedestrian tunnel under Dodge Street.
  • The Friends Book Sale would have a permanent retail space on the first floor. 
  • Since this is an innovative building, it will be certified LEED Platinum
  • The roof would be green, creating a possible wildlife refuge in the middle of the city. A canopied event space on the roof can be rented to organizations, if regulations allow.  
  • One parking level could be reserved for city vehicle storage. 
The floors would be mostly column free if possible, to allow for the best configuration and reconfiguration of spaces as library needs and missions change. 


That's my basic vision for the Central Library. 
I'll have another post about the entire system, and what challenges must be addressed. 
Please comment below, offer whatever criticism you feel is worthy, and please share! 

I do hope that Heritage Services and HDR will host some design workshops so the public can offer their insights. I do know that OPL is hosting an open house on Sunday, May 22, for the public to engage with the design of the new downtown branch. 


Monday, February 28, 2022

CLiP1K: Herbert Marcuse, Philosopher of Utopia: A Graphic Biography



Title: Herbert Marcuse, Philosopher of Utopia: A Graphic Biography


EAN 0872867854, 9780872867857
Dewey Decimal Call Number:  191

Subject headings:
      • Marcuse, Herbert, 1898-1979--Comic books, strips, etc.
    • Philosophers--United States--Biography--Comic books, strips, etc.
    • Graphic novels.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

CLiP1K: The big book of the unexplained



Title: The big book of the unexplained
Author: Doug Moench


EAN97815638925471563892545

Dewey Decimal Call Number:  001.94

Subject headings:
    Comics (Graphic works)
  • Parapsychology and crime -- Comic books, strips, etc.  

CLiP1K: Yes is More. An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution



Title: 
Yes is More. An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution
 
Hypercapitalism
Author: BIG Bjarke Ingels Group ; editor, Bjarke Ingels ; text, Bjarke Ingels


EAN9783836520102; 3836520109

Dewey Decimal Call Number:  720.68

Subject headings:
BIG Bjarke Ingels Group--Exhibitions.

Architectural firms--Denmark--Exhibitions.

Architecture, Modern--21st century--Exhibitions.

BIG Bjarke Ingels Group--Comic books, strips, etc.--Exhibitions.

Architectural practice, International--Denmark--Exhibitions.

Source


Saturday, February 26, 2022

CLiP1K: Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales



Title: Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales.


EAN8182011418, 9788182011410
Dewey Decimal Call Number:  863

Subject headings:
    • Russell Tribunal on Repression in Brazil, Chile, and Latin America--Anecdotes.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

CLiP1K: Te Tahi-o-te-Rangi / nō Ngati Awa tēnei kōrero



Title: 
Te Tahi-o-te-Rangi / nō Ngati Awa tēnei kōrero 
Hypercapitalism


EAN978-1877422195 (paperback), 1877422193  (paperback)

Dewey Decimal Call Number:  499.44286