Stun­ning li­brary shows Cal­gary still gets it done

Calgary Herald - - OPINION - CHRIS NEL­SON

There are days the coun­try, prov­ince and even this city it­self — once a shin­ing bas­tion of “just-get-it-done­ness” — seem col­lec­tively stuck in some dreary, stag­nant rut.

Maybe it’s the end­less self-re­crim­i­na­tions along­side the ac­com­pa­ny­ing fad of rote-like apolo­gies to ev­ery spe­cial in­ter­est group that’s sapped our en­er­gies. We’re so darn sorry we dare not move, for heaven’s sake.

Or per­haps the snide elitism and barely dis­guised ar­ro­gance of those who be­lieve they know bet­ter than fel­low cit­i­zens is the rea­son for this cur­rent malaise and mu­tual mis­trust.

In­creas­ingly, any na­tional or com­mon pur­pose — whether con­struct­ing any­thing from a much-needed tide­wa­ter-bound pipe­line to a new arena or a po­ten­tial Olympic bid — is as rare as hen’s teeth.

It’s so long since we could cel­e­brate the ac­com­plish­ment of a large, pub­lic project not mired in con­tro­versy, over-spend­ing or po­lit­i­cal ger­ry­man­der­ing that, when it takes place, it seems sur­real and dream­like.

Well, time to wake up, Cal­gary, and then take a col­lec­tive bow. Be­cause we are about to open one of the most ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated ar­chi­tec­tural won­ders of 2018 in the heart of our own down­town on land once lit­tle more than a refuge dump. Yes, let’s hear it for our brand, spank­ing new Cen­tral Li­brary.

This is Cal­gar­i­ans at their finest. It cost a small for­tune, was paid for mainly through cit­i­zens’ taxes, came in on time and on bud­get and will last for gen­er­a­tions as the crown­ing cen­tre­piece for the on­go­ing re­vi­tal­iza­tion of the East Vil­lage.

Of course, some peo­ple will judge this a com­plete waste of money and that the $245-mil­lion con­struc­tion costs should have been saved or have gone else­where. This was pro­posed and ap­proved with nailed down costs in the most pub­lic and trans­par­ent way pos­si­ble.

And to those who’d never want a sin­gle cent spent on mak­ing this a bet­ter city now and in years to come, then they could at least pon­der some per­ti­nent facts about why dream­ing of the world’s best li­brary sys­tem might ac­tu­ally be a goal worth pur­su­ing.

In 2018, Cal­gary’s 20 pub­lic li­braries will be vis­ited about seven mil­lion times by the 670,000 peo­ple now hold­ing free mem­ber­ships. And it is way beyond just check­ing out books — there’s more knowl­edge been dis­persed freely to every­one who asks than all the high-priced in­struc­tion at univer­sity-level fa­cil­i­ties across Cal­gary.

Next year those vis­its will rise as not only the new Cen­tral Li­brary will be op­er­at­ing but also an­other branch in deep-south Se­ton opens in Jan­uary.

And if peo­ple don’t think be­ing one of the most lit­er­ate cities in the world mat­ters a damn and don’t equate it to last­ing eco­nomic ben­e­fits, then maybe they should claim squat­ter’s rights by re­tir­ing to one of those old sod­dies that were part of Her­itage Park’s “life in early Al­berta” ex­hibit.

Mean­while, in re­freshed Cal­gary fash­ion, in­di­vid­u­als and cor­po­ra­tions have stepped up and do­nated more than $40 mil­lion through the Li­brary Foun­da­tion’s Add In cam­paign, aimed at build­ing spa­ces and pro­grams across the en­tire sys­tem and lever­ag­ing the new Cen­tral Li­brary’s pres­ence.

There­fore a shame­less plug: any­one who wants to be part of his­tory by at­tend­ing the sump­tu­ous Lit Gala in the new build­ing on Nov. 2 — the evening fol­low­ing the grand open­ing — to raise an­other mil­lion bucks should check out the­lit­gala.ca web­site for in­for­ma­tion and tick­ets.

So this is time for cel­e­bra­tion, not just be­cause a mag­nif­i­cent new build­ing will open to us all but also be­cause, in do­ing so, it re­minds us we still live in a Cal­gary that not so long ago was fa­mous for its civic pride, sense of com­mu­nity pur­pose and re­mark­able abil­ity to get things done.

Per­haps, in 50 years, peo­ple not yet born will wan­der into this build­ing and mar­vel at just how smart, gen­er­ous and coura­geous folk were in 2018. Then they can re­sume ar­gu­ing about a pos­si­ble bid on the 2074 Olympics.

This is Cal­gar­i­ans at their finest.

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