Stunning library shows Calgary still gets it done
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.