No, No, A Thousand Times No

I attended part of the library board meeting today and saw some of the WBDC presentation of plans for the Theater District (and especially the McGrath parking lot).

I must have misread or misunderstood the plans, but here is what was presented for the McGrath site:

  • An indoor hockey rink along Salem Street, across Library Lane from the library entrance
  • Another indoor hockey rink between the first rink and McGrath Boulevard, on a diagonal
  • A slightly widened (for drop-offs to the hockey rinks) and rerouted Library Lane
  • Limited parking along the side of the library that faces the YWCA (similar to what currently exists)
  • A small-ish lot close to the YWCA

The parking garage along the T&G building is part of the proposal, but there were no concrete or easy ways to direct pedestrians from that garage to the library.

Why hockey rinks?

The WBDC’s response was that they were told that some colleges had been thinking of putting in hockey rinks, but the space on campuses was limited and constructing hockey rinks was expensive.  So this plan includes a practice rink and a rink for games.

(The Sharks also have practice space in Marlboro and would love space closer to Worcester.)

We’ve also been trying to attract college students to downtown and this would be a way to bring them downtown (according to the WBDC).

I am not convinced that hockey would be enough of a draw to bring lots of college students to come downtown.  Sure, those kids might come to play or practice, but after a couple of hours on the ice, would they want to spend more time downtown or just go back to the dorm and take a long shower?  (It also wouldn’t attract a LOT of college students.)

The WBDC also said that there was a potential for others to use the rinks, and that a parent who drops off a child to the hockey rink could then have lunch/use the library/shop downtown while waiting for the practice to finish.

But high school students usually practice hockey early in the morning (5-8am) due to the cost of ice time, so unless we were going to drastically expand library hours, parents/siblings/players couldn’t really use the library — or frequent any local business except for a convenience store.

Won’t the hockey players take up the limited parking close to the YWCA?

According to the presentation, hockey players could be dropped off at the rink and then would be directed to park at the T&G lot.

But if we’re trying to attract college students, why would they want to park at the T&G lot and lug their heavy equipment a few blocks?

So what would Salem Street look like?

A hockey rink and library on one side, and the Mayo Building on the other side.

I can just see pedestrians flocking there for a daily dose of beige and off-white with a decided lack of foot-traffic-level business.

It would be great if we could see a pedestrian path between Portland and Salem, but that would mean cutting through a building.

What does this do for the library?

Not much, as far as I can tell.

The Library Lane entrance would face a hockey rink building.

Patrons and staff would have fewer close parking spaces.

I didn’t see any space in the plan for eventual expansion of the library.  This is something I think we’d need in the next 10-15 years — the meeting room space is in demand, the teenagers do not have enough space in their small area, etc.  We need more space in that building.  And we need to plan accordingly.

Hockey, huh?

I have a real philosophical problem with putting in two hockey rinks across the street from the library.  Hockey is an expensive sport, and one that requires a certain privilege.  I do not feel comfortable placing something so exclusionary (because of the cost of equipment and ice time, because the intention is to be used mostly by college students and professional athletes) across from a great symbol of democracy and equality.

And — as was mentioned at the board meeting — we can’t afford to rebuild pools in poor neighborhoods, but we’d be able to find money to build two indoor rinks for the most expensive sport this side of polo?  No.  I am sorry.  But no.

I like that this plan is trying to think creatively about using a (perhaps-underused, definitely ugly) urban space, and that there’s though to bringing college students into downtown.

But that is all I can like.

One of the things that makes great urban spaces is that sense of democracy.  When I think of a place like the Common/Frog Pond/Public Garden area in Boston, part of what makes it so appealing is that it brings together all sorts of people — young and old, rich and poor — with all sorts of backgrounds and interests.

Kind of like the public library.

I do not see how putting together a complex with such a narrow interest will further the goal of encouraging the arts or a greater sense of urban community.

It certainly will not further the mission of the library.

This will be discussed further in future library board meetings.

I will keep you all informed about when this will be discussed.

But — if you feel as I do — you need to start letting library board members and elected officials know now that the solution to the mistakes of urban renewal is not sticking a couple of hockey rinks in a parking lot.