“This entire process feels like window dressing for decisions already taken.”
So read a guerilla message plastered on design boards at a recent library visioning session in Inwood, a neighborhood at Manhattan’s northern tip. The city announced last month that it will sell the Inwood branch library, on busy Broadway, to a developer who will build all-affordable housing and a new library on-site.
The New York Public Library (NYPL) said that after the demolition, the rebuilt Inwood branch would be the same size and provide the same services. The Robin Hood Foundation, an antipoverty nonprofit, is putting $5 million towards the project to match the city’s contribution.
Although the housing would be privately developed, the city would maintain ownership over the library. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) expects construction on the new building to begin in 2019.
To prepare for changes, HPD has organized three visioning sessions about the library’s future. The first was held last Wednesday night, and attracted about 60 people: HPD planner Felipe Cortes noted that the crowd was mostly older and whiter, an observation reflected in the number of stickers on the respective English and Spanish-language design and programming visioning boards.
Residents were asked to express their preference for a new building at 115, 145, and 175 feet in height with 90, 110, and 135 units, respectively. Not included: an option to preserve the building, which dates to 1952.
At the session, some residents felt the project was moving ahead too fast, and that public input would not substantially impact the city’s plans; similar concerns were voiced earlier this month at a Manhattan Community Board 12 meeting, DNAinfo reported.
“Bill de Blasio is too eager to cave to developers,” said resident Sally Fisher. “It’s like the city put a ‘For Sale’ on Inwood.” She wondered where teenagers and children will congregate once demolition is underway.
The impending sale follows two others that the city has authorized in Brooklyn Heights and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, both of which have sparked community outcry. (Brooklyn Public Library is a separate system from the NYPL, which covers Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island.) For the Inwood deal, it’s not yet clear who will own the deed—HPD says those details have yet to be determined.
The library, one of the most-used in the system, is in dire need of repairs and upgrades. Pointing to a water-damaged drop ceiling, library manager Denita Nichols said that the building is showing signs of wear and tear, and the full renovation 16 years ago has not kept pace with changing technology or current community needs. Nichols said library, which is one of the few open seven days a week, has to accommodate quiet study spaces and more social spaces. “I would love to see a flex space with a culture center—that would really be great to me if it happened,” she said.
NYPL will continue to do community outreach around the project before any design decisions are made.