Fine Print Sneak Peek: Community and Economic Development of a New Library

There are as many different definitions and meanings of community and economic development as there are people who practice these professions.

The Economic Development Handbook definition states, "From a public perspective, local economic development involves the allocation of limited resources-land, labor, capitol and entrepreneurship in a way that has a positive effect on the level of business activity, employment, income distribution patterns and fiscal solvency.

There is a difference between community development and economic development.

The United Nations defines community development broadly as "A process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems." Community well-being (economic, social, environmental and cultural) often evolves from this type of collective action being taken at a grassroots level, and it is the process for making a community a better place to live and work.

The Appleton Public Library building project is many things, including an economic and community development project. APL’s building project is an essential strategy to improve the vitality of our city from the standpoint of financial growth as well as quality of life.

One of the most important tasks to the success of this project is a critical approach to the site selection process. Usage of library services is but one measurement to success and like other economic development projects, success will also be determined by where the facility is located.

Downtown Appleton is a fascinating place to look at from a development and construction standpoint. Historically a large ravine stretched through much of downtown. Today much of that area has been filled and developed, but you can still see evidence in Arbutus Park and Jones Park. The ravine presents challenges to construction throughout much of downtown, especially in the area between those parks, but those challenges are not insurmountable. 

Appleton has a successful and thriving downtown, defined by College Avenue, resulting in a narrow, linear focal point with areas on the periphery not as prominently highlighted. The proposed location of a new Appleton Public Library between Lawrence, Oneida and Morrison does something no other location can do. Building the library on this site will expand downtown beyond the narrow strip while increasing connectivity and raising awareness of surrounding businesses and community amenities. This infusion of vibrancy, vitality and activity will be noticeable from College Avenue.

The visibility of this location from our renovated Houdini and City Center Plazas encourages multi-modal transportation between multiple community destinations. No other site will add this visible depth simply because of the existing structures. An inspiring and prominent civic structure such as the public library, filling the skyline in that location, would be an inviting and welcoming gateway feature.

The bluff that the proposed location sits on top of serves as the foundation of innovation and industry of Appleton's early years. While an elevation differential such as this can present development challenges, it also creates a lot of opportunities. By building the library here we can bridge the 46 foot elevation differential and finally connect the riverfront to downtown. Providing connectivity to these areas is a priority for the City of Appleton and Appleton Downtown Inc. The library project will give the City of Appleton the ability to work in earnest to pursue linkages between downtown and the riverfront. If we design a connection from downtown to the flats and Jones Park, we will achieve connectivity to both ends of the central business district and provide opportunities to put a lasting imprint on how we would like our downtown to be positioned for the future in terms of walkability, connectivity and urbanism. All of these are vital elements in attracting economic development and achieving community development.

The proposed site also has valuable synergies with neighboring institutions such as the YMCA, Lawrence University, Fox Valley Family Medicine Residency Program and other businesses. The library's presence in this area will provide a willing collaborative partner and a destination anchor in a manner that strengthens visitor traffic without serving as a competitor to the businesses and services in the area. It will also allow long-standing parking needs for this area to be addressed in partnership, as well as provide solutions for improved access along Lawrence Street, resulting in safer passage for pedestrians and vehicular traffic.

Of the 17 locations evaluated for the potential future site for the library, this particular site is the only one that provides the vibrancy, effectiveness and efficiency to answer all these issues. The length of this article precludes me from sharing each criteria evaluated while assessing the proposed site, but I encourage you to review the criteria matrix (located at created to evaluate all the potential sites.

The library’s thorough participatory engagement process provides us with context to come to a solution for the library’s needs that also works to strengthen downtown, connect to the riverfront and work in partnership to solve other community problems, while providing us with a library that addresses current and future needs.

Karen Harkness, City of Appleton Director of Community and Economic Development


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