by Helene Ritchie
I have a dream, that one day soon the mayor and councillors will declare the Wellington Central Library open again. They will have their photos taken against the elegant glassed backdrop into the Civic Centre and announce that their personal legacies have been fulfilled on behalf of the people of Wellington whom they serve.
I dream that I am in awe of those people who saved this heritage architecture and significant public asset.
At last, I can walk into our library. It feels spacious without the social distancing awkwardness of stepping around people. It feels like the community hub that it once was, our communal living room, our whare nui, our indoor civic centre.
I see floods of young people gathering there, as they used to, pretending to do homework, but having a post covid excuse to meet up with friends. I see Wellingtonians seeking out their Citizens Advice Bureau. I overhear their concerns – high rents, new laws, mask wearing, living digitally, and a myriad of new emerging problems to be solved.
In my dream I see my favourite librarians back. Where were they banished to? I can ask them how to find that piece of information I desperately need. Small children love the books, audio and visual computer material. I see someone grateful for the warmth of a home she has no longer has, gently relaxing, perusing the few remaining newspapers and magazines.
I see some new features, flexi spaces, an inventor’s space, a maker’s space which includes robotics, 3D printing machines (where in a medical emergency surgical shields can be made for doctors and nurses who still need them in Covid wards), a laser cutter, sewing machines, weaving looms and harakeke weaving lessons. There’s a list of activities for pre-schoolers and parents- a tech time programme, let’s go lego, story time, Box making, social English for new immigrants and refugees, a kohanga reo place, and Baby rock rhyme.
Around the corner I see a sound studio and recording equipment, iphones, computers and printers and a “techy” librarian or two to help lessen the digital divide.
The New Zealand section has opened up again, combining with a new civic archives section with digital and actual access to Wellington’s archives, brought back from obscurity.
There’s a new music section with multiple scores to align with the music focus of the Town Hall and the Music School.
Where once cars were parked, below, I see a salt water swimming pool, as part of stage two, to take advantage of any sea penetration and future sea level rise, and to cater for the burgeoning Wellington population around the civic centre. I see a public gym where once there was a gym that was only for the privileged few – council officials and councillors.
I see the mayor (dressed in the pompous dignity of yesteryear) and council ensconced on the top floor, overlooking our harbour, our Town Belt, and our spruced up civic centre-Te ngakau, the heart of Wellington, the core of the capital’s civic life,
I dream of an immediate tomorrow start, “shovel ready” financial approval from the Government, a realistic budget, for a realistic “fix”, a timetable for fixing, completion and opening.
But sometimes my dream becomes a nightmare with constipated councillors determined to delay, deflect, deprive the public of their library and all its potential.But I hope my dream comes true. Now.
Helene Ritchie is a former deputy mayor and former chair of the Civic Centre project, which aimed to preserve the city’s civic heart, the juxtaposing of saved heritage buildings with new buildings, the library, an open civic square, and unique pedestrian link to the harbour.