This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, April 29, 1998

April 29, 1998 - Shea Homes and the Successful Downtown

I have the privilege of participating in some discussions with Shea Homes and various players in Highlands Ranch. The issue is the "town center" -- a downtown for Highlands Ranch. Our new library, due to open on or around January, 2000, will be the first civic structure in the area.

Shea Homes has done its homework. For instance, in November of 1997, they conducted a study of successful downtowns, not only along the Front Range (including Parker and Castle Rock) but throughout the nation. They drew some interesting conclusions.

The customers of the successful main street "want more than a mall masquerading as a downtown, they want merchandise with a communal experience." And while a component of that experience is a conscious pedestrian orientation, there must also be room for cars. In 1996, American Lives, Inc. of San Francisco conducted a survey of 1,650 new home buyers in Colorado, California, Florida, Texas, Michigan and Washington. Eight-two percent of the respondents wanted "automobility." "If there is no place for their 20th century car, they will not visit a '19th century' place."

Shea's preliminary design for a downtown has engendered a lot of thoughtful commentary as we "test the model." Should we aim for a greater mix on our "Main Street" of office space rather than retail? How do we encourage the creation of a thriving public place without establishing rules so stringent that banks won't finance the commercial establishments needed to make it all work?

The process has been fascinating, and I appreciate Shea Homes' willingness both to investigate these options and to listen to its community.

Concurrent with these discussions, the library is moving forward with its project. And we're trying something that, as far as we know, has never been done before. We've established a Highlands Ranch Library project web site at http://douglas.lib.co.us/hrproject/index.html.

At this site, you'll be able to review (among other things):

* something about the architects we've chosen for the project,

* the timetable for the project,

* some possibilities for orienting the new library to the community "green" (a multi-purpose outdoors place that can accommodate anything from concerts to story times to art fairs),

* some views from the library site,

* the library "program" (our list of space needs for various library functions),

and much more.

Two other options are worth highlighting. One of them is our schedule for public meetings. In addition to a variety of focus groups we've already held for some elementary school groups (and others), we plan three more sessions. All will be held at the current library.

The first is on Wednesday, May 13, at 7 p.m. This is for the general public. The second two will be held on Saturday, May 30. At 10 a.m., we'll have a focus group exclusively for "story time moms (and dads)." At 11 a.m., we'll have a second focus group, again a general session.

At these meetings, we'll present some background on the project, then lead the group through some simple exercises to generate (we hope) some exciting new ideas for the library.

But we know that a lot of people have trouble making it to meetings. So the last piece of our website is a "registry" or "forum." Our intent is to provide a space for Highlands Ranch residents to comment on some of the issues about library design, either from home (assuming they have Internet access) or from one of our library Internet workstations. I hope this last, interactive piece will be in place by the time this article is in print. If not, it will be, soon.

The more the library board and staff have worked on this project, the more we have come to realize something. With the help of our patrons, we're not just building a library. We're building a community.

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