My esteemed colleague Luke has made something of a career out of documenting the savage charms of the Beach(es) in winter (IIIIIIIVV). The neighbourhood, hiding in plain sight, is a pleasant advantage to Toronto life in the summer and a brutally beautiful reminder of nature’s wrath in the winter. Frankly, I prefer the latter. Try walking along the boardwalk some winter night; be sure to bring lights.

Plus the Beach has a newly-renovated library, which just reopened last week. I was patron number four (and the first to return an item). My chief complaint about the place is the lack of WiFi, which I voiced to many a staffmember on opening day – even to the unusually tall media-relations queen. (“Why is it that, in a few years, the only place you won’t be able to get wireless Internet is the public library?”) They know it’s a problem, but I am not to hold my breath. The washroom locations are, moreover, a bit unpredictable.

But the place is absurdly tasteful, with surprisingly Modernist easy chairs, power outlets in abundance, good typography if not good wayfinding, a joyously loud Victorian-style floral carpet, and the original red walls with massive wooden brackets.

Giant dark wood brackets support a wooden vaulted ceiling against a red-painted wall

According to the library system’s head of branches, the collection has not decreased significantly even with the elimination of many of the old spacious wall shelves. And the Beaches Library certainly has the jolliest set of occasional chairs available in the east end.

Wheeled carts hold dozens of multicoloured plastic occasional chairs

Accessibility was a known issue to be addressed in the redevelopment. The original Queen St. entrance was to be restored, but it is below grade. I reacted with alarm when I passed by one day a few months ago and saw a concrete path snaking down the small hillside to the walkway that leads to the new restored entrance. I know very little about architectural accessibility, but still, I thought, that can’t be a 1-in-12 slope. I also thought There’s no way they’re gonna keep the snow offa that.

T minus two days to reopening, I was passing by again and chatted up a fellow who later claimed to have built that ramp to a 1-in-20 slope. Why didn’t they install underground heating, I asked? A casino in Niagara Falls does that with its entire parking lot, at minimal added expense. The guy replied that there was no money in the budget for it. (A librarian later told me on opening day that the capital budget was $1.2 million, which should have been enough to install a few pipes under ten metres of concrete. Operating costs are another question.)

So: Toronto’s getting a real winter for the first time in ages and I have been carefully checking to see if the ramp is kept as clear as the steps and walkway. It has been – except of course today, when the ramp was the only thing not cleared. Here’s the view when standing on the would-be ramp:

Snow-covered footpath leads to well-cleared walkway between stairs and open door

I asked inside, and a defensive librarian with a Bayman accent complained that (a) I couldn’t expect her to shovel it (who said anything about that?) and (b) a private contractor is supposed to do the job. Obviously they’d done only half the job. In olden days, she told me, their custodian on site would take care of things on the spot. Apparently we don’t live in those olden days.

Now, which of the following is cheapest?

  1. Proper design standards (including under-pavement heating of a known trouble spot)
  2. On-call caretakers who do half the job
  3. Getting sued, or at least served with a human-rights complaint

Make your selection now.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2005.01.26 17:13. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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