April 19, 2018

All In: Remaking Public Life | Editorial

The need to reinvent public life has special relevance today, as too much civic discourse fails the civility test, threatening our ability to solve problems, much less build a better world. Libraries are stepping forward and actively working to find ways to foster deeper community engagement.

The evolving shape of public life, how communities are changing, and where libraries fit in was the focus of the LJ Directors’ Summit held last month at the Free Library of Philadelphia. It was exciting to learn about the forces at work, the challenges and opportunities ahead, how libraries are stepping up to foster deeper engagement, and what else they can do (see LJ’s coverage).

A few things stood out for me from the keynote by Neeraj Mehta, director of community programs at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. It was both history lesson and call to action on building equitable communities.

Effective public spaces support public life. They succeed when a number of factors are addressed, as the Project for Public Spaces explores and documents in this diagram (pictured). This is solid guidance as we consider how our neighborhoods can ideally function and try to shape a better world for everyone.

“Everyone” being the operative word. To achieve equity, it’s critical that inequality be explicitly confronted, Mehta said. Systems of disparity were carefully established and will have to be equally carefully dismantled, requiring deep community engagement.

The cost of not doing so is dear. “The ugly truth is that race, white supremacy and racial hierarchy, is robbing every single individual person in our country of their humanity,” one of his slides reads.

That is more than enough reason for me, but Mehta also offered an economic case for equitable development. “Equity is not a zero sum game,” he noted, adding that research shows that prosperity and inclusion go together. To drive the point home he quoted the late Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone: “We all do better when we all do better.”

As we grapple with making this real, we can be guided by Mehta’s voice and by tools such as the Equitable Development Principles & Scorecard: A Tool for Communities and Planners. When you have a chance, watch the video of Mehta’s presentation.

Libraries have a role to play as they help shape placemaking in their towns and cities, on campuses, and at schools. “Fighting for equitable geographies, cities in which everyone, regardless of income, can comfortably live, is complicated,” said Mehta. Hard, complex: worth it.

This article was published in Library Journal's December 1, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (miller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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  1. Respectfully, Rebecca Miller is a product of propaganda and needs to think this through as as a true free-thinking dignified human and take it to its logical oppressive and persecuting conclusion. One may believe that this approach will lead to the legislation of a homogenized and ‘better world’ by a few privileged ‘knowers’ but all the discussion elements introduced are largely false and/or invented for the sole objective of creating an agenda to rule the world under tyranny.

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