Radical Maintenance projects directly improve physical infrastructure and resiliency, but they also activate their communities by advancing creativity, innovation, and curiosity.

The very fact that the projects are happening becomes a chance for the city to change the way it talks to its residents about public works by bringing community engagement to the earliest stages of public projects, as well as through smaller gestures such as new construction signs that are informative and engaging. 

This changes the way people relate to their local branch, and provides more opportunities to learn from the process of rebuilding the city’s social infrastructure. 

That happens in more structured ways too. Local universities get involved in the Radical Maintenance Program by tying library-specific challenges into the curriculum.

This works for vocational training as well, by using the renovations of branch libraries as workforce development opportunities. The potential scale here is significant: when 65—or 207—libraries are part of the Radical Maintenance program it wont be just the two young people on the billboard pictured below that are happy to be learning new job skills.

Rebuilding local libraries will inevitably mean periods of closure—and this fact of life becomes a chance to think of the positive effect that could be manifest for a district.

When a branch library goes offline for maintenance, critical civic programs and services that must not be interrupted migrate to nearby underutilized properties, including commercial, mixed-use, and public assembly spaces in the immediate vicinity.

To contend with interruption, the singular edifice of the library temporarily dissolves into a network of smaller spaces with individualized programming.

Meanwhile, there’s one group of stakeholders that’s increasingly absent in the library: the affluent. When neighborhood branches enter the maintenance cycle, there’s a possibility to turn some of these spaces into revenue-generating assets for a limited time. These special events would strengthen recognition from civic leaders and potential donors.

Every thread of the story leads to this. New York City's branch libraries have fallen between the political cracks for so long that the scale of current needs are politically untenable when seen as pure “costs.”

UNION’s portfolio has been designed as a series of incremental investments that build upon each other, with the intention of using small expenditures up front to snowball into larger and larger financial and in-kind contributions.

The library’s position as the linchpin of social infrastructure means that dollars spent on libraries translate into benefit across a wide variety of outcomes—from education, to health, to disaster resiliency. Investment here is a tool to connect disparate but critical social functions of the city.


This project was created by UNION.