A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rocketing into 1990s: Portland's "High Technology" Park

My colleague Erik from the Bike/Ped Committee recently FAXed me about the City's proposed development of a city-owned TECHNOLOGY PARK (or "Tech Park," as it's known in the business) out by the Maine Turnpike.

The site is mapped below - it's the forested land between Rand Road and Westbrook Street on the western edge of the Fore River Sanctuary:

View Larger Map

Here's the proposed site plan, courtesy of the City of Portland "Economic Development Division":

Now this is just the kind of work environment that our best and brightest "technology" workers and businesses are looking for: a series of 1- and 2-story cubicle containers surrounded by large parking lots along a winding cul de sac right next to an interstate offramp.

Could Microvax NA-2010 Task Automators with 36-Character Cathode Ray Tube Output Screens be coming to Portland?
Erik points out that "this site is not currently served by public transportation, and is not within easy walking distance of the kind of services that technology professionals might be looking for - lunch, coffee shops, etc."

The location gets a Walk Score of 22 - which makes it one of the most isolated neighborhoods in the entire City of Portland. The closest lunch spots and retail services are fast food joints located about a mile away, in the decidedly low-tech Pine Tree Shopping Center.

That means that potential employees will be productively imprisoned at their cubicles, completely freed from the creativity and social interactions that plague other tech hubs like Cambridge, Massachusetts and Mountain View.

In the spirit of technology, let me just recircuit my instrument panel here so that I can hotlink Erik's entire "electronic mail" transmission. Please make some bleeping and blooping noises with your mouth so that this will work properly...

via; Mon, 22 Nov 2010 05:30:59 -0800

"While the goal of the technology park is a good one: encouraging high-tech businesses to move to Portland, I feel that the implemention is wrong. They are proposing a 1980s style cul-du-sac business park on a greenfield (forested) site. I feel that the project could be a greater benefit to our City, and also stand a better chance of being able to attract creative technology professionals if it were designed in a more modern, more efficient, and less impactful style with better connectivity to alternative transportation, services, and downtown.

It seems crazy to tear down forest... when there are many vacant buildings and brownfield sites in town. Even if they did build here, they it seems they could do it in a much more compact way that would preserve more land, facilitate colaboration by making it easier to walk between buildings, and cost less.

This site is not currently served by public transportation, and is not within easy walking distance of the kind of services that technology professionals might be looking for - lunch, coffee shops, etc. It is therefore destined to increase auto traffic on 95 and Brighton, which in turn reduces the economic efficiency of the project.

I also wonder if technology professionals would want to be stuck in a cul-de-sac by the freeway. I feel this project would be better able to recuit a variety of creative professionals if it were conceptualized and sited differently."
It's not as though the kind of office park being proposed doesn't already exist in great abundance throughout the Greater Portland region, in purgatorial strip centers like Scarborough, Falmouth, and the Maine Mall area. In practice, those cubicle farms are populated by insurance processors, telemarketers, paperwork filers, and other white-collar drones (and hey, I work in a suburban cubicle myself, to my consternation, so don't take offence - I write this from personal experience).

The proposed "technology park" could manage to lure tenants with cheap office space and free parking. But the businesses whom those suburban amenities entice are rarely innovative businesses, and they definitely aren't the kind of businesses that will revolutionize Portland's economy.

Unfortunately, this represents years' worth of work by Portland's economic development staff. The result - a dime-a-dozen suburban office park - is something that dozens of private-sector developers could have done in their sleep.

Meanwhile, neighborhoods like Bayside and the Gorham's Corner area, which are both adjacent to downtown, have also been trying to attract new real estate investment without much luck. Real private-sector innovators have been incubating new software and media businesses in these neighborhoods under the EDC's radar. A single new office building in one of these neighborhoods would have access to thousands of creative, educated workers within easy walking distance - and those workers would provide a huge boost to hundreds of other downtown businesses nearby.

But the suburban cubicle farm is what City Hall has already decided to buy. So do YOU run a business that's interested in locating your employees in the hinterlands of Portland among acres of scenic parking lots? Does your Human Resources department enjoy paying for your employees' car payments IN ADDITION TO the increased costs of in-town housing? Don't forget the long-term health care costs associated with a workforce that has few choices beyond eating fast food takeout meals on a daily basis!

If you're interested, wire a telegraph to Portland, Maine's Economic Development Division. The high-tech among you are are also invited to visit the EDD's World Wide Web page

(ACTUAL REAL NON-SATIRICAL QUOTE from the previously-mentioned WWW page: "Best viewed at 800x600, with Internet Explorer.")


Patrick said...

The humor of this post drives the point of it home. However, I think a more straightforward argument is in order, and should be made directly to the City. You are right that creative types are NOT going to want to locate in these suburban developments...they are creative, and such a place is anything but. It doesn't feed anyone's imagination or cater to anyone's artistic sensibilities. It is quite simply a failed and outdated mode of development, but for some reason it takes a long time to get people in power up to speed on current trends.

Festoonic said...

Hopeless. Just hopeless. I would have hoped that the city might be just a little bit more farsighted in its assumptions than the state or the feds, but the same mindset rules them all: they believe endless growth is a law of nature -- not a historical anomaly, as the facts here on the ground suggest -- and soon enough we'll be back to normal and building more office parks for career paper pushers. It just ain't so. It's not that the local ruling class isn't up to speed, as Patrick suggests; it's that reality doesn't even turn up on their radar. Those days are already over.

Mitchell said...

Right on. It seems like every golden opportunity becomes a farce. I say no new construction until all existing homes and buildings are retrofitted as needed.

Jim C. said...

That's awful. What's the image problem the city itself has that it would propose more sprawl over looking at the benefits of locating this kind of thing (sans cubicles, shared dot matrix printers & community fax machines ...I mean encouraging innovative businesses & a creative work force to locate here) in an established urban environment w/ its existing amenities & quality of life & work -- not to mention its real need for actual economic development? People move to Maine to get the commuting experience of Atlanta or suburban Massachusetts? That's the model the city is following & encouraging?