Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

The unbearable blandness of research parks

Research parks, Milwaukee County Grounds, dogs, better design, innovation

"I'm dirty; it's okay to jump on me," I say as we cross paths with the man and the black lab. He looks at me astonished and I realize what I have said.

I am of course referring to his dog, who moments before he had warned against doing any such thing.

My boon companion Idgie is on her leash, having been a rather bad dog, by which I mean having been fully true to her doggy nature. Leaping two four-foot orange plastic landscape fences in a single bound, she'd gone exploring in the almost-like-a-real-pond retention pond and would not return.

I'd panicked when she disappeared from sight. Could she drown there? I was of course forgetting that she can easily swim across medium sized lakes, though her lack of any lab-like genes makes her indifferent to the act. Eventually we reconnected--after I'd mucked through the swamp on the one day I hadn't bothered to wear my beloved Farm-N-Fleet rubber boots, and I'd clamped on the lead.

Idgie, like the black lab, was dirty, which meant she was happy.

"I'm dirty; it's okay." That's my motto for today. Monday night I had listened to the inspiring Cornel West at UWM remind us that this business of life is all about funk, to get into it and be it. Work and life are both a little funky in the process.

I'd been planning to walk with Idgie through the Milwaukee County Research Park. Since I'm looking for jobs, why not start where I already am, I reasoned. A mile and a half down the road and I don't have a clue what's there, though the buzz words "research" and "innovation" are always glued to any statements about the place. Got some experience with both of those, I figured.

But somewhere near the intersection of Innovation and Discovery, I realized I did not want to get out of the car into the field of building with no distinguishing characteristics after building with no distinguishing characteristics. And aside from a Children's Hospital System building, hardly a business name to be seen on the identical doors until you get to GE Medical, which not only claims itself but has some design chutzpah and a piece of sculpture in front.

I haven't seen a GE ad in awhile, but since they all start with "black belt in six sigma," I'm out of the running anyway. Later, I'll look at the research park website to see what's behind all those blank building faces. But it's hard to imagine working there. Something about the relentless anonymity and sameness of the place. . .

We walked instead in the place slotted to become another research park, Innovation Park. The word "innovation" used to be followed by "incubator" in the marketing materials for such places, but now it's "accelerator." I guess everything is moving at warp speed now, and the leadership of UWM gives it some claim on the fancier, faster term.

I've seen the plans for the first building. It's somewhat more interesting than the ones across the street, but hardly innovative. Though it does have very big words on it. Still, I wonder how much more discovery would happen in a place that by its own creativity inspires and challenges you to the actions behind the big words it claims?

Hate to see that land eaten up by more of the same.  Most of the research park buildings across the way are lightly occupied as it is, full of empty spaces. And I'm thinking the real innovation comes when you get dirty, when you are into the full catastrophe funk of life, not the tidy bland and sameness.

When you step away  from your computer and walk in the wildish places, you accelerate the odds that an idea will jump on you, dirty feet and all.

Maybe even an idea for better use of space (go up, young men, not out!) and a knock-out environment to feed the kind of dreams we call "innovation."

(A version of this appeared in another blog I write.)

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