Good News! Gloucester’s city government along with some other wheeling and/or dealing has saved Cape Pond Ice. This is indeed welcome because it’s going to allow ‘The Coolest Guys in Town’ to make their evolving business model work better. It must be hella tempting for them to move almost everything but their core fishing related stuff to one of their off-Cape Ann locations. We can only imagine running a bagged ice delivery service from a town with water rates comparable to those on Arrakis from a facility off the end of one peninsula which is itself off of yet another peninsula adds up to something of a pain in the ass.
You’ll hear no snark from us around Cape Pond Ice. What we do want to toss out is a gentle reminder that there is more than one kind of critical infrastructure in Gloucester requiring maintenance. No, not potholes, complaining about them provides 60% of the content for online message boards thereby generating economic activity in the thriving “yelling at things impotently” sector. And we’re not talking about the natural gas infrastructure which is being panic-replaced every time someone smells a dogfart. We assume the whole town is one carelessly discarded cigarette away from going up like Krakatoa.
No, we’re talking about the hipfrastructure. “What is this, you ask?” searching for yet another cloying mollusk-related pun. The hipfrastructure consists of the available resources in any given place to support the other kind of “cool”. The cool that collapses like a quantum waveform when you try and measure it. At some level everyone is cool. We ourselves like to don our navel-high dad jeans, hop in the front seat of the minivan and crank up some Spin Doctors to show the kids just how cool we really are (we are not cool).
For the purposes of this argument we’re going to define ‘cool’ as culturally edgy; pushing boundaries of the artistic, business, service, technology, science and education fields. The people who make those kinds of advances happen to be of a certain stripe that social scientist Richard Florida defined in “The Rise of the Creative Class”, a little dated these days, but then again Gloucester is still waiting for an Indian restaurant so it may not be a bad model for us to examine.
What still holds true from Florida’s premise is this: In the old days the only way most cities and towns could develop economically would be to to bring in a large employer, usually a factory. That factory would serve as the economic engine, not just for jobs in the plant but ancillary and support businesses along with the eateries and shops and teachers and mechanics to provide services for the employees and each other. In return the company would become patrons of the library and the arts community, they would put benches in the park and build wings on the hospital. This is the ‘economic development’ most of us are used to.
[Aside: we should note that one of the many freaktacular things about Gloucester is that even without a huge monolithic factory the insane level to which the existing business and individuals here support the city and its people (especially kids). Just look at any public space in town and just see the number of plaques, engraved bricks, memorial benches and ‘thank you’ boards and you get the idea. IT’S AMAZING!!]
In the new way, it’s backwards. You build the cool shit first: You have to have a great library, a thriving arts community, good education, groovy restaurants and bars, decent health care and things like farmer’s markets, yoga studios and festivals. Because you have this amazing stuff people want to be a part of your city and then they themselves decide to open business and live there. Cool people are like geese, they like to cluster together but without all the poop (hopefully).
You wind up with a lot of smaller but more cutting-edge outfits, providing diversity and making you less vulnerable to the cycles and crashes of any particular industry. All this from starting out with a few groovy cafes, a brew pub, an organic grocer, a bike store and some interesting art happenings. Amazingly this leads to Internet startups, independent graphic design firms and 3D printing labs.
This very thing happened in another industrial city that had fallen on hard times but was full of interesting people who loved the shit out of it. And now Portland Oregon is one of the most dynamic cities in the country, responsible to two things we could not exist without: The Leatherman Tool and The Decemberists . No more need be said.
A quick thought experiment:
Knowing all this, imagine the City of Gloucester could dedicate 500 large to stimulate economic development in town. Would it be better to: A) build a manufacturing facility that mass produces those novelty plastic helmets that hold two cans of beer with associated tubing, or B) Turn Empire on Main Street into an outfit called ‘Tandori Tattoo and Terrarium”, a combination Indian restaurant, body art studio and emporium featuring those tiny little trees and plants in jars.
We all know what the manufactory brings: jobs, taxes, some other economic activity generated around their industry and employees and that is all good. You won’t hear us complaining about that.
But assuming the T^3 place employs the same number of folks HOW MUCH MORE AWESOME WOULD THIS BE?. And the biggest point of difference from the tailgate-helmet place is this: People will talk about it. They won’t shut up, in fact, because it would be amazeballs and folks will share pictures and reviews of it on Instagram and FaceBook followed with pictures of their weeners on SnapChat because that’s what people do. The Internet is weird.
And it won’t just be once. Every time someone asks, “Dude, where did you get that sick ink of Shiva holding a Bonsai tree?” It will make people want to check it out. Folks with no previous association to Gloucester will show up, walk around, see all the other cool things going on in town, much of it already here, and think, “You know what? This might be just the place for my combination taxidermy museum and robot makerspace”. And so it goes.
So, you may think that this leads to just having a bunch of annoying artsy types mincing around and there is little benefit to that unless you sell clove cigarettes and vintage lunchboxes. Here is the magic that Portland figured out: Larger companies look for cool places to locate because that’s where they can attract the most cutting-edge workers. You can’t staff any modern industry without employees who are versed in technology and the best kind of people for a 21st century enterprise are those who are creative and independent in the way they think. You only find these people clustered together in places with hipfrastructure. The hipsters themselves are simply a sign your hip ecology is healthy, like seeing frogs in a pond or something. Frogs with moustaches. Playing banjos. You get the idea.
So the lesson is that in ice as in life, cool matters and we should support both.
Also: Natural gas lines. Fix that shit now. Holy crap, people we’re all going to die.