At the time of the Vanguard forum on innovation parks, there were a number of questions from the audience that went unanswered due to time limitations. The Vanguard has made a commitment to initiate an open conversation addressing these questions. I have started with questions concerning the basic need for the innovation parks.
I speak from the perspective of a slow growth proponent without expertise in city planning or economic development, but with a love for our city and a desire to ensure that in our haste to raise money, we do not destroy that for which we are attempting to raise it. I welcome you all to consider these questions and express your points of view which will doubtless be quite different from mine.
The questions I will be addressing in this post are:
- Is there enough of a market for space to support development of all three proposed innovation parks plus Nishi Gateway over the next 15 to 20 years? Should we try to pick “winners,” or just say “the more the merrier”?
- In today’s electronic age, why do we need physical space to innovate? Why can’t we innovate electronically?
- Is there an unemployment problem in Davis as mentioned earlier? Do we need jobs? Many jobs in Davis are filled by people who don’t live here. The majority of that workforce, once employed in Davis, may decide that they will not move to Davis. There is no evidence that housing cost will decrease in Davis.
- Isn’t “Innovation Park” just a rebranding of “Business Park”? How is an innovation park any different from a business park?
To me, assessing the need or demand for any change is the necessary precursor to any further discussion about benefits, impacts, sustainability, and mitigation. Before deciding upon any major change whether in our own families, our own homes, or in our community, the first question should be where does this item fall on the spectrum of need vs want.
What I believe that we all can agree upon is that the City of Davis is in need of a means to improve our financial stability. The question then becomes are these proposed developments the best means to achieve a better financial balance. I am yet to be convinced on this very basic first point.
The argument for their “need” to date has been based on a number of questionable assumptions, assertions and speculations.
- We need to build them to raise more money because we are in fiscal crisis.
These planned developments will not address the city’s current fiscal problems. I do not believe that this can be stressed highly enough since it has been used in conjunction with the current need so frequently in this conversation that I think the two have become linked in some people’s minds. Despite the fact that these developments will not generate money in time to help with our current needs. One poster made the illustrative comment paraphrased to “ If I did not believe that there was a crisis now, I would not favor this development”. This to me is a clear misunderstanding of what these developments will and will not do.
- We need to create more high paying jobs.
Now I think that the creation of more high paying jobs would be wonderful. However, I think that the idea that these developments being planned to be built out over a very long time frame ( 5-20 years) will be the best way to achieve that goal is a very big leap of faith. 22 years ago the Cannery was a real working cannery. Due to changing industry needs, it was “retired” and the land it was on was vacant for the next 20 years because the owners/developers chose not to utilize it per the city’s zoned use. We now see the space converted to housing.. Is this the kind of “best use for the land” scenario that we are setting ourselves up for ? We have one poster urging us not to try to “micromanage” the development. I wonder who should have a greater say, those who will make money off the project, or those who will live daily with the consequences of the decisions that are made ?
- Making more jobs locally will lead to less commuting by allowing more people to work near where they live.
I think there are three mistaken ideas that play into this assertion all based on outdated societal trends.
- The idea that having a job near your home will provide long term stability. As Jim Frame pointed out in a post, most people will not work at the same job their entire career. Therefore providing a physical plant for their job does not ensure that they will be able to continue to work near their home.
- Most families now have two people working outside the home rather than a single breadwinner. It is currently common for one spouse to work locally, say on the UCD campus, while the other commutes to Sacramento or communities to the west. I do not believe that these projects will alter that dynamic.
- The idea that “brick and mortar” buildings will be in the future, the best way to bring innovators together. And yet, in my highly integrated and some would consider very advanced medical setting we have been steadily moving away from placing innovators in close physical proximity and towards virtual means of communication which have been exponentially expanding over the past ten years. I now hold in my hand the ability to access any article, any factoid, a video of any procedure complete with step by step instruction in how to perform it with a few key strokes. I can access any specialty by phone or email within minutes to get their opinion, usually with the patient still in my office. Likewise, many administrative meetings are now being conducted by phone or Webinar. This would have been unheard of even 5 years ago. I see the developments as described at the community outreaches as very likely to be outdated before they are built.
- These projects will provide needed space for projects generated by the university.
To my current knowledge there has been no representation from UCD in this discussion. We have yet to hear from those at the university exactly what would be most useful from their point of view. Now it may well be that there have been such communications between UCD and our city leaders, or business leaders, of which I am unaware since I was a last minute stand in at the forum with no preparation. If that is the case, now would be a very good time to hear about the need for these facilities from a university point of view.
I find it somewhat ironic that we are calling these projects “Innovation Parks” presumably referring to the innovative ideas and techniques that will be generated on these sites. And yet, I see no sense of “innovation” in the conception of and/or physical proposals for the projects themselves. If we are truly interested in “innovation” instead of just using it as an attractive buzz word, shouldn’t the “innovation” begin with the projects themselves ?
In closing, do we need a reliable ongoing means of revenue generation ? Absolutely. Are these developments as presented to date the best means of achieving our goal ? I remain skeptical to date.