Thursday, February 19, 2015

SubTropolis? Sounds like a plan.

I’ve been to Minneapolis, where, because of the colossally awful winter weather, many of the downtown commercial buildings are connected via a skyway that keeps you out of the elements.

I’ve been to Houston, where, because of the colossally awful summer weather, many of the the downtown commercial buildings are connected via underground tunnels that keep you out of the elements.

And, of course, living as I do in Boston, these days we just have colossally awful snow, and whatever connection any of us have to downtown commercial buildings probably involves navigating a narrow path between snow mounds about eight feet high. Extra points if that narrow path is a scrim of ice on top of bricks. (Wheeeeee…..)

But, until I read about it a few weeks ago, I had never heard of SubTropolis, an underground industrial park located in Kansas City, Missouri.

Other than having flown into its airport on the way to a customer meeting in Topeka – during which the customer asked for their money back for the colossally expensive software they’d purchased from us, and which they never could figure out how to use – I have never been to Kansas City, Missouri.

And pretty much the only things I know about the city are that it’s the HQ of Hallmark Cards. It’s famous of barbecue (which I know thanks to Calvin Trillin). It has the Royals and the Chiefs. And a sister city across the wide Missouri that’s named Kansas City, Kansas.

And now I know that it’s the home of SubTropolis:

…an industrial park housed in an excavated mine the size of 140 football fields. (Source: Bloomberg)

Where 1,000 folks work – and work with plenty of elbow-room, I guess, given that, if I’m doing the arithmetic correctly, that’s just a shade over seven workers per football field. No squinchy cubicles for those lucky SubTropolitans.  Good thing the workers get all that elbow room, because they don’t get to look out a window when their daydreaming needs a focal point.

Anyway, the big thing about having all that underground space is that it’s excellent for driving trucks in and out of, and it’s pretty much climate controlled.

The walls, carved out of 270-million-year-old limestone deposits, help keep humidity low and temperatures at a constant 68 degrees, eliminating the need for air conditioning or heating.

Right about now, that constant 68 degrees sounds pretty darned good. One of the less-than-pleasant aspects of living in an ancient building is that, when it’s zero degrees out, it’s tough to keep it comfy toasty inside.

But, hey, that’s what a good supply of fleeces and a drawer full of heavy duty socks-over-socks are for. Plus those mitts that my sister Kath knit a few years back. Coming in handy these days. As does that tiny ceramic heater that I keep at my feet and turn on every hour or so to give my feet a nice zshoosh of hot air.

All kinds of stuff gets stored, down there in SubTropolis.

Paris Brothers specialty foods, distributors of Colavita Olive Oil and Harney Teas runs out SubT. SubTropolis also houses a cloud computing company, which finds that the climate is just dancy for cooling all of its servers. Original film reels – including those for Gone with the Wind and the Wizard of Oz – are housed in SubTropolis.  And:

The U.S. Postal Service keeps hundreds of millions of postage stamps in an underground distribution hub.

Just think of all those FOREVER stamps…

Interesting that, despite the fact that the indoor climate is so habitable, most of what goes on in SubTropolis, business-wise, is storage, not white collar work. Guess it’s too hard a sell to ask employees to work in an environment where they never see the light of day. Or even the dark of night.

I suppose they could paint scenes on the walls. Or, thanks to the miracles of technology, have big display screens showing what was going on in the outside world. But it wouldn’t be the same. 

My favorite office window on the world was one that faced onto Mass Ave, between Harvard and Central Square. The best thing I ever saw out that window was a howl of protestors descending on the Orson Welles Cinema to protest the showing of Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ.

I’ve had windows that overlooked parking  lots, and windows that overlooked nature preserves. I’ve had windowless offices, and cubes that were a bit away from a window. But I could always look out if I needed (i.e., wanted to).

So no SubTropolis for me.

But, as I look out my window at eye level snow mounds, I wouldn’t mind working in an underground facility, especially if they took me up on my suggestion that they show the outside world. Only I wouldn’t want to see my personal outside world. These days, I’d prefer tulips in the Public Garden, foliage season in Vermont, beachgoers lolling in the summer sun at Cahoon Hollow Beach. Anything other than the current reality.

SubTropolis is looking pretty good just about now.

If nothing else, the City of Boston could use it to store all our snow…

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