“Don’t it always seem to go… that you don’t know what you got til it’s gone…” (Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi)
Before there was LinkedIn, there was Calgary’s downtown Plus 15.
For the energy sector, the Plus 15 was the ultimate in social networking. In its once-crowded corridors and bridges, the energy sector connected with itself in fascinating ways. Restaurants, food courts and coffee shops were communicative nodes via which people networked and remained in touch. Its pedestrian bridges thrummed with activity of people on the move. Its nooks and crannies were places for discussions best held out of the public eye. In the glory days of conferences and conventions, the Plus 15 was the place you intersected others on their way to the same event, walked together and networked.
You got the “gen” as boomers used to say.
And you could, gasp, do it all in person. In many ways, it was the most social of spaces because it bound together a sector through its people and their interactions face to face.
People from outside “T2P” marveled at the compactness of Canada’s energy capital. In 12 square blocks, you could talk to most anyone who mattered. And the Plus 15 expedited movement between important appointments and meetings. In a global energy capital context, there is no real comparator as a concrete and glass facilitator of human exchange.
Economists like to talk about the “network effect”… in short, the often positive things that result when a network is performing at its best. It’s probably fair to say the energy sector benefited directly from the Plus 15’s network effect. In many ways, it was a knowledge capital circulatory system for the sector. If the downtown towers and their floors looming above metaphorically represented some weird form of stratigraphic porosity, the Plus 15 was a place of permeability. Information, personal and professional, flowed easily and made for a stronger, more resilient industry.
It used to be said that a typical lunchtime foray was good for at least five waves, handshakes and quick chats – the means by which people connected to each other and interlocked without the need for a social media platform.
But now … now, you can shoot off the proverbial cannon and not hurt anyone. You can run shinny hockey games in the corridors without needing to cry “Human!!!” once.
The Plus 15 is a mere shadow of its former self. A lunchtime walk is often an exercise in solidarity.
Since 2014 or thereabouts, the Plus 15’s decline has been precipitous; a highly visual symbol of the overall travails plaguing downtown as lights turn off that in an energy sector context, are unlikely to be turned back on again anytime soon. Call it the downtown ghost town effect. Companies have downsized – a trend that will continue. Others have left downtown completely. COVID, of course, is compounding the spiral downwards and the resulting workforce restructuring will compound the compounding.
The Plus 15 was also its own little humming economy. Hundreds of businesses populated it. You could eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. Get a cavity filled. Register your vehicle. Fill a prescription. Book a hotel room. Buy a suit. Get your hair styled. Work out. Buy booze. And so on … But now shuttered and barred storefronts are the consequence of decreased human presence, the business implications of this sad decline reverberating beyond the oil and gas sector. You know when Starbucks closes a location, there’s no detectable sign of human life.
A networked industry is a healthy industry. The Plus 15 enabled and facilitated networking, to say nothing of how it relieved desk-bound tedium. Its diminished state leaves us all the poorer for its “passing”.
LinkedIn, of course, helps at the margin to maintain some semblance of being networked. But LinkedIn doesn’t help make our industry connect with itself the way the Plus 15 did.
How will we write its eulogy?
(At JWN Energy, we’re gathering perspectives on the Plus 15’s impact on the sector. If you have a story to share, or an insight to offer, send it along to me at firstname.lastname@example.org)