Leslie Adams via flickrTo say that Holyoke, Mass., has seen better days would put you squarely in the running for Understatement of the Year. One of the poorest cities in the state, it is the sort of post-Industrial town that is scattered across New England: crumbling smokestacks, shuttered mills, “modern” housing thrown together in the shadow of manufacturers past. But Holyoke, which lies 10 miles outside Springfield in the western part of the state, hit harder times than most. Compared to state and national averages, everything about Holyoke is high: unemployment, homelessness, poverty, crime. According to The Boston Globe, the median family income is $38,819, the national average $60,374; more than a quarter of families live below the poverty line.
Bleak, is what it is. Enter “Holyoke” into a Google News search and you get an even clearer picture: Holyoke suspect indicted for porn; Holyoke man pleads not guilty to beating woman with hammer; Holyoke police bust wanted man with stolen handgun near nightclub. And that’s just the first page.
But occasionally a glimmer of hope comes along — and the latest glimmer is the story at the top of that page. Four heavy-hitters in education and computing — the University of Massachusetts, MIT, EMC, and Cisco — have agreed to study the idea of building a $100 million energy-efficient data center in the city. The facility would take advantage of Holyoke’s hydroelectric-happy location near the Connecticut River, as well as its proximity to high-speed data lines along nearby interstates.
The idea of siting “green” data centers near hydro is not new, says GreenBiz — Google built a massive one in The Dalles in Oregon. But siting it in an urban area, and an urban area where people have been hungry for jobs so long they’ve forgotten what it feels like to be full, that’s new. It’s no doubt a cheap option for the collaboration — but it’s also a shrewd PR maneuver. What’s more sustainable than a data center that’s not only energy-efficient but requires no commute of its workers, and that helps attract new companies and new life to an urban area?
It should be noted that this project will not necessarily happen — again, the news today is about a study, not a groundbreaking. But it’s got people excited nonetheless. A Cisco spokesman said the company is intrigued by the idea of creating “a district that could attract high tech by a combination of green and cost-competitive energy,” reports the Globe. Gov. Deval Patrick hopes the collaboration will “lift up” the city and the region. “Holyoke poised for a new identity,” trumpeted the local paper. And as for Mayor Michael Sullivan? He’s already imagining the possibility of thousands of new jobs. “It’s going to be huge,” he said. “It’s the biggest news for Holyoke for the last 50 years.”