By Phil Brown
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times. After Borders Group went under back in 2011 and began shuttering its 399 stores, including the Omaha location at 72nd and Dodge, the lot remained vacant until this fall. Just one of several closed buildings in the area, the vacant building was another illustration of the weakness of this area of town.
While it is one of the busiest intersections in the entire city, businesses struggle to remain open. The Crossroads Mall across the street is essentially a ghost town, a creepy, cavernous monument to poor development choices and the consequences of sprawl.
The lot has finally been redeveloped, but instead of a book retailer, the space is now home to Do Space, a non-profit technology library. Instead of a for-profit chain bookstore, Do Space purports to provide a different kind of access to knowledge and culture. Funded by the Community Information Trust, a nonprofit set up by Heritage Services, Do Space provides access to technology to all.
It took me no more than a minute to get my free membership card and log into one of the many computers available at the facility, and the experience was very pleasant. The interior of Do Space is cool and clinical, reflecting ultra-modernity, but with welcome splashes of color.
Besides the plethora of desktop computers members can use, Do Space has a desk where members can rent laptops and tablets, and both 2-D paper and 3-D printing facilities (the user has to pay for materials). There are also small flourishes that impress, like the dedicated rooms for children and teens to relax in, and a well-stocked technology magazine rack tucked away in a corner.
The facility also boasts gigabit internet speeds, which I wasn’t able to take too much advantage of at the time, but will certainly be coming back for soon. Members are also provided access to many learning databases through a partnership with the Omaha Public Library, creative software to work with, and games like Minecraft.
After I first heard about the project, I assumed it would be a another tech startup that tried to privatize and profit by some aspect of culture. But while I wasn’t exactly wrong, since Do Space is still very much a private venture, it’s good that at the very least Do Space isn’t charging for memberships, which allows anyone to at least get in, take a coding class, pad their resume and check their email.
There are some big problems I have with Do Space’s parent company, Heritage Services: the lockdown they have on cultural developments, inordinate amount of control over city decisions, as we saw in the 2008 MECA council dispute, antipathy towards public funding, and the Illuminatiesque ubiquity of its elite members on the committees, subcommittees, and societies it funds.
But the non-profit, seemingly altruistic Do Space is a refreshing development in a very lackluster, albeit busy, part of town. Its non-profit focus seems to include everyone, their classes will educate new and old generations, and beyond the tech buzzwords, Do Space should provide a hell of a space for anyone to check their email and play Minecraft.