Go Ahead, Have a Look . . . and a Latté

Mike Untitled 1We’ve all seen our neighbors and friends do it. Heck, most of us have even done it ourselves . . . and been caught doing so.

Face flush against the dirty plywood, peering through the inch-diameter hole hoping to catch even a glimpse of the excavator or crane at work behind the wall. It’s just one of those ageless activities. Young boys and old men alike have forever been drawn to the neighborhood construction site like bees to cans of pop. Mostly, though, it’s an exercise in frustration. Mostly, it’s a whole lot of stinging physical effort – back-breaking bending over or, for the little guys, calf-stretching standing on our tippy toes, followed by the unnatural straining of the eyes, up, down, left, right – for a mere split-second’s view of the heavy iron digging, loading, lifting or carrying quickly out of sight.

Over the years, a few job superintendents cut us some slack, installing viewing screens or windows along the sidewalk, perhaps simply to prevent the curious from getting injured trying to peer through the peephole or, worse, taking matters into their own hands and attempting to create their own viewing vantage points.

A recent trip to Austria, as part of an international trade press group hosted by equipment manufacturer Liebherr, revealed a totally different game from what many of us are used to. The tour group was escorted to two very different jobsites in Vienna – one for a new university campus and the other for a new unified central train station – that shared an approach to public relations that can best be termed as progressive. Welcome centers filled with interactive displays and observation decks do more than inform visitors of the how and why of the muck, noise and mess of machinery at work in their neighborhood. They actually suck onlookers into the spirit and excitement of the multi-year projects. I can’t imagine even the angriest of visitor, the guy who’s been kept awake all night and stomps in looking for a fight, leaving without at least a better sense of understanding of what’s going on, if not a pride-swollen chest about how his community is improving. Heck, the visitor center at one of the Vienna jobsites even had a café. There’s nothing like a latté and scone to smooth the aggression.

Granted both of these particular projects are relying heavily on the public dime, so perhaps their doors should simply be wide open. Nonetheless, in an industry long on solid conservative values, a little liberality might not be the worst thing right now: Please, everyone, come on in.

The less skeptical John Q. Public is, the more likely he is to support initiative and activity . . . and avoid straining his legs, back and eyes.