Work and place

THE search for the best place to do one's work can dog institutions and businesses as well as individuals. At times local resistance has sent presidential libraries nomadically around the countryside in search of a site, as controversy put the Kennedy, Nixon, and Reagan centers in limbo for long periods.

Clusters of people - organizations - can feel led to migrate, as national political, economic, and living patterns change kaleidoscopically.

Intellectual centers do not escape this periodic review of whether they are in the right place. Still, it is rare that they move; more often they refresh themselves with trades of personnel.

Now we hear that the Hudson Institute, a national-security and public-policy think tank outside New York City, has decided to move to Indianapolis - away from the East Coast Bos-Wash corridor to the edge of the Mid-America prairies. ''We should detach ourselves from the power centers of New York and Washington to do our best work,'' explains institute president Thomas D. Bell Jr. (Also, might they just be following the Baltimore Colts?)

It's curious how the mental atmosphere around power centers like New York and Washington can seem distorting to some and a requisite for clarity to others. To be close to the action apparently repels as well as attracts.

We suspect that an institution's or an individual's ''best work'' begins when the issue of locale - urban bustle or lakeside retreat - is put behind. This appears even truer when today's nearly instantaneous global communications are recognized. In our electronically interconnected world the figure for ''workplace'' has become a satellite projected into space - a far more widely roaming thought than preoccupation with any launch pad below would allow.

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