February 11, 2014

Silicon Valley's Biggest Tech Campuses As Self-Contained Cities

The premise: With tech workers flocking to San Francisco seeking the urban environment that Silicon Valley lacks, what might it look like if a few of the largest tech campuses south of San Francisco replaced their parking lots and select open spaces with enough high-density housing to support all their employees?

The Tech Campus Housing Study by First Cultural Industries seeks to answer that question with sketchups for four conceptual campuses, including "iTown" with 13,000 apartments for Apple's workforce in Cupertino and "Facebook City" with 9,400 apartments in Menlo Park.

Other sketchups include designs for 10,000 apartments on Google’s campus in Mountain View and 3,000 apartments for Electronic Arts in Redwood City.

Tech Campus Housing Studies: iTown | Facebook City | Googleplex | EA [FCI]
Imagining Silicon Valley Parking Lots as Corporate Housing [Planetizen]

First Published: February 11, 2014 9:30 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

Living on campus.. Where have I seen this before..

Posted by: Mann at February 11, 2014 9:36 AM

Interesting idea but the problem is the tech workers who live in San Francisco are trying to make a statement that they are not like other tech workers and therefore would never live near the campus. Talk about monoculture

Posted by: zig at February 11, 2014 9:41 AM

A plan like this will result in multiple heads exploding in Cupertino. It would be great to increase density but this is one of the last places in Silicon Valley to build something like this. It has poor transit infrastructure so any plan like this would need to also propose transport improvements. Better places would be downtown SJ or even Milpitas along the BART line being built.

Also tall buildings do not necessarily create an urban environment. Check out just about any European city that was under the Soviet sphere of influence and you'll see the Neustadts of high rise apartments wasting away at the periphery of the historical city centers. Today they are dismal places to live.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at February 11, 2014 9:47 AM

Nice concept--but of course as zig points out it's not what the tech workers want. (Nor, frankly, is it in the interest of the rest of society to isolate the tech workers from the people they nominally serve.)

I'd love to see one of SF's "progressive" groups draw up concept sketches for where to house 100,000 - 200,000 new residents near transit and tech offices in San Francisco . . .

Posted by: observant neighbor at February 11, 2014 9:49 AM

People change jobs too frequently for this to make sense. At google the median employee tenure is just over one year.

Posted by: lark at February 11, 2014 10:11 AM

This totally eliminates the techy pleasure of drinking in a San Francisco dive bar knowing you make at least three times as much as everyone else there - except for the billionaire in the hoody down by the Jaeger machine.

Posted by: redseca2 at February 11, 2014 10:11 AM

I am not sure Facebook workers want to live in proximity to other Facebook workers. If it's any indication of their love for one another, look at the lines at the tech-bus pick up stops: 10-12 young people standing in line, silently toying with their smart phones, never talking to one another. Facebook, Google, Apple, you name it, same dynamics.

Posted by: asiago at February 11, 2014 10:24 AM

Ha, this is an absurd idea.

@redseca2
I once met a very wealthy (tens of millions at least from the sound of it) late 20's guy at Benders once. He was actually pretty cool, played in a band that occasionally played at Knockout, was drinking PBR and Pliny. Living in the same apartment as before he was wealthy, honestly he seemed like he had no idea what to now do with himself.
Of course he could have been making it all up, anyways amusing enough from my end.

Posted by: Sam at February 11, 2014 10:25 AM

Yikes.

Why not go the whole nine yards and put the Apple housing INside the GCHQesque Ring?

Posted by: DontfeartheREpa at February 11, 2014 10:31 AM

Uh, only problem is that peninsula cities are as "density" phobic as SF. That's why housing is not getting built down here in anywhere near the needed numbers.

Cupertino and Menlo Park would never, never allow the rezoning for 10K+ units.

Agree with observant above.

Posted by: Frank C. at February 11, 2014 10:32 AM

Wow, you really know what techies want and what they are like. You sound very insightful and not whiny, pathetic or envious at all. You are clearly better people than techies and if I were you I'd keep pointing out how unfair it is that techies are making all that money when it really ought to be yours.

Posted by: formidable doer of the nasty at February 11, 2014 10:39 AM

Reminds me of Met Life's plans for a 40 building housing project Stuyvesant Town 12,000 apartments. Wait a minute -- that was built!

I like Apple's isolated and suffocating donut so much better with housing.

Posted by: Invented at February 11, 2014 10:45 AM

If we exported some hobos and rent-controlled apartments from SF would it give the place the 'edgy feel' that would sound cool in a self-reported update note to the Wharton alum magazine?

That's really the question that needs answerin'.

Posted by: truly at February 11, 2014 10:52 AM

Typically I think the idea is a great one to make better use of the land used to store hundreds of cars. However I might not build as tall, incorporate more retail, and maybe give employees a preference but I certainly wouldn't limit the housing for employees exclusively. That ought to help it blend better. Transit is a must as well. As this stands it's basically a dense, vertical suburb a la Le Corbusier

Posted by: S at February 11, 2014 11:04 AM

Facebook City. Chortle.

Posted by: Stucco_Sux at February 11, 2014 11:22 AM

What a stupid idea. How about people start protesting and pressuring developers to build more units in SF?! (higher buildings?) At some point, the market rate for units is going to go down as the people with lots of money buy their units and are therefore out of the market.

But no, people wanting to live in SF are the problem, let's blame them.

And no, i'm not one of those tech worker millionaires, i'm just sick of people blaming people who's crime is wanting to live in a beautiful city.

Posted by: Cory. at February 11, 2014 11:38 AM

Makes a whole lot more sense for these companies to expand or move their commercial spaces to where their employees prefer to live.

Posted by: jeremy at February 11, 2014 11:40 AM

S hits on the key issue here: The designers of these projects are demonstrating that there's plenty of space to expand housing simply in the areas now consumed by parking.

One of the issues that the Bay Area faces in growth is that a large portion of land is consumed by SFH neighborhoods. Those are really really hard to redevelop into something denser. But there are also lots of commercial properties that can be converted one at a time into denser developments. In fact that conversion has been ongoing for about a decade: one story office buildings are being replaced by taller structures. The next step in this evolution is to insert some residential. That not only provides the needed housing but also offsets some of the asymmetrical commute loads on our freeways and transit.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at February 11, 2014 12:14 PM

I have a number of friends at Facebook, Google, Apple, and EMC. Some want to live in SF, some prefer a single family home in Belmont or Cupertino. The richest person I know lives in an Alameda cul-de-sac and may have finally traded in their Honda for an Acura.

There are two truths about these people related to this article:

1) I can't imagine a single one of them living on a corporate campus like what's described above.

2) None of them fit the stereotypes being lobbed at those who ride the white busses.

Posted by: frog at February 11, 2014 12:20 PM

You need to read Dave Egger's new book, The Circle. Its about this exact idea (and a few discussions of privacy and social media too). It's a great book.

Posted by: jaybee at February 11, 2014 12:22 PM

Google tried to get zoning changed in North Bayshore so that they could build high-density housing. This plan was shot down. Some of the choice quotes from the city council:

"One thousand units of single-occupancy rooms, that's not a community, that's dorms," said council member Ronit Bryant. "It's done a lot in China. Huge factories, huge apartment blocks, I don't think everyone lives happily ever after."

"Housing by companies went out with the mining towns," said member Jac Siegel. "That just went away a long time ago. This is not a university. People need to grow up and they need to go out" of where they work.

Posted by: David at February 11, 2014 12:43 PM

Living at work? I'll pass. Working is very overrated.

Posted by: anon at February 11, 2014 12:58 PM

Posted by: zhoster at February 11, 2014 1:16 PM

Good grief. I work in real estate and have bought and sold with a fair number of tech buyers. Not one of them would ever consider living here. The ridiculous notion in SF is that "techies" are somehow magically different from the rest of the human population. They are people. They generally work hard, and yet spend a significant amount of time in the city on weeknights and weekends, and are part of the reason why local cafes, boutiques, restaurants, and bars are flourishing.

Not to mention that many of the "techies" are not even engineers, and work in departments related to branding, marketing, art and design, finance/accounting, HR, you name it. They took a job path and ended up in tech, likely because there is a lot of opportunity and lucrativity in these companies.

To villify these people and penalize them for wanting to live where everybody else wants to live is absurd.

This city will get so much worse before it gets better. The majority of the population, especially those that claim to be "progressive" are quick to judge and don't realize their own anti-growth policies are why we are where we are. Tech workers paying top dollar for shitty apartments are not the problem, they are the symptom. The symptom is our chronic and crisis level constrained growth for the past several decades. These folks don't want to pay the outrageous prices for rent either, they'd rather spend it on savings or expensive cars or dinners or whatever. They do so because they have to, because there is nowhere to live.

Build more units where people want to live, and stop pretending that this largely young and affluent (relatively speaking, the idea that they are all millionaires is absurdly off) population will ever collectively decide they don't want to live in San Francisco. Last time I checked, young people with money tend to prefer urban lifestyles over college dorms in Cupertino.

Posted by: W at February 11, 2014 1:33 PM

There would be plenty of demand for this housing if it were available.

My sister works at Facebook. She lives in SF because she hates driving and doesn't want to own a car, but she also dislikes the 3+ hour shuttle ride that's tacked onto her 11-hour workday. If there were an affordable, attractive housing option that allowed her to live near work and not need to drive everywhere, she'd jump on it.

The problem is that the current options available for Valley tech workers -- either live in SF and spend several hours on 101 every day, or live in a car-centric suburb -- aren't attractive to many people. And they're expensive because there's an undersupply of both types. More options and more supply can only be a good thing.

Posted by: sanfranciscan at February 11, 2014 1:51 PM

@W, your experience is self-selecting, basically "all of the young tech workers who live in San Francisco prefer living in San Francisco." The Peninsula all the way down to San Jose is also full of tech workers, who do not feel the need to live in San Francisco. A plan like this would surely find eager residents.

Anyway, it's just a hypothetical concept, not a plan or proposal. Just a "what if" that I, for one, find useful for contrasting with our also-flawed reality.

Posted by: James at February 11, 2014 2:04 PM

I agree with sanfranciscan. Plenty of people don't want to live in SF. San Jose housing has increased a lot in value and the peninsula is pretty unaffordable all around. I think more people would love to have great weather, live close to their job, and live in a community where they can walk to things. SF doesn't have to/ or should have the monopoly on that lifestyle

Posted by: S at February 11, 2014 2:05 PM

I am in the middle of reading the above-mentioned Dave Eggers book "The Circle". This is straight from its pages...and it's not good. iTown gives me the creeps. That said, I'm always in favor of more housing. I'm torn...

Posted by: Tara at February 11, 2014 2:10 PM

Amazing how many of you are missing the point of this thought experiment. I'll give S and Milkshake full credit, the rest need to stay late and work on thinking outside the box.

Posted by: Sierrajeff at February 11, 2014 2:20 PM

"Nor, frankly, is it in the interest of the rest of society to isolate the tech workers from the people they nominally serve"

I am actually kind of for tech worker segregation. They can have their own awkward coffee shops and bars where they can code. We'll let them visit from time to time on a quota system.

(***this is sarcasm, please don't take me literally**)

Posted by: zig at February 11, 2014 2:27 PM

These would be boring sterile places and would be inferior to living in say downtown Redwood City by far. The comments about transit are off the mark too. Transit from here to where? Transit doesn't work this way.

The best hope for the Peninsula, which is what Milkshake alluded to, is for the downtown's in Peninsula towns to become more dense. What is interesting is the layers of the old with the new both in the form of the area and the business

So this begs a question of the person above who knows someone sick of the commute from SF to Facebook and who might be interested in a company town. Why not around downtown Redwood City now? Just dodgy enough for your street cred. Lots of restaurants and bars there. Some old homes and new condos. Some of the best Mexican food in the Bay.

Posted by: zig at February 11, 2014 2:53 PM

@Zig - transit could go in. Facebook's campus is right on a rail line they were planning to reopen that links Redwood to Hayward. Apple's campus is actually near a lot of stuff already (basically the south bay's "chinatown" which is a strip mall but destination nonetheless). Not that there's a plan to do so but something could go down Homestead straight to the Santa Clara Bart station being built at some point.

There's a lot of potential down there and I look forward to seeing SV move away from being a car dependent sprawl

Posted by: S at February 11, 2014 3:18 PM

S

Would these people living in Facebook village want to go to Hayward or vice versa? People sometimes don't understand how mass transit works. I hear this a lot when people complain now about how mass transit doesn't serve the tech campuses. Transit serves high density nodes either from low density park and ride nodes or from another high density nodes.

Where would people living and working in Facebook village be going? You are talking about very minor destinations here. How many trips would that generate?

Posted by: Zig at February 11, 2014 3:27 PM

Two questions:

How much will they cost per unit?
What geophysical issues are there for so many people living in buildings there? i.e. subsidence, earthquakes, flood plains, etc.

One more question:

Where will Mark and Sheryl and the other execs live?

Posted by: noe mom at February 11, 2014 3:58 PM

Clearly this is a "thought experiment" in that no one really expects that every single employee of one of these companies would live in an apartment built in the former parking lot. But if just 20% of the employees chose that option the impact would be huge, both in cutting commuting cost emissions and easing the housing crunch in SF.

Complaints that employees would not want to live in "sterile dorm-like buildings" seem kind of odd when that is exactly what is being built in the least hospitable neighborhood in SF. If I'm a 27 year old tech employee who works 12 hours a day I don't know that I wouldn't rather go across the street to a big multi-use complex to shit, shower and shave before going on a date than spending an addition 60 to 90 minutes a day on a bus (I know, I know, they work on the bus...or maybe they just websurf and kill time like the rest of us normal humans). As for the "company town" argument, most of the autoworkers in "Detroit" actually lived in places like Dearborn and Flint.

As usual, most of the "experts" here are just folks invested in the appreciation of San Francisco real estate.

Posted by: wonkster at February 11, 2014 4:05 PM

ICK

The 21st Century version of the coal mining company town

OK - flat screen TV's and no black lung but still

ICK

NO THANKS

Posted by: mdg at February 11, 2014 4:07 PM

@Zig - the rail line over the bay would connect to BART. they could take it the other way over to Caltrain. It would link them into our regional transit system directly rather than them having to fiddle around with SamTrans/VTA/AC. It'd be easy for them to get to Palo Alto, Mountain View, or Redwood City which all have great, walkable downtowns. They could even shoot up to SF.

Facebook also has a bike path. I dunno, I think it could work. the only downside is that all that land is reclaimed and will probably be under water in a few decades.

Posted by: S at February 11, 2014 4:16 PM

"... the rail line over the bay would connect to BART"

One would hope though we have a poor record of connecting conventional rail to BART. Consider the Capitol Corridor line from San Jose to Sacramento which parallels BART for a solid 50 miles. Yet there's no union station where you can transfer between the two lines.

------------------------------

I've spent a fair amount of time in the industrial company towns of Germany, Czech Republic, UK, and Poland. They were built dense and near work because they were constructed back in the day of the horse and buggy when people walked to work. Some of them are now experiencing a renaissance due to their unique construction and density.

No-one should believe that the designers of these hypothetical developments expect them to be occupied by technoserfs. Our transportation systems make it easy to live further out. The takeaway lesson is that there's no shortage of space for housing, just a shortage of willingness to make it happen.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at February 11, 2014 4:32 PM

MoD said: Yet there's no union station where you can transfer between the two lines [Amtrak and BART].
Do you mean Union Station -- like some grand terminal. Not sure you really need something that sexy. Richmond and Coliseum BART seem to serve the purpose well enough.
Still remember commuting on Amtrak CC over a decade ago and seeing the "supercommuters" from Sacramento to SV.

Posted by: EBGuy at February 11, 2014 4:54 PM

Yes you can switch between BART and Amtrak at Richmond and at the Coliseum. You can also get on Amtrak at Santa Clara which will be where the Santa Clara BART station will be (and Caltrain already is as well)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BART-SJ-extension-map.png

Posted by: S at February 11, 2014 5:09 PM

Zig is right - a significant hope is for San Mateo and Redwood City. Palo Alto is totally maxed out, and insanely expensive. (SM and RWC are only "very" expensive.) To a lesser degree, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara can add "urban-ish" new development also.

San Jose also is adding a fair amount of housing units - since they're converting commercial land, they don't have NIMBY opposition. But units don't come online for years..developers don't flick a switch and start building.

I'm as liberal as can be and very, very pro-development in nearly all cases. People everywhere, no matter their political orientation, have some degree of selfishness. In the Bay Area, this is how it manifests.

Posted by: Frank C. at February 11, 2014 5:13 PM

This is an interesting "thought experiment". I wonder if this form of housing has been done elsewhere. If not, what is the downside? How does this compares to University campus? I heard MetLife's Stuyvesant Town but I do not know much detail.

Posted by: Wai Yip Tung at February 11, 2014 5:17 PM

As others (Zig, Milkshake and Frank) have said, the best thing the towns of the valley could do for the entire Bay Area is to upzone their downtowns. Caltrain runs right through them already. I'm not proposing 50 story towers, but they could put up 10 story buildings and actually house some people.

And yes, I'm aware that's never ever gonna happen because their NIMBYs are maybe more ridiculous than ours.

Posted by: SFRealist at February 11, 2014 5:27 PM

I see this can be done in several way. On one end of the spectrum is Soviet style production unit where the company provides housing, clinic, schools, etc. On the other end of spectrum is market based where the company partner with real estate developer to make large scale office and residential development. The company may provide employee with some incentive to live in the housing (besides the short commute).

Needless to say the Soviet model is completely discredited. How about if we just put large scale office and residential development together?

Posted by: Wai Yip Tung at February 11, 2014 5:34 PM

Redwood City seems at least mildly interested in getting denser, at least around the downtown region. I don't see them absorbing any notable amount of people in the near future, but a few hundred it looks like (when last I was there).

Posted by: Sam at February 11, 2014 5:43 PM

@Wai Yip Tung - I don't suggest that we "plan" any of it. Just rezone chunks of these campuses to ALLOW high density housing. Most likely what would happen is that the companies would sell some of the land to other developers that then build high density housing for rent/sale to anyone. ROI is high enough now that the "allow" part of the equation is the only important part. We've legislated ourselves into a situation where we don't need to plan where housing goes - it will go wherever we roll back some rules and allow it.

Posted by: anon at February 11, 2014 6:20 PM

@anon, yeah zoning and market based approach is what I prefer. Most likely it will turn out to be 15% occupied by Apple employees. The rest want a different life style, want a house with yard, want something cheaper, or have a spouse or children who need to be closed to other places. The apartment will be filled by people from all over the place, some will commute to San Francisco or even further. The reality will foil the original intent completely.


Posted by: Wai Yip Tung at February 11, 2014 8:55 PM

Make these places look like Greenwich Village, Soho or Paris and you would have something. Keep'em 5-8 stories high, narrow streets with sidewalks plenty of fancy shops (even if you have to subsidize them at first.)

Posted by: Carter T at February 11, 2014 9:01 PM

Don't testosterone-heavy worker towns traditionally have a red light district nearby but off company property?

Posted by: heynonnynonny at February 11, 2014 9:28 PM

I don't think you'll find much support for building high density residental, retail and commercial spaces co-located within walking distance of each other. Is there any known precedent for such an abomination?

Posted by: Jimmy (Not a Real San Franciscan) at February 11, 2014 9:39 PM

Why do we worry about housing those with six figure salaries? shouldn't we think about providing housing to those at the bottom half who can't afford to live in their own communities?

Posted by: pservant at February 12, 2014 12:34 AM

^No, we should worry about housing for all people, not just those that were here first. So selfish.

Posted by: anon at February 12, 2014 7:08 AM

Redwood City has a downtown?

Posted by: formidable doer of the nasty at February 12, 2014 8:41 AM

Redwood City has a rather large downtown and pretty dense unincorporated almost 100% Mexican areas near by

San Mateo has two large planned developments: one at Bay Meadows and one at Hayward Park. Neither includes 10 story buildings to my knowledge but both are pretty large. Already mixed use buildings have gone up near-by in anticipation.

Both cities are historically much more mixed income from very high to very low than others in the area and therefore it might be easier get stuff approved

Posted by: zig at February 12, 2014 9:20 AM

Indeed Redwood Junction is one of my favorite neighborhoods in RWC.

-----------------

Thanks for setting me straight S and EBGuy. I didn't realize you could transfer between Amtrak and BART at Richmond. Though the Coliseum station is also a technically a transfer station, it is kind of a kludge and a long walk.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at February 12, 2014 9:51 AM

Sorry I mean Mexican immigrant areas. I forget to be PC sometimes

Little Michoacán. Very good food

Posted by: zig at February 12, 2014 9:59 AM

Yeah, that will solve the real problem in SF, which isn’t the incredibly incompetent and completely corrupt system that rewards failure, inaction and NIMBYism but is really all because we have successful companies in and around the City that pay better than usual wages to their employees.

If only we can destroy the tech boom, we can go back to being a City where no effective transit is ever built and nobody can stomach the boarded up commercial strips, the crumbling historic buildings and the poorly maintained parks of SF’s glory days in the 1980s, when pretty much anyone could afford to live here because nobody wanted to anymore.

Posted by: DanielEran at February 12, 2014 11:08 AM

I'm betting on North San Mateo myself. It already has nice parks, good restaurants, some already good and many improving schools.

If they ever get Caltrain to downtown SF you would have a 25 minute one seat ride that would be way nicer and faster than BART

Posted by: Zig at February 12, 2014 11:13 AM

The techie poseurs won't want to live in such an obvious fake city. They want to live among artists, and then displace the artists and then talk about how broke and lazy the artists were. This is the only way techies can boost their self esteem.

Posted by: Pierre Gagner at February 12, 2014 11:45 AM

Great. Isolate the best and brightest from the rest of society in ivory towers. Let them shop, eat, and drink, at the subsidized company stores, and restaurants, and clubs. Make them more in touch with big data and out of touch with humanity. Send their kids to company schools with the best technology where they can actually get an education. What could go wrong?

Posted by: Pioneer at February 12, 2014 11:50 AM

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