Not the Apple of Jim’s eye. Jim Bacon and his ilk have made a cottage industry of championing the new urbanism. In a recent column on this blog Bacon waved Bye Bye to the suburbs starting with a picture of a presumably suburban building with a footer that read, “Out: Nerdistans.” The crux of the column’s thesis was summed up by this quote:
“The showcase headquarters of the past, the beautiful suburban campuses — that’s a very obsolete model now,” Patrick Phillips, CEO of the Urban Land Institute, told the Journal.
Obsolete? Let’s turn our gaze westward rather than inward. Let’s see how technology companies like Apple are dealing with this obvious obsolescence of the suburban campus.
Battlestar Suburbia. On Oct. 15, 2013 the city council of Cupertino, CA unanimously approved Apple’s plans to build a 2.8 million square foot corporate campus in their city. Let’s look at Cupertino. Cupertino is a small city (population 58,000, density 5,200 per sq mi) in Santa Clara County, CA. Santa Clara County is the heart of Silicon Valley. The county has a substantial population (1.7M) and a very suburban population density (1,400 per sq mi). The largest city in Santa Clara County is San Jose. San Jose has a population of just under one million and a population density of 5,500 per sq mi. Cupertino is 10.3 miles from the center of San Jose. A photograph of Apple’s new campus accompanies this article. Meanwhile, one of Apple’s arch competitors (Samsung), has broken ground on a new 385,000 sq ft corporate campus just up the road in Mountain View, CA. So much for the “obsolescence” of corporate campuses. Facebook has also announced plans to expand its corporate campus in the very suburban Menlo Park, CA.
Life outside “The Valley.” The corporate campus craze is alive and well in the oil and gas industry, especially in Houston. Some will say, “Ah ha, Houston is a city.” Well, Houston is a city, but a very large city. Covering an area of 627 sq mi the city of Houston is about the same size as “core” Northern Virginia. And with a population density of 3,600 per square mile the City of Houston has a similar population density to “core” NoVa. Are the oil and gas companies building relatively small, compact, headquarters that blend in with the “core urban environment”? Not in the case of Exxon. Exxon is building a 385-acre corporate campus inside the city/county of Houston with seemingly palatial perks such as their new workout facility. Sorry, “wellness center.”
Clearing the Amazon. Amazon, the retail and high tech giant, is also building a huge new corporate campus. However, this campus will be inside the city limits of Seattle. Seattle is a “real city” by my definition (at least 300,000 people with a population density of at least 5,000 per sq mi). Seattle has a population of just under 700,000 and a density of 7,200 per square mile. And, in a move sure to warm the cockles of Jim Bacon’s heart, Amazon did not ask for a single tax break.
Rippert’s Readout. The news of the death of corporate campuses is greatly exaggerated. Major corporate campus construction is occurring in both suburban and urban locales. However, when discussing these trends, one must always remember the “Virginia rule.” The “Virginia rule” states that rules which govern the rest of the United States do not apply to the bizarre-O land we have created here in Virginia. For example, we have no real cities (population of at least 300,000 with a population density of at least 5,000 per square mile). We have no urban cores. The closest urban core to Virginia is Washington, D.C. So, trends which call for people, companies or pet rocks to move to urban cores don’t really apply to Virginia. In fact, they are trends which indicate that the people, companies or pet rocks will probably leave Virginia.