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What Silicon Valley Might Look Like If All of Its Employees Actually Lived There

Original post made by Steve Raney, Crescent Park, on Feb 19, 2014

20 to 50-story apartment/condo towers

Article from Atlantic Cities: Web Link

"The Bay Area's housing shortage seems to be getting worse by the minute. But what if the tech companies could, in one sweeping move, take care of the whole problem?

In a series of new 3D visualizations, Berkeley designer Alfred Twu imagined what Silicon Valley would look like if tech giants replaced the parking around their headquarters with on-site housing. In order to accommodate all of the workers, Twu filled the campuses of Apple, Google, and Facebook with 20 to 50-floor towers, all filled with 800-square foot apartments.

Twu acknowledges that such high-density developments are not allowed under current zoning laws. Nevertheless, building more housing is a part of any solution going forward, and these visualizations give a clear sense of just how much is needed."

Comments (12)

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Posted by Anonymous22
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Anonymous22 is a registered user.

What's the point of this, are you trying to entice us to stop creating jobs? Average jobs last about 3 years - and economies go up and down. Land use is forever. Ugly land use just seems like it's forever.

Work on better transportation systems and cleaner energy which we desperately need and let the market play out for the rest. If it gets too expensive and difficult for people, they go elsewhere, which is actually good for some of those places that need urban renewal.


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Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 19, 2014 at 8:48 pm

Anonymous22,

I posted because I felt Alfred Twu's renderings are thought-provoking. I recommend that PA Weekly license it from Atlantic Cities. I don't believe Alfred is making any commentary about job creation.

Agreed that better transport and cleaner energy are desperately needed.

As far as remedying jobs/housing imbalance (using knowledge from the discipline of regional planning) to minimize regional traffic congestion, pollution, and GHG as state law requires (using Palo Alto as an example):

A 2006 study by Robert Cervero and Michael Duncan of the University of California, Berkeley, concludes that locating housing next to jobs is the most effective strategy in reducing vehicle mileage (and generation of carbon dioxide). Their conclusions are detailed in an article, "Which Reduces Vehicle Travel More: Jobs-Housing Balance or Retail-Housing Mixing?" in the Autumn 2006 Journal of the American Planning Association.

Palo Alto has arguably the largest mileage-increasing "jobs-housing imbalance" in the Bay Area. Given 90,000 jobs in Palo Alto, the "optimal" population to mitigate adverse regional impacts is 180,000.

A "good" jobs/housing balance is about one job to every two residents, as many residents do not work (retired, stay-at-home, too young). A "large" jobs/housing imbalance occurs when you have one or more jobs for every one resident, such as in Palo Alto, Emeryville and other "edge cities." Palo Alto has had a jobs-housing ratio of more than two jobs per household (as high as 2.4 jobs per household) since the 1960s due to its explosion of high-tech jobs and constriction on housing development after the big subdivision surge of the 1950s ended.

Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson started as a Palo Alto Times reporter in 1966, has covered ABAG, and has encyclopedic knowledge of historical Palo Alto land use decisions. Jay wrote a 1968 article on Palo Alto's jobs/housing imbalance, with 2.4 jobs for every household in those days. Jay's take on Palo Alto's current jobs/housing imbalance: "Well-intentioned and environmentally conscious Palo Alto has restricted housing to create a terrible environmental situation with long commutes wasting fuel. It's an insoluble situation. Long commutes damage the social fabric and create lower quality of life. Workers are forced to commute from Manteca, etc. Palo Alto has a drawbridge mentality. Compounding the insolubility, objections raised by neighborhood associations are legitimate."

"Drawbridge zoning" has no place in a real-estate free market. Other job-rich edge cities with unfettered real-estate markets (Perimeter Center, Tysons Corner, Denver Tech Center, etc) have 20-story condo towers.


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Posted by Anonymous22
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2014 at 9:12 pm

This is a regional problem. Your viewpoint doesn't take into account the bedroom communities around that have nicer digs (but few jobs), like Los Altos, Atherton, and other places equally accessible with more affordable housing like Sunnyvale and East Palo Alto. The border of Palo Alto is kind of artificial in that context.

For residents around the Bay Area, the jobs are a good thing. If you make residents in Palo Alto have to build it up like that just because the town also creates jobs, at some point, residents are going to want to stop the job creation. Is that what you want? I personally think if there's going to be such a mandate for housing, any new office development needs to provide for the housing it will require us to take on site -- kind of the practical side of this article.

But I think basing long-term land use on a single 2006 study like that is ridiculous. In practice, just building lots of housing in one place isn't necessarily going to mean people are going to live near their jobs. There are a complex set of reasons people live or work in a given place. People live in Palo Alto for the schools, whether they work here or not. Often, two people in a household will work in different cities.

If you care so much about the free market, stop trying to artificially preference developers. Let people get priced out and take jobs and development dollars to depressed areas in need of urban renewal, a really good benefit of the free market. When Palo Alto gets too expensive, if people don't like it, they have choices. This isn't Hong Kong Island. That's the real marketplace.

"Drawbridge zoning" is a self-serving name meant to push a development agenda. Zoning rules are supposed to take into account things like safety, liveability, neighborhood character, traffic circulation, natural environment, open space, and other factors -- even convenience of the residents, by state law. Attacking those things is just below the belt. Sorry, but the transportation solutions are the wiser, more flexible, more liveable way to go.


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Posted by Yikes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 20, 2014 at 9:33 am

It would be at least as bad as Tokyo. For comparison, if everyone in CA moved to Palo Alto, that would equal the population density of Tokyo.

When I was a cultural anthropology undergrad, this Tokyo comparison was given as a metaphor for pollution, virulent illness, social dysfunction, non-moving traffic congestion, etc--generally human misery.

Good reasons to take back our city.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 20, 2014 at 11:20 am

"In practice, just building lots of housing in one place isn't necessarily going to mean people are going to live near their jobs."

Exactly. We will know that Palo Alto has achieved jobs-housing balance when the outbound commute gridlock equals the inbound gridlock.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon,
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 20, 2014 at 1:56 pm

This is kind of funny ... look how the only green belt is surrounded by the company ... that is a sick interpretation of how nature should be.

Why not concentrate the housing outside of the "reactor" zone, so one way people go to work, and then other way they can go out to enjoy nature or agriculture?

The way the world is put together subconsciously affects people and surrounding and enclosing nature with commerce really sends a kind of sick message - the message of the "ownership society". I don't want to be owned, and I think the Earth should not be owned either, humans and the planet should be developed and tended by a species that has a clue about what life is and how to keep it going, the opposite of what we are seeing today.


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Posted by SWE
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 20, 2014 at 9:28 pm

SWE is a registered user.

@CrescentParkAnon,
Isn't it Ecuador where they gave nature rights in the Constitution? I wish we would do that.

@curmudgeon,
"Exactly. We will know that Palo Alto has achieved jobs-housing balance when the outbound commute gridlock equals the inbound gridlock."

Yes! So, how come communities like Atherton aren't required to provide more jobs to balance their housing and large lots?...


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 21, 2014 at 12:48 am

> @CrescentParkAnon,
Isn't it Ecuador where they gave nature rights in the Constitution? I wish we would do that.

If that is true, let me know ... I'd think about moving there if it was not so dang hot!


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Posted by PA nature rights
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2014 at 12:51 am


Hey, it's true. Ecuador has adopted nature rights, why not for Palo Alto?

Web Link


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 5, 2014 at 11:06 am

We are restricted to a maximum level of height - you all must have missed the large blog on airline traffic. We are under the incoming SFO flight line - they are over your heads most of the time - and if the wind is wrong then the outbound SFO traffic.

Fanciful thoughts from people across the country do not take in the actual restrictions we live with - which also includes the requirement for flood insurance and the incursion of bay salt water. That includes the actual acreage of the city - we are a small city with defined borders - we are not Atlanta.
If you all are interested in what is going on over your head you can go to the SFO web site and check into their flight tracker program.

What works in other countries and areas of the US are specific to the laws and particular set of conditions they are working with.
The land of Google is next to a super fund site - they have their own problems.
PA has not restricted housing - we have all new condos / apartments throughout the city -your comments have no basis in reality.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 5, 2014 at 1:24 pm

When people mention Atlanta GA it comes to mind the invasive kudzu vine which covers the whole place - Georgia - and they let it happen. What a disturbing situation. Steve - tell your cohorts that they need to develop a simulated program to rid the state of the Kudzu rampage.
Then they could increase the housing in Georgia.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 5, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Do your cohorts need one closer to home? Can they do a simulation to clean up Oakland so people who work there can live there? How about Berkley?
My niece works for the Berkley school system and was assaulted on the street by 3 hoods. She now has moved to Alameda from where she lived next to Lake Merritt. Other people are commuting from Walnut Creek because they do not want to live in the area. Maybe they can offer up some advise to those cities who really need some help.
PA is an easy target - pick something a bit more gritty.


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