Why is Silicon Valley planning so stuck in the 1950s?

Apple Park
© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Allison Arieff asks that and a lot of other questions.

We love our MacBooks at TreeHugger, and I own just about every product they make. But I have also complained about Apple Park, their new office building by Foster and Partners, calling it a throwback to the 1950s. Now Allison Arieff writes One Thing Silicon Valley Can’t Seem to Fix in the New York Times, about their misguided ideas about office design. She writes:

The built environment of the Valley does not reflect the innovation that’s driving the region’s stratospheric growth; it looks instead like the 1950s. Looking at aerial views of midcentury campuses like the Eero Saarinen-designed Bell Labs next to contemporary ones like Apple, it’s nearly impossible to tell the midcentury structures from the 21st-century ones.

Allison notes how building office complexes surrounded by parking lots on isolated suburban tracts guarantees long commutes, mostly in private cars. She calls the building:

…incredibly backward thinking (and not just its lack of child-care facilities). The circular structure has not only nearly three million square feet of office space but also about three million square feet devoted to parking spaces. For a company investing no small amount of its significant capital on driverless cars, that’s incongruous. There is much to emulate at Apple — but not that almost 1:1 ratio of office to parking.

(I calculated it at a bit lower in my post on parking)

Allison says Apple might have tried to reduce the parking count, but they probably would have had a lot of opposition and probably Apple wasn’t even interested in doing so; Jobs drove (fast) and everybody does. This is the culture of Cupertino and if you land the spaceship there, this is a perk, a feature, not a bug. Alex Steffen once wrote that what we build dictates how we get around, but I have always thought that he got it exactly backward: How we get around dictates what we build, and in this case, it means a lot of parking. The problem is systemic.

Allison wonders:

Why do we remain so wedded to the old suburban, car-dependent model for workplaces? If autonomous vehicles (or even flying ones) are truly imminent, why are we building millions of square feet of supposedly soon-to-be-obsolete parking spaces? With so many studies touting the benefits of walkable, bike-able and transit-accessible environments, why are we designing in such a way that makes long, painful commutes inevitable?

Because we are just stuck in the driver's world, and there is no will to change it. Since the days of Dwight Eisenhower as President, this has been official government policy: disperse. Read it all in the New York Times.

Why is Silicon Valley planning so stuck in the 1950s?
Allison Arieff asks that and a lot of other questions.

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