Monday, July 23, 2012

Urbanism and Technology Firms

In a recent post, I wrote about how technology relates to urbanism.  I appreciate the thoughtful comments that I received in response.  It’s a subject to which I’ll return.

But there is a flip side to the question of how smartphones relate to urban living.  And that how smartphone designers relate to urban living.

From our vantage point in the North Bay, we’re well aware of the rich history of technology in the Silicon Valley.  (I even have a cousin who works for the Computer History Museum.)  But we may not be as aware of the creep of technology firms toward San Francisco.  Pinterest recently announced their move northward, joining Twitter, Salesforce, and others in the city.  Which has led observers to ponder the reasons.

Mark Suster of Both Sides of the Table writes that the bubbling creativity of urban centers is important to continued creativity in technology.  He observes that technology employees have long had a preference for urban living, with firms such as Google providing buses for commutes from San Francisco to Silicon Valley.  He then lists the metropolitan cores, such as New York and London, to which start-up firms are migrating.  And he argues that the trend will continue.

Fred Wilson of AVC (A Venture Capitalist) concurs, noting the creativity in technology has a symbiotic relationship with other forms of creativity, including the bubbling creativity of an urban setting and the creativity of good science fiction.

But against that background, Apple is proceeding with a grand new Frisbee-shaped corporate building in Cupertino.  The state considers the project so important that the governor approved it for fast-tracking through the environment impact review process.

Kaid Benfield suggests that Apple’s vision is flawed.  That, even if Apple chooses to remain in Cupertino, an alternative land-use configuration might have been better configured to position both Apple and Cupertino for the future.  He presents an alternative vision by a pair of Israeli architectural students that appears to be a reasonable urban-style approach to the site.

The proposed Apple headquarters was first announced by Steve Jobs in the last public appearance before his death.  Jobs was a very smart man and a visionary.  I fully respect the technological legacy he left behind.  But I wonder if the vision behind the proposed building was that of a deathly ill man whose ability to the see the path of the future was fading.  And if a healthy Jobs might have embraced urbanism instead of what appears to be a monument to his own ego.

I appreciate the reverence for their late founder, but I hope that Apple management doesn’t blindly follow a dated vision off a cliff.

(Acknowledgement: I have a small investment in Apple.  However, I’m pondering the sale of my shares based on the regressive thinking behind the new headquarters.  If this is how the post-Jobs management views the future of land-use, one shudders to think about their vision for the future of technology.)

What does all of this imply for the North Bay?  Probably not much.  Although the North Bay once had a foothold in the telephone industry, today it really can’t compete with either the deeply-rooted technology base of the Silicon Valley or the urban energy of San Francisco.  If the North Bay is ever to have another role in the world of technology, it’ll probably come from raising our own Steve Jobs whose local roots overcomes the other factors.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

No comments:

Post a Comment