Monday, December 16, 2013

What Tech Hasn’t Learned From Urban Planning -

Today, that Starbucks is gone. So is the popular brewery that was next door to it. The sandwich shop across the plaza is closed, as is the salad bar. It’s not that any of these businesses were particularly distinctive or delicious, but they provided a valuable service — lunch — and also some social connection among the building’s tenants and people in the immediate neighborhood.

Gone also is any sign of life the plaza ever had. Google leased as much of the complex as it could get its hands on — and the correspondingly skyrocketing rents accelerated the closing of all the ground-floor businesses, even a short-lived outpost of The Melt (a franchise that serves uniformly grilled sandwiches made with a high-tech — and tech-industry-financed — piece of machinery). In place of Starbucks there is now something called the Mozilla Community Space — that isn’t open to the community. You need to be a registered “Mozillian” (whatever that is) to gain access.

Tech companies that remain in the suburbs are taking a similarly upside-down approach to urbanism. Facebook’s Menlo Park campus, set in a sea of parking, is a sort of movie-set version of a city, with cafe, dry cleaner, doctor, dentist and personal trainers all accessible only to employees. Informal public gathering places (like Starbucks, for example, or a barbershop) are essential to local democracy and community vitality. But by creating “third places” (home and work are the first and second) that aren’t actually open to the public, that benefit is severely compromised.