Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Problem with Google's Campus Development Proposal

So the news of the week is that Google has proposed a significant overhaul of its business campus over in the Shoreline area of Mountain View. From Mountain View's The Voice,
Google gave the Voice a look at the plans Friday morning for a 3.4 million-square-foot campus to hold 10,000 new employees, the first buildings Google will have designed and built in Mountain View, despite the city being home to its headquarters since its inception. 
Of course, Google isn't the only one proposing new development, Google, LinkedIn and five real estate developers have submitted plans to build millions of square feet of new offices. Along with Google's proposal, there are a host of other civic improvements that they've bundled in too. The crazy thing about all of this is not the unique architecture, it's really more about trying to imagine another 10,000 people going in and out of that area each day. As anyone who has tried to navigate the intersection between 101 and 85 during rush hour knows, even with Google buses hauling thousands of Google employees in and out, the area is still a congested mess. Even if you consider their current numbers where about 1/3 of Google employees arrive by Google bus, that's still another 5000 or so cars trying to squeeze their way into the area.

The reports on the radio were all making a big deal about housing -- where are all of these new Googlers going to live? The reality is that that's really a minor part of the story. Unless the downtown Mountain View train station is redeveloped to look more like Tokyo station, with multiple train lines running through in multiple directions, the Magic Eightball prediction for traffic in the area is FUBAR.

The other funny thing about this is the "this will bring 10,000 new jobs into the area" message, the great canard of the "tech boom". The real truth underlying this "boom" is that this "10,000 jobs" number is not "people that need a job here in the area" -- this is not a new factory hiring local workers to come in and operate the machinery -- it's more likely 10,000 prestigious college graduates and international Visa holders brought in from everywhere else. I know that sounds like a joke, but having lived in Mountain View for fifteen years, I've had many Google neighbors but none of them lived here before they were hired by Google. In short, for most of the "new generation" of tech companies, there is a simple rule -- if you already live here, you're probably too old (unless you're a student at Stanford or Berkeley).

Don't get me wrong -- I think that the new architecture is interesting and would be a welcome addition to the office park. But beyond those buildings, those open spaces and those bike paths, there needs to be a lot more investment in how people get around. Money being what it is, I expect that it is unlikely to expect "the character" of Mountain View to remain the same as it was even 10 years ago, but what it's destined to become is a mess unless the infrastructure to support all of this is developed.

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