Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In defense of ugly suburbia

Larry Rosenthal shared a Mike Elgan share of a Ken Layne post. Layne's post is entitled "Is San Francisco The Brooklyn To Silicon Valley's Unbuilt Manhattan?"

Layne begins by looking at today's Silicon Valley. And he doesn't like it.

As disappointed visitors and new employees discover, Silicon Valley is a dull and ugly landscape of low-rise stucco office parks and immense traffic-clogged boulevards. The fancy restaurants are in strip malls, like you'd find in Arizona or something. There is nothing to do, nowhere to go.

And that just won't do. We need to start a relief effort for the poor coder, creating the latest add-on to Twitter, and who is condemned to live in...A TRACT HOUSE. Sure, people in (shudder) Arizona or in Ontario, California or in Iowa or Ohio or whatever can live in tract houses...but not in Silicon Valley.

[T]he areas around and in between the tech giants of Silicon Valley are mostly ready to be razed and rebuilt. There are miles and miles of half-empty retail space, hideous 1970s' two-story apartment complexes, most of it lacking the basic human infrastructure of public transportation, playgrounds, bicycle and running and walking paths, outdoor cafes and blocks loaded with bars and late-night restaurants. This is where the new metropolis must be built, in this unloved but sunny valley.

Of course, it is also necessary to link this new metropolis to San Francisco.

California Route 82, the one-time king's highway...could be a new corridor of high-rise apartments and HQs and restaurants and museums filling in the long gaps between downtown San Jose and Apple/Google/HP/Yahoo/Intel and Stanford University and San Francisco. With local light rail at street level and express trains overhead or underground, the whole route could be lined with native-landscaped sidewalks dotted with pocket parks and filled on both sides with ground-floor retail, farmers markets and nightlife districts around every station.

Mike Elgan is all for it.

We should bulldoze the strip-malls, office parks and track houses of Silicon Valley, and built in its place giant skyscrapers -- a futuristic Manhattan.

Manhattan appears to be the model. The assertion is that San Francisco is NOT Manhattan, but that Silicon Valley could become a futuristic Manhattan. It's a wonder that no one referred to Manhattan 2.0.

However, there are several critical differences between Manhattan 1.0 and Manhattan 2.0.

First, Manhattan 1.0 is small - and it's even smaller when you realize that people talking about "Manhattan" exclude much of Manhattan Island from the mix. (More on this later.) The entirety of Manhattan (including the uncool parts) is only 22.7 square miles. The city of San Jose alone covers 174 square miles. I think - the source that provided this number also stated that San Jose has a population of 1,000,684,600. But even if San Jose doesn't have as many people as the nation of India, it's clear that Silicon Valley is much larger than the cool parts of Manhattan, so it's hard to envision a metropolis at Layne's scale.

Second, there's another difference between Manhattan and Manhattan 2.0 - something that Larry Rosenthal notes.

psst.. what made NYC great... WAS all the small shitty places full of immigrants who built its chaotic merged culture... anyhow... enjoy the dome Logan.

(If you don't know who Logan is, see this.)

Let me name a few Manhattan neighborhoods, and you can tell me how many of them remind you of a futuristic city with high-rise apartments and restaurants and museums. Harlem. Times Square. Hell's Kitchen. The Bowery. The Lower East Side.

I haven't spent an extensive amount of time in New York, but I've spent enough time there to know that the city isn't a series of gleaming spires. My one recollection of the Washington Square area of Greenwich Village was the guys wandering around asking, "Smoke? Smoke?" And when my dad and I took the New York subway during another visit, my dad was disgusted with the graffiti, and I was elated that we didn't run into any trouble. (Hey, Manhattan 2.0 people - are you going to pull Caltrain out and put the New York City subway in?)

Oh, and there's a third difference. Manhattan 1.0 took centuries to become the area that it is. You're not going to build a Manhattan 2.0 in the space of a few years - especially when you consider that the state of California is pretty much bankrupt. Exactly who is going to fund all of this massive development?

But if you really want to look Manhattan to see how it is a hotbed of tech, look at a technology company that's even older than Silicon Valley pioneer Hewlett Packard. Yes, I'm talking about IBM.

Except that IBM isn't based in Manhattan.

It's based in Armonk.

Out in the suburbs, off of Interstate 684.
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