As most New Yorkers know, people are willing to shell out a hefty sum to live in a place where work and play are right around the corner from each other. But as the article by Ken Layne in The Awl points out, the west coast is a somewhat different place. UNLIKE New York City, which is crowded with restaurants, bars, and entertainment, as well as offices, design firms and businesses; Silicon Valley, which caters to programmers and tech companies that hire at $100k a year, offers few of the amenities that a nearby town like San Francisco does. So, Layne concludes, residents are willing to spend hours of their day making their way into the fortressed office parks of Silicon Valley, flanked by parking lots and boulevards, just to have a cultural reprieve to call home.
Layne describes the desolate boulevards of half-empty retail spaces, buildings ready to be raised and “the lack of basic human infrastructure” that fail to engage any kind of hospitality for people leaving their jobs in the Silicon Valley. But rather than bawwing over this depravity, maybe this is a call to make something happen in this technology-rich haven of job opportunities for the young and brilliant. Those of us in New York City lament over the loss of open spaces, and protected wildlife. Well, the Pacific Coast is abundant with such fair. Its well preserved forests of redwoods, wildlife refuges and parks illustrate an example of public amenities that is not taken advantage of among commuters between Silicon Valley and its outlying suburbs.
Firstly, Layne makes a point to acknowledge that San Francisco has its own array of tech and media start ups under its belt but it does not have the land area to sustain such large tech companies such as Apple or Google. In addition, there is a an incredible push against densifying the urban space into something resembling New York City. This of course makes the premium for a home in San Francisco that much more expensive. Yet, he embraces the fact that SF is a city that has its own character. Silicon Valley has long been hailed as the technology capital, as its appelation suggests, and excels at providing such companies with the land area to make their work environments prosper as its density is far less than that of SF. Yet, what it has to give in profitable land use, it fails to give in human engagement. There is obviously a quaint balance that exists between density and open space and part of the argument is in response to pinpointing what this balance should be. This is constant battle of established cities, see Washington, DC’s battle with its height restrictions.
Of course that isn’t to say that every uninhabited piece of land ought to be dominated by human intervention, but pockets of human intervention that can ease the transition between isolated (and desolate) office parks like Silicon Valley and relatively dense urban environments like San Francisco may mediate this schizophrenia between work and entertainment. Layne describes physical connections of roadways and public transportation that links the two cities, taking advantage of each of their amenities while also engaging “the in-between” or “the underused sections in the middle of your metropolitan area”, as stated by Layne.
Rather than exacerbating the use of the automobile for more commuter traffic and congestion along highways, Layne offers a simple suggestion – alternate uses in transportation as well as points of interest en-route that engage the otherwise unused land between the two concentrated areas. Alexis S. Madrigal of The Atlantic seconds Layne’s suggestion, but hesitates to agree full heartedly. Not everyone is ready for dense urban neighborhoods; and many people prefer the suburbs and a considerable distance between their home and their jobs.
This is a perpetual question in the field of architecture and urbanism. Those of us that believe that a balance between density, open space and profit can be met will continue to engage in this type of discourse as we move closer to understanding what our ideal city is.