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Suburban Office Parks Increasingly Obsolete; Businesses Choose Walkable Areas (streetsblog.org)
217 points by jseliger on Dec 21, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 184 comments



I don't understand why they make office parks so overtly pedestrian unfriendly -- I worked in an office park for a while, there were sidewalks along the front of our building, which ended abruptly just after the driveways. The building next door had the same thing - sidewalks to nowhere that never connected to anything.

There was a pretty decent deli in the building behind ours, but rather than having a convenient walkway, there was a fence between the two properties, so reaching it meant taking the long way around 2 parking lots. The building across the street had a downstairs area that used to be another deli/coffee shop, but at one point but when rents went up, the owner couldn't afford rent and closed, but it had been sitting vacant for around 3+ years by the time I worked there.

The roads in the office park had relatively narrow lanes with wide 20 foot green medians - I suppose the green grass in the medians looked nice, but the narrow lanes meant that bike riding was pretty dicey, there was not really enough room for cars to pass cyclists, and the 40mph speed limit meant that cars traveled at 45 - 50mph, making biking much more dangerous than it needed to be.

They had a shuttle to the nearest train station, but it ran on a fixed schedule that didn't even try to sync up with the train schedule, which led to 20 - 40 minute delays while waiting for the shuttle on the way to work or waiting for the train home. I suspect that the management was either required to run the shuttle or got a grant for it, and only ran it because they had to, not to provide a service to workers.

My company moved out of the office park as soon as they had enough money to rent space downtown.

It wouldn't take too many changes to make office parks more "livable" - add sidewalks, bike lanes, encourage retail/restaurants with lower rents.


You've just nearly described my exact working environment. Only, on one side I have a highway. I have a friend who works across the road from me. If we met up for lunch on foot one of us is taking a 30 minute walk because it's impassible on foot. I'm stuck driving for the bulk of the winter because it's just unsafe (after biking to work year round in Chicago for the last ten years, this commute broke me).

Fortunately (for them and me) the company is moving downtown this spring, or I wouldn't have taken an otherwise great job.


Every time I visit America I'm surprised by how unwalkable most of metropolitan America is. I always wondered if roads are unwalkable because most Americans wouldn't walk anyway or if Americans don't walk, because roads are unwalkable.

Probably it has something to do with the long walking distances; even if the roads were walkable with proper sidewalks and pedestrian crossings installed, it would take half an hour just to walk to the nearest corner store.


Basically in the 50's, we started building cities at automobile scale, instead of at human scale like we used to, and the design goal for roads was simply to move as many cars through as quickly as possible. Things like 12' wide travel lanes instead of 10', ridiculously huge building setbacks, right turn arcs, 140' wide lots instead of 70', wide neighborhood roads (encourages speeding), no street parking (drivers slow down on roads with parked cars and on roads with no marked centerline), etc. Also, everybody wants to live in a cul-de-sac, which greatly limits how far you can walk (https://www.walkscore.com/walkable-neighborhoods.shtml) versus a standard grid layout. (But if you look at real estate pricing, the data show people want to live in walkable areas; a home in a walkable area will often command a 1.5x to 2x price premium over a similar home in a typical car-centric suburb.)

All those details add up to create a poor and dangerous pedestrian experience. Now, most towns in America have realized that was extremely bone-headed, possibly unsustainable (it costs a lot of money to run all those electrical wires, plumbing, and roads), and we are trying to undo the past 70 years of engineering. Oh, and this was all mandated by building codes (law) so even if one wanted to build a walkable suburban business park, it was not possible.

There is a entertaining talk about all this by James Kuntsler at https://www.ted.com/talks/james_howard_kunstler_dissects_sub...


The #1 reason why cities are not built to human scale and why chain businesses with slim margins survive and local businesses do not is 100% civil politics. It's parking minimums. Eliminate parking minimums and commercial real estate becomes cheaper, building setbacks get smaller, and walking becomes the rational way to get around because stuff is closer together & driving short distances becomes more difficult.


>a home in a walkable area will often command a 1.5x to 2x price premium over a similar home in a typical car-centric suburb.

I suspect this has more to do with fact that walkable areas are much more likely to be located in city centers with higher overall real estate prices than with the desirability of walkable neighborhoods.


I suspect this has more to do with fact that walkable areas are much more likely to be located in city centers with higher overall real estate prices than with the desirability of walkable neighborhoods.

One also has to consider that new families with young children are high on the list of demographics looking for suburban homes, and are likely to have less money, so suburban homes are cheaper by necessity.

Cul-de-sacs wouldn't be so bad if they had well-maintained pedestrian lanes that cut between them and neighborhood shops instead of big box stores.


What's so great about "neighborhood shops" over big box stores? Higher prices and smaller selection?


We need both, but by neighborhood shops I mean little cafes, restaurants, galleries, markets, etc. that you can walk to for day to day needs, while still leaving the big box store for long-term and bulk purchases. The reduced density of suburbs wouldn't support very many of these shops, but if they're spaced well, they could serve as walkable gathering points for the community.


If you're counting little cafes, restaurants, galleries and markets among your day-to-day needs, you've already gentrified yourself out of the range of 90% of the population.


No, he hasn't, except for the galleries.

In England at least, a poor area still has little cafés [1]. The menu is similar enough — fried breakfast etc — but it will be served on an actual plate, rather than a chopping board or slate. The choice of restaurant might be a larger pub, or a place that also/only offers take-away (McDonalds or a small Cantonese place, for example). The market probably has less promotion of organic produce, and will sell produce as well as cheap clothes and household goods.

I used to live in a poor area of London, which I think was built in the 1960s. There were cul-de-sac roads, but most of them continued with footpaths so journeys wouldn't take too long. On the main road there was a school, church, doctor's office, dentist, library, small grocery store, beer/wine shop, bakery, cheap café, pizza take-away, Chinese take-away, Indian take-away, fish and chip shop, pharmacy, newsagent, youth club and 'village' green including play equipment. The pub-with-dining had recently closed, I'm not sure if that's still the case. All of this is within 5-10 minutes walk of most people, beyond that distance and they are close to the next cluster of shops.

There wasn't a market, but there was a market selling fruit and veg in the nearest 'town', which was about 5-10 minutes by bicycle, or 10-20 by walk+bus.

[1] http://www.constructionphotography.com/Details.aspx?ID=11957... — "builder's caf" or just "caf" is a slang term for them.


Yes, this has been my experience in the UK too (and probably everybody's). It may be a cultural difference but rows of local shops are not the preserve of gentrified areas. Anywhere people live, you will find these sorts of shops, because people will buy stuff from shops that are within walking distance. If anything, they seem to be slightly more likely in the poorer areas, presumably because there are more people who will want shops within walking distance.


In the US, you don't see European style communities like this much outside of the fu-fu hipstery gentrified urban areas, or places like the coast of Maine, where they roll out the welcome mat in the summer for the tourists and their wallets, but don't actually go to such places themselves.

Most places, the closest thing you're going to find to a little cafe is your local 7-11 or Dunkin Donuts. Or the local package store. Generally, people go to the supermarket once a week, and they stock up enough that they don't have to go to the market every single day - when I spent a few months in Germany, this was one of the differences that struck me most oddly. Art is generally... not held in great esteem.


1. So what if he wants to live in a nice neighbourhood? 2. Those things are not exclusive to expensive places. Even the poor parts of town in far away countries have those things.


How so? Even the poorest and 'shittiest' parts of most cities have plenty of cafes, restaurants and markets.


Try actually driving though the shitty part of any us city, there are no cafes. They don't even have big box stores.


Most of my low EUR / year earning friends (in that 90%) would disagree.

All of these things end up being plentiful, cost-sensitive, and profitable when the space you live in supports and encourages plentiful foot traffic.


You don't have to take the car.


No doubt city centres are walkable but this comment begs the question though - why are city centres 2x as expensive as suburbs? If the density and land scarcity is the reason then why do developers want to build on more expensive ground in the city than in the suburbs? Why are people willing to pay 2x to live in cities than in suburbs? I think the real reason is that walkability (and hence city centres) are desirable which makes them cost more, and not because city centres are ipso facto expensive.


Let's say that BigCity has a residential capacity of 1 million people, but 3 million people want to live there. Meanwhile, its suburbs have a capacity for 5 million people, and 6 million want to live in the suburbs. Even though more people want to live in the suburbs, prices will probably be higher in the city.


A city centre, in order to be a centre, has to be denser. Density and walkability go hand in hand.

But sure, the real test would be non-walkable neighbourhoods next to city centres.


Bone-headed? I dunno. The cost to upgrade cities is beyond absurd. Installing a subway or light rail into an existing city is comically expensive.


Lots of European cities built these systems after WW2. Lots of Chinese cities have been doing it since the 2000s. Apparently it makes sense. When I see that a city like Seattle is not able to build mass transit between west and east side, and instead is maintaining gridlocked 10 lane "free"-ways and wider bridges I find that very comical. It is one of the main reasons I feel alienated every time I visit the area.


I'd argue that trying to build widespread mass transit in America today is what's bone-headed. The road infrastructure already exists and connects just about every town in the US. Electric cars will solve the fuel efficiency issue to a large degree, and self-driving cars will fix congestion and safety.

I can't believe some of the outrageous stuff this Kuntsler guy says:

>We have about, you know, 38,000 places that are not worth caring about in the United States today. When we have enough of them, we're going to have a nation that's not worth defending. And I want you to think about that when you think about those young men and women who are over in places like Iraq, spilling their blood in the sand, and ask yourself, "What is their last thought of home?" I hope it's not the curb cut between the Chuck E. Cheese and the Target store because that's not good enough for Americans to be spilling their blood for. (Applause) We need better places in this country.

Really? We have a lot worth fighting for, and it's not any physical city, nor should it be. Rather, it's the 300 million people that call this place home, your family and friends among them. It's the idea--the reality--of mankind living in freedom, of opportunity for all, of equal justice before the law, of the dignity of the individual.

>We are entering an epochal period of change in the world, and -- certainly in America -- the period that will be characterized by the end of the cheap oil era. It is going to change absolutely everything. [...] We're not going to be rescued by the hyper-car; we're not going to be rescued by alternative fuels. No amount or combination of alternative fuels is going to allow us to continue running what we're running, the way we're running it.

This guy is just plain wrong. There's no reason why plug-in electrics, and a power grid running on nuclear & renewables, can't replace our current reliance on oil and internal combustion engines.

I've lived in suburbs and in cities, and my take is that the current zeitgeist (that suburbs are evil) is way off the mark. In suburbia, I had boundless privacy and freedom in my home. In the city, I can't play my speakers loud without getting a noise complaint. In suburbia, I could hop in my car and go wherever I want whenever I want. In the city, parking is expensive and public transit is not fun. I have to take several buses, at particular bus stops, at particular times. My door to door morning commute is twice as long by bus as by car. In suburbia, I might have heard a few cars passing by at night, or the occasional loud outdoor party. In the city, I have to choose between burning alive and trying to sleep to the tune of my neighbors' loud conversation on their balcony. There's a lot of great things about the city too--I choose to live in one! Different strokes for different folks. Or even the same folks at different points in their lives.


Traffic is bad in general. The average SFite gets around on train, bike, walking and uber. To drive your own car is pretty hellish. If you try to drive a car over the bay bridge whenever there is traffic, it can take an hour. When there is no traffic, it takes 8 minutes. With the BART, if there is 'traffic', then your standing for 8 minutes in a somewhat cramped car as you go through the transbay tube. If there is no 'traffic', then your sitting for 8 minutes instead. Traffic is not an issue with a subway.

I hate suburbia. It's isolating and bland. It's always a 10 minute car production to go fetch something quick from a 7-11 or equivalent. It encourages obesity and a lack of walking because you always have to get in a car. It encourages long commutes and rush hour hell on the highway. With a long train commute, I can read a book or do something productive with my time.

If I want to play my music loudly at 11pm, then I will get a unit that was constructed with soundproofing. If a city is hampered by inept NIMBYs that prevent new construction with soundproofing being made, then that has nothing to do with urban vs suburban.

I think you haven't experienced a proper metro system by saying public transit is a bus. Go to new york, and see how there is no 'traffic' delays in taking the subway. Where everything is avialable 24/7 and the city is alive.


That I can remember right now, I've taken the subway/train in New York, Boston, Chicago, London, San Francisco, and DC. Some of them are really great, others are not (looking at you, Green Line on the Boston T). Building these systems was almost certainly a great idea at the time.

My main point is that technology is now changing and I think that de-centralized mass-transit through fleets of automated cars is close at hand. And it can use the infrastructure that we already have. So building super-expensive fixed-line transit infrastructure within cities is not a good investment anymore. Even more so when you consider the turnaround time from initial planning to opening to the public is probably a decade.


Private transport takes up way too much space and is also inefficient. Why spend the energy and resources to build a 1-2 ton car for transporting 1-2 people? It seems like an odd idea.


1. You wouldn't need a car per person, only enough to comfortably serve peak demand. There's never a single point of time at which everyone in a city is on the road. (Except evacuations, but see point 3).

2. There is already about one car per person in the US.

3. Automated car fleets would presumably have a cheaper carpooling option, where the car picks up other passengers on the way to the destination. Like UberPool today.

4. Fixed-line transit costs millions to billions of dollars per mile, and easily takes a decade from planning to completion. Building roads takes a fraction of the time and money. And the roads already exist.


Automated car fleets work well for suburbs. But past a certain point, heavy rail train subways have far more throughput than the equivalent amount of cars.

Look at this image for example: http://imgur.com/gallery/v3ff7FY

Building & maintaining roads and highways does take a lot of money too. Building new roads vs building new railroad track on new land isn't that much different cost wise.


Try driving in rush hour traffic in the SF Bay Area, then imagine what it'll be like in a few decades when there are 40% more people in the area.

You can replace gasoline powered cars with electrics, but you can't build enough roads to handle the traffic -- there's going to have to be improvements in public transportation and smart planning to let people live closer to where they work and play.

Retrofitting cities with pub transit is expensive today, but it will be even more expensive tomorrow.


Self-driving cars can optimize limited road infrastructure. Of course, this means ALL cars would have to be in on it, but that isn't infeasible for 10 or 20 years from now.

So I kind of agree with parent. Doing something today might be outdated given tomorrow's technology enabling better solutions. But that is always a risk in infrastructure investment.


Why not just never improve anything, ever? I mean we might have self-driving cars in 20 years, but another 20 after that there will be something even better than self-driving cars, and who wants to own something that will be obsolete in 20 years, anyway?


We will have self driving cars in 3 to 5 years at this point...the writing is on the wall. We will have pervasive self driving cars in 10 or 20 years.

So to ignore something that is pretty much a sure bet to redesign your city over 20 years, when what you are building is meant to last 50-100 years, is kind of stupid. You do what you can with all information available.


I think you're overly optimistic with that estimate -- we'll have "driver assist" cars in 3 - 5 years that can navigate most roads in normal conditions, but will still need the driver to step in from time to time to help with unexpected conditions.

10 - 20 years is more likely for true self-driving cars that can operate completely without human control.


Traffic congestion is also a question of person density. If there were ways to increase people density per sq ft on those roads, with buses or, heck, some weird quadruple-stacked short-distance car transports, you can reduce traffic and commute loads as well.


Traffic is a compression wave. You brake, then the person behind you brakes, then the person behind them, etc. You accelerate, then the person behind you...

Highways that become automated-only will not have this problem. The cars can communicate with each other and change speed in unison. You don't even need to convert a whole highway, you can just reserve a single lane for automated cars and get most of the same benefits.


The near gridlock on SOMA streets every rush hour isn't because of a compression wave - there are simply too many people trying to drive out of the city at once. Even if magical cars could erase congestion on freeways, there's still the problem of not enough parking for everyone that would have to drive without public transit.

And don't say "But self driving cars will fix everything! They don't even need to park, they can drop you off at work and drive away". If the cars aren't parked, they are contributing to congestion. And since commutes aren't generally balanced, it's not like the self-driving car will leave Walnut Creek at 8am, drop you off in SF at 9am and then pick up a new passenger to head back to the East Bay - that car is going to be loitering around SF somewhere, waiting to take someone back home to the East Bay.

SF Muni carries 600,000 passengers/day. BART carries 400K (though not all to SF). Caltrain contributes another 50K. How could you possible accomodate all of these people without transit?

Like I said, building effective transit in existing cities is very expensive -- the BART system cost around $1.5B when it was built (around $20B today), but few would argue that SF would be better off without it.


>If the cars aren't parked, they are contributing to congestion. And since commutes aren't generally balanced[...] that car is going to be loitering around SF somewhere

You're right, traffic patterns are not balanced, so the cars returning to the hot areas for pickups will not be contributing to the traffic in the most-congested direction.

Also, SF already has BART, Caltrain, and SF Muni. I'm not familiar with the specific history here, but transit and housing are the limiting factors for where people live in the first place, so the number of commuters will expand when capacity increases. The better question is, what if SF didn't build those systems? It wouldn't be San Francisco today minus the trains, it'd be a totally different San Francisco. So you can't really take the ridership numbers from today as evidence that city couldn't cope without trains.

Also, this was all happening when self-driving cars were not around the corner. It's a different story today.


>You're right, traffic patterns are not balanced, so the cars returning to the hot areas for pickups will not be contributing to the traffic in the most-congested direction.

Except that in a city, all traffic contributes to congestion,there is no single "commute direction".

>Also, this was all happening when self-driving cars were not around the corner. It's a different story today.

That "corner" is decades away, meanwhile, people need to get to work today -- and you still haven't explained how self-driving cars can replace a million+ trips/day on city streets that are already at capacity during rush hour. They may be self-driving, but they still drive on roads.


Kunstler has been writing about peak oil for ages, and is something of an expert in this area, despite being "crazy" - I mean, he definitely sounds crazy, but then again, there's a reasonable chance he could be right about the pending apocalypse, it's not like we're below the carrying capacity of the planet (given our resource usage) or anything.


There is no pending apocalypse. We'll hit peak oil around mid-century, and it's not like all of the oil just runs out at that point. We're investing heavily in research into renewables, and I figure that the politics of nuclear will improve in the next couple of decades.


A bit of both. The history of suburban sprawl is pretty well documented elsewhere, but at this point, it's hard to undo. People have committed to a car-based, suburban lifestyle.

Heck, I don't much care of the suburbs, but being a software developer outside DC means the best job prospects are along the Dulles corridor (Tyson's Corner through Dulles Airport) or other suburban areas. So, like many others, I bought a house in the 'burbs, where the public schools are good, jobs are bountiful, and traffic makes me feel like kicking puppies.

Now that I'm here, I'm pretty ambivalent about it. I'd move downtown, but I'm not convinced the pay would be high enough to offset the increased cost of real-estate ($400k for a 3-bed row houe in the outer 'burbs, $700k+ for the same downtown).


I wish more people would talk about this.

I'd love to live downtown, and am actively trying to do so. But it's the worst decision I could possibly make in every measurable metric.

Living downtown triples my housing costs. Even if I downsize 50% of my current living space, moving downtown would still double my housing costs. Working downtown cuts my salary by ~15%, and I'd loose my good health insurance for some fake HSA. I'd love to raise my child downtown, but the school systems are significantly worse in every metric.

Yes, I could give up a car. That would save me about $350/month in total expenses. But to live downtown would cost me an extra $1000/month in housing costs, and cut my income by about $900/month (pay cut + benefits reduction + increased taxes). Loosing $1,900/month to save $350/month is insane.

And taking public transit, while slightly cheaper and healthier than driving, would increase my commute time by 2 hours every single workday. (How much is an hour of your time worth? How much is 40 hours per month of your time worth?)

---

I'm still trying to live in an urban area -- it's been a goal of mine for my entire life. But it feels like all of society is working against me for trying to do this.

Our perverse incentives are setup in such a way that suburban sprawl is the most rational choice for non-subsidized individual households to make in the vast majority of the US, despite all of the problems associated with it.


>I'm still trying to live in an urban area -- it's been a goal of mine for my entire life. But it feels like all of society is working against me for trying to do this.

Do this. Even if temporarily. I've lived in the suburbs all of my life (and currently still do). The year I spent in a real city gave me great perspective. I quite enjoyed some parts and hated other parts. If anything it made me really understand myself more (and appreciate the suburbs!)


You'd love to live downtown in (I'm assuming) an urban area that is in extremely high demand. There are tons of downtown cores that are less expensive but presumably you don't want to live in those and the jobs aren't available there. It's not so much about perverse incentives as that high demand areas are expensive because a lot of people have the same preferences as you do.


They don't have large apartments downtown?


The real estate is much more expensive downtown in most cases and, like many urban cores for a variety of historical reasons, you're probably stuck paying for expensive private schools if you have kids and want them to have a good education.


I live in the city, pay outrageous taxes (ie. taxes are about equal to my mortgage), and now my son is 4. So I'm faced with sending him to a school district with lousy outcomes and no budget, sending him to Catholic school, or moving to the burbs where they have sponsored robot teams and some of the best schools in the state.


You can't send your son to school in the 'burbs without moving there?


Not in the US. Public schools are funded and managed by the local governments (usually county or city). So, only residents of those locales get to attend.

You could send a child to a private school in the suburbs, but that's doesn't gain you anything over sending the kid to a private school closer to home. Plus, it costs an additional $6000+/year. That's tuition at my local Catholic high school; it's an average school, no better than the publics in the same area.


<outsider's shrug> From a policy perspective it seems to be a no-brainer then to move school financing to the state level, at least for a part of the schools.


It really needs to be all or nothing, otherwise you're just giving the districts more spending power.

State budgets are abstract, and it's easy for school boards to ask for more money over time.


You can in my state, but we'd have to politick to do it, and the cost is more than private school. And the private school is a better investment (smaller class size, less common core) at that price.


I see this as a serious gap in most places. They are building loads of apartments near me- all one or two bedrooms. It's very rare to see a three bedroom, and almost never four.


That's because the customary cultural expectation in America seems to be that by the time you have any use for 3+ bedrooms, you'll buy a freestanding house in the suburbs. Accordingly, there's little demand for large apartments.

3+ BR apartments are fairly table stakes in central and Eastern Europe. It's still a culture shock to me to be unable to find one here in the US, and I've lived here since I was six!


Yes, but not many, and they sell for premium prices. They are often sold a "penthouse" units, only on the top few floors.

They are frequently aimed at retirees downsizing from even larger free-standing homes. Or, wealthy buyers looking for an urban crash-pad, in addition to their mansion outside the city center.

edit - a quick search of Washington DC shows 14 units available with 3+ bedrooms and <$700,000. Of those, about half are in really rough neighborhoods, where no professional likely to move.


> 'burbs

is that supposed to sound like burp?


I think it's simply that most American cities are relatively young, and a good portion of the growth occurred after cars became abundant. Older cities aren't as car-centric, because cars didn't exist when they were built.


I guess it started with "roads are unwalkable" and then slowly morphed into "Americans wouldn't walk anyway", and you can see it in the comments here.

Most people can't even come up with a sane rationalization of their environmentally hazardous laziness. Instead it's "America is such a big place", which is like saying you can't bike because Russia is the biggest country on earth while you live in Moscow.


> Probably it has something to do with the long walking distances;

oh ya think? I think you should just continue to assume it's just because Americans are too lazy to walk.


Why are you so hostile? I did not imply in any way that "Americans are too lazy to walk".


Indeed, it's not so much that americans are too lazy to walk, but they've been conditioned to not walk.

When I was a child, I road a big yellow school bus to my elementary school, at the time it seemed very far away, when my parents had to go to the school for any reason, they drove their car.

But now, looking at a map, I see that it was literally only a half mile from my house, but I never walked because it meant walking along some streets with heavy car traffic and no sidewalks, just an ungraded shoulder with no curb or other separation from the roadway.

It wasn't until I moved to San Francisco that I realized that walking (or biking) is a far nicer way to get around.


A couple of weeks ago we returned a rental car to San Diego, after a one way trip. We checked into the hotel, then were going to go to the airport for the return. We asked the clerk how to get back from the rental car return. "Taxi or Uber is your best bet, though I think there's a bus."

We looked on the map. The rental return was a mile away from the hotel, with sidewalks the whole way. We walked.


Pretty bad clerk you had there, I can't believe the suggestion to take taxi from a rental car return to a terminal. But the comparison that the average traveler is ready to walk a mile from their parking spot to the terminal with all their luggage is a bit far-out.


Sorry, I didn't explain that right. We drove from San Francisco to San Diego, with several stops on the way. We were tourists in San Diego for a couple of days. Our hotel was walking distance from nearly everywhere we wanted go, so we figured to not pay for a car for those extra couple of days. We checked into the hotel, moved our bags into the room, dropped off the car at the San Diego airport, the returned to the hotel for the rest of our visit.

So the walk was from the rental car return to the hotel, not the rental car return to the terminal.


> most Americans wouldn't walk anyway

I'm hostile because the whole "look how shitty america is" narrative gets old after a while.


The USA has enough land to (still) let the car be king, even in many cities, and has enough wealth to let even the "poor" to own a car, and you think that's a case of "look how shitty america is"?

There are many people in the world who would literally kill for such a lifestyle, and you think it's a symbol of how "shitty" America is?

Why do you think that America's car culture could be perceived as a bad thing? And if you can understand why others think it's bad, why do you take such offense when they point it out?


> I worked in an office park for a while, there were sidewalks along the front of our building, which ended abruptly just after the driveways. The building next door had the same thing - sidewalks to nowhere that never connected to anything.

That was almost certainly the legal minimum. I have seen (and walked!) similar sidewalks and it is infuriating. Code says they need a sidewalk, but doesn't say it needs to connect to anything.


Loudoun County, VA is full of areas like this. County code mandates sidewalks in new developments, but the developers end them at the edge of their land, leaving gaps. It's ridiculous - it shouldn't be that hard (or expensive, over time) to link communities in a sane manner. Heck, Reston, VA managed to stay reasonably walkable/cycle-able and most of it was planned in the 70s.


I used to bike from Herndon to my former office in Loudoun, VA. The W&OD bike trail is fantastic. It was a beautiful ride, up until the last few miles getting from the trail to the office park at Loudoun Station. The most direct route is to ride on the shoulders of Loudoun County Parkway in front of the Verizon building. There are no sidewalks, the shoulders are littered with gravel and cars drive around 50 MPH. Just, no. I had worked out a path that added about a mile but kept me either on sidewalks or side roads. I understand the argument that sidewalks are for pedestrians, not cyclists, but there are very very few pedestrians on those sidewalks. Loudoun really should put a path from the Station to the W&OD trail before the Silver Line metro comes in.


To be fair, it doesn't seem like the developers could/should be installing sidewalks on land that isn't theirs without coordination with the landowner (so they have to end the sidewalk at the edge of their land).


Well no, the city should be requiring that developers build sidewalks on the public right-of-ways next to the roads.


That makes sense and is how it's typically done up here. I read the GGP's post as a complaint against the developers not against the city/country/AHJ, who is the only one in a position to make the change (granting public right of way, or taking property via eminent domain as needed).


It was meant as a complaint against the county. They have a silly rule in place - developer must build sidewalks. That's it. No coordination between developers/land-owners. No plan to link developments. See the sibling comment about Loudoun Station - a large mixed-use development that isn't linked to the largest bike trail in northern VA.


> I don't understand why they make office parks so overtly pedestrian unfriendly

Because the people who design modern suburbs are bad people. I used to work in an office park in the Atlanta suburbs. Looked at what it would take to get there on public transit from the city. Even if I did the two mile walk from the nearest bus stop, there was no sidewalk in-between.

But good thing we live in a society where a fresh college grad with zero credit can still get a car loan!


I've been ticketed in Atlanta for walking on a patch of grass by a road because that section of the road did not have a sidewalk. (The grass was well away from the road so there was no danger of distracting cars or anything and this was public property).

The only bus that actually crossed that section of the road to get to my internship location stopped running at 8am, so the days I had classes in the morning and was working in the afternoon I had to travel 1 1/2 hrs by public transport and then walk 35 mins to reach work, as opposed to a 1 HR 15 min public transport ride (also a 20 min drive by car).


Not quite the same, but I used to live in an apartment catty-corner from my university's property. It was short enough of a distance to walk home, and yet there were stretches of it without sidewalks, and people would assume you're lost if you walked along it and offer you a ride out of sympathy.


> I've been ticketed in Atlanta for walking on a patch of grass by a road because that section of the road did not have a sidewalk.

What were you even supposed to do in that case?


Detour to the nearest car lot and buy a car.


> The building across the street had a downstairs area that used to be another deli/coffee shop, but at one point but when rents went up, the owner couldn't afford rent and closed, but it had been sitting vacant for around 3+ years by the time I worked there.

I've seen that happen too many times, and have to wonder what the hell the owners were thinking. It feels like sweet justice though.


The cynic in me (OK, let's be honest, that's all of me) says this is intentional because The Man wants you to come to work, put in your 8^H10 hours, and go home. They want you to eat a sack lunch at your desk, not go wandering off to be unproductive at some local eatery.


one of my favorite situations was seeing an office worker in a wheelchair hit the end of those sidewalks and just sit there looking sad while his office-mates tried to figure out how to navigate the rest of the way to Moe's.


Office parks just feel like monotony to me; everything is the same, same cafeteria, same surroundings, no chance to do anything other than what is given. I love working in downtown SF -- it's easily commutable, I have hundreds of choices for lunch, I can meet up with a huge number of friends who work at different companies for lunch or drinks or coffee. An office park just feels like the end of the line.


Different strokes, I guess. I hate commuting into the city; I can't afford to eat out every day; none of my friends work anywhere near me, and the commute takes about three times as long as the office park I'm at right now. An office park that has nice walking paths means I can get in and out relatively quickly and still see my family at the end of the day.


I work out in the suburbs, and my commute would be super short and convenient if I lived in the same suburb. The problem is, if I were to change jobs, there are no other companies that are looking to hire somebody with my skillset in the same suburb. Instead, most of those other jobs are located downtown in the city or in suburbs clear on the other side of town. So while suburban office parks might've been great for somebody who was planning on working at the same company for their entire career, so that they could buy a house nearby and raise their family there, it doesn't work so great these days when people are changing jobs frequently.


By and large it's not practical to live and work in the same suburb, especially if you're a two-income couple. Which is why in the D.C. area you have crazy traffic with people commuting between random suburbs. It's way more efficient to put all the jobs in a central location and move people in and out with commuter rail. It could easily take you an hour to drive from one D.C. suburb to another. In that same time, I can commute from Connecticut into NYC.


I have a friend who commuted via high-speed rail from Berlin to Braunschweig, logging on via the rail WiFi to start work. He'd arrive in a little over 2 hours, work for ~4 hours, and head back home finishing his work day on the train. It's a long day on the train but he loved it and continues living in Berlin today.


I think many of us wouldn't actually be bothered with a huge commute if it could be considered as part of our working hours. The problem with that is how common it is to not to be considered working unless you're at your desk, which turns that into a 12 hour day rather than the 8 hour day you have.


It is rather odd that, as a knowledge worker, I have to climb into a metal box and operate it at dangerously high speeds (participating in an activity that's the #1 highest accidental killer in the US) so that I may arrive at a desk in some distant location so that I may be seen typing at my keyboard so I may get paid for it.


Can confirm. I commute between Herndon VA and Greenbelt MD every day. If I get on the beltway before 6am it takes about an hour. I would love to ride the Metro rather than drive, but that takes nearly two hours.


Aesthetically, I'm not a fan of office parks and the one I'm in doesn't have great places to walk unless you count parking lots. Having said that, urban company locations are usually great if you live nearby and can take public transit or easily walk/bike. It's pretty horrible/expensive for large cities if you have to drive and/or take a long commuter rail in.


I love commuting to work: it's either a 20 minute bus ride, or a 30 minute walk. The most direct walking path is just a hair over 2 miles, which means that—along with walking to and from lunch—I can easily walk 5 miles a day without having to make any 'real' changes to my daily schedule.


Some easy math will demonstrate that many more people live within walking distance of big city office towers than live within the same distance of exurban office parks.


Not to defend suburbs, but a well-designed suburb/exurb let's you access quite a bit in a reasonable amount of time. My old commute from the East Village to Tribeca, both in downtown Manhattan, was about 25-30 minutes by subway with a transfer. In the same time I could walk about half-way to work. This is a pretty normal commute in the densest part of the USA.

In the same time, I could get to a 20-30 mile radius around my parents house in suburban maryland (if my math is correct, this is 1200-2800 square miles). I could drive to downtown Baltimore, or downtown Annapolis, or close to DC.


If your _average_ driving speed from home to work is 60MPH you don't even live in the suburbs. You live in the country. For me, 1800 square miles of country through which one can drive at 60MPH (implying that it's totally depopulated) would not compare favorably with the amenities within half an hour of the East Village.


It's not quite fair to compare raw distance. Instead, consider comparing number of businesses or people within the East Village 25-30minute radius vs. the Maryland 20-30mile radius. I don't know about your area, but as a current East Village resident there's there's way, way more in that NY radius compared to my hometown's equivalent.


Not everyone wants to live within walking distance of the big towers.


And I'm completely in favor of personal preference. What rubs many urban dwellers is the gigantic subsidies heaped upon suburbs. I don't care where people live, as long as I don't have to pay for it.


Which gigantic subsidies did you have in mind?


Ten seconds of googling gives perspectives from either end of the political spectrum:

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/urbs/the-conservative...

http://grist.org/cities/starving-the-cities-to-feed-the-subu...


I'm aware of the home mortgage interest deduction. If that was what thrownaway meant, they could have said so, and we could discuss that. "lmgtfy" isn't an argument.

Interestingly, that Grist article doesn't attempt to quantify how much of the deduction goes to city vs. suburban property owners, so it's hard to get a grip on how "massive" a subsidy it is vs. say, community development grants and public transit set asides.


Is there a summary argument that also takes into account the wealth transfer from poor tenants to rich landlords that is created by making everybody rent instead of buy? If interest and tax writeoffs are a ~$140bil/yr subsidy, are there economic or social benefits greater than $140bil/yr that make it worth it?


If landlords are making huge profits off people who are renting in the cities rather than buying in the suburbs, then those tenants have an arbitrage opportunity to buy condos or coops.


You have to have capital or someone who trusts you with capital to buy large things, though, which is exactly what the previously vilified federal subsidies provide.


Distance is less interesting in this context than time; in the same time it takes me to commute to The City, I can drive nearly 60 miles in almost any other direction. That makes a great number of exurban office parks a lot more accessible to me than a big city office tower.


city life is amazing. 20 minutes commute is the only way I can work 12 hours a day and still have time for friends, family, and hobbies.


Rural life is amazing. That 30 second commute from my bed to my desk is the only way I can work 12 hours a day and still have time to walk the dog, tend the garden, and enjoy the outdoors, and avoid having to engage with the seething squalid mass of humanity unless I choose.

Remote work is the best. Having to get all your employees breathing the same oxygen will hopefully seem like an insane anachronism in fifty years.


+1 for remote work!

Open the window to the office, listen to the birds outside, smell the fresh air. Go for a walk in peace and quiet, no busses, ambulances blaring, people shouting, stepping on your toes etc.


I'm not sure whether you're serious or not. I'm awake about 15 hours a day. Working for 12.7 out of those is not what I would call "having time for friends, family, and hobbies".


"An office park that has nice walking paths"

The problem is, most don't.


Most are actually designed not to. There are a whole lot of interesting looks at how suburbans are designed (hint: keeping undesirables like African Americans out is a major feature). While the intent in 2015 may be less overt, those same isolationist tactics are still in heavy use. Big walls, large setbacks, windy streets, large parking lots.. they all serve to build an effective moat around the place people are.


I agree. And similar to suburban business parks, the suburbs feel just as bland and banal to me. I enjoyed growing up in one as a kid (it was a safe little bubble with friends nearby), but now that I'm an adult suburban life seems very uninspiring, with little interesting activity nearby. If I had to live in one nowadays, I would at least want it to be close to a major US city.


Blame it on zoning. If it were not for zoning, you'd see more urbanesque-like building of office space.

Cities inherited their industrial zoning so they developed the urban architectural development.

But people didn't like how businesses and industries were involved in making products with dangerous processes which sometimes resulted in public danger, so they came up with zoning to restrict and segregate business and industry away from areas where people lived.


I miss working right in the city. 5 minute walk home, more places to go for lunch, since I didn't have to drive I could go out for a couple drinks after work with my coworkers and not have to worry about it.


I recently got job offers from two companies, one in downtown San Francisco and one in the South Bay. I ended up going with the one in the South Bay because I couldn't figure out a way to commute into downtown SF in a timely manner. It seems that unless you want to live directly in the city, there's no way around a 40+ minute commute each way. By contrast I plan on finding an apartment within about a 20 minute drive to the office of the South Bay company.


Looking at comments, am I the only one being surprised, when getting email from recruiters with one of the perk "office in downtown"? For me it means - constant fight for parking, lines in restaurants, loud? Granted I live in suburbs (and love it)


Depends on your temperament, city, and age. I remember working at places like Initech in my twenties and hating it. Unfortunately I didn't know why. Trips to NYC and EU made it more clear.

If you are fighting for parking downtown you're doing it wrong. Instead take the train/metro.


Like most things in life, it's a tradeoff. My best drive time to downtown is about 35 minutes. My best travel time by train/metro is about an hour. I did that for about a year and a half, and it wasn't awful, but due to transit times, I barely saw my kids.


You have options: move. I was once burdened with traffic on the 405 every day and it was a nightmare. Had to pay an extra hundred or two in rent to live on the west side (of LA). Freeing up three hours a day of commuting (to walk in the sunshine) was definitely worth it.


or better office parks can be built in less congested areas instead. Like this one - http://domainofficesaustin.com/ - where you can work/rent/shop/eat/starbucking/buytesla. Instead of trying to squeeze one more soul into densely packed city.


Assuming where he works has a train/metro. Especially in the US, this is often unfeasible


the calculus can change when you have kids. Then you're faced with living in a good school district (unless you can afford private school). Good school districts don't always line up with downtown cores - at least they're still lagging our shift in housing preference in many areas.


You're not the only one who isn't a huge fan of dense environments. I like the idea of the walkability people desire, but I highly value the privacy of a detached single family home and a decent sized fenced-in yard.

The thing about cars is that they work fine in small numbers, but fall apart at scale. I grew up in fairly small cities with little traffic, so I know how painless cars can be. But I live in California now, and I can see how someone who has only known this could dislike cars.

I think remote work is probably our best bet right now. The trend of companies moving their offices to urban areas only seems to be gaining momentum.


Yap same here. See, I grew up in Europe, in a fairly dense city, with public transportation, right in the middle of the city, shops, bars, etc etc. So city life doesn't really have that romanic appeal like it does for many young people who grew up in American suburbs and now want to break out and feel the "energy" of the city.

Living in city for me, also means, more trafic, more people in your face, stepping on your toes. Apartments are fine, except when the neighbor above floods you, or has a party. When people piss in the elevator. When there is crime. When public transportation is packed and you are carrying home some stuff your bought and have a hard time getting onto a bus in rush hour.

So am quite happy in the suburbs. I understand it is the uncool choice here, but I like my flower garden, my grass. I like my neighbors but if they have a party, unless they light fireworks it won't bother me. I have to drive places but roads are well maintained and I don't got out in rush hour.

Also a big city (Washington, DC) is nearby and I can go there and experince all the energy, night life and other such things. But when it is over, I want to go back to my flowers and the green lawn.


I agree 100% with your POV


I have worked in both, and business parks are useless for needing to get extra errands and things done, or meeting up with a friend for lunch or after work.


Do you not have paid parking buildings there?

I live somewhere that we have a CBD but no "downtown" as such. If you wanted to park at the building, good luck, and if you wanted to park on the street, it would be better to shoot yourself early.

But there are quite a few dedicated parking buildings so for $15 a day you can park there, with only a 10-15 minute walk to work (if you didn't want to catch a train in, which I will never).


It's more like $35-50 per day in cities like SF, New York, DC, and Boston.


If I lived downtown, that would be a perk. But, living nearly 20 miles from the city center, yeah, downtown employment is torture. My wife tried commuting, two separate jobs, three years apart. Hated every moment.


I work and live in the city, and I barely use my car. There's no fighting for anything because I walk to work.


Office Parks are dying because the way our careers are going has changed. Many people change jobs every 2-3 years rather than dedicate their life at a single Big Employer. Living in the Suburbs and working at an office park is a very inflexible setup. Working in SF and commuting in from Oakland for example will enable you to change jobs more frequently without uprooting your life.


>Working in SF and commuting in from Oakland for example will enable you to change jobs more frequently without uprooting your life.

So, in that example, anywhere outside of SF in the South Bay isn't an option. Beyond highly concentrated cities like Manhattan where there's a huge confluence of jobs in a particular industry, job mobility causes issues in any case (especially once the jobs of partners and kids' schools are involved) in any case. It's rare industries and location where you can generally change jobs without commute being a factor.


zinssmeister is viewing the /approximate/ duration of a commute as a 'sunk cost' (in time) for the worker. If the jobs are all centrally located even insane real-estate and urban development practices that drive the workers out to suburbs can make economic sense once the workers are conditioned to put up with that abuse.

They are saying that many, in fact most, 'local' jobs exist with relatively little opportunity cost for change.

Contrast this with a hypothetical future of (E.G) New York, where in 30-50 years they've gone full caves of steel: banishing cars to the edge and having a multi-layer dense mesh of rapid electric motor powered transit and living which intermingles living, working, recreational and (deep underground) industrial productivity. There the opportunity costs might also be the same, but the cost (in time) of migrating might be less, and favor walking on moving belts for a combination of speed and exercise.


Maybe this is why the European tech industry has been growing so much recently - most of our cities have great public transport :)


In ten years, we'll be seeing the same articles about the sprawling hi-rises in downtown areas, as more industry realizes how much cheaper remote work can be.

There are certainly jobs that won't work remotely, but there's not a lot of manufacturing and hands-on work going on in high rises.


There doesn't seem much of a trend in that direction. Most city office jobs could be done remotely but there are advantages to being central. You can meet people, go to conferences, chat over coffee and the like. It's kind of ironic in a way - you might have thought being able to work form a laptop would lead to people spreading out but it seems to lead more to people thinking they may as well bring the laptop to a cafe or office in central SF, London, NYC or the like.


If we're going to project out into the future, then driverless cars promise to be a game changer. Granted, we're talking twenty or thirty years out rather than ten years. Driverless cars can facilitate more single family detached houses without the sprawling roads and parking lots. With any transformative technology, it's hard to predict how things will work out, but driverless cars could, ironically lead to more walking.


I couldn't ever work in an office park. When the startup I worked for was acquired, there was discussion of moving our office to an office park about 30 minutes north or south of the city. More than half of the employees threatened to quit, even though maybe only 25% would have seen a materially longer commute. We like having choice come lunch time and being able to do some shopping before, during, and after work.


Yup, saw the same thing happening at an infosec company in Toronto. Office at University & Adelaide, bought by BigCo AV Vendor, moving out to 404 & Steeles: 20% of workforce quits in the year between the announcement and the actual move (at least I remember it being the move, less so the new owners).


Was the issue that the company was moving to away from SF, or that the company was moving to an Office Park?


In defense of office parks, I did enjoy living in lower rent/property price areas in the suburbs near an office park. Downtown living (where I am now) is expensive as hell. However, my employer has plopped their new office right in the middle of the most expensive real estate, and next door to the "Mecca" (as my real estate agent called it) of expensive condos. Great! So it's either hellish commute or expensive rent. I opted for expensive rent. :-\


Of late I've been thinking about the relationships between offices and productivity.

Right at the turn of the century people were thinking about "revenue per employee" as a metric for how efficient a business was. That was silly off the charts when you get to some software startups where a group of 15 or 20 people are generating 20 - 30M$ a year in revenue.

The thing that stuck out for me is the cost of offices as a cost of doing business. For years folks have been working to fit more and more people into fewer and fewer square feet because the office expense was a serious impediment to profitability, it added to the "loaded cost" of your employees, and that combined with salary was your biggest cost.

But here is the thing, if your employees are generating these huge revenue per employee numbers, what that means is that small percentage changes in their productivity has a huge impact on your company's revenue and profitability.

Employers need to look at what would be the impact if your employee was 10% more productive, which means your revenue per employee number went up 10%. How much cost would you be willing invest to make that happen? Even at crazy SF levels of $100/sq ft / year, that is $10,000 for an additional 100 square feet for an engineer. $10,000 represents perhaps a 5% increase in the loaded cost of that employee. But if they boost their productivity by 10% they return 200 - 300% on that investment annually.

Bottom line, build environments that maximize the productivity of your employees, not ones that minimize your real estate costs. Its a better investment than hiring more people.


My dream office would be wfh as desired (with a physical-separated-from-my-house shed/outbuilding, ideally), and then a choice of physical offices: a downtown SF/Seattle/NYC/Berlin type place, and some kind of lab facility which is essentially a military base layout (gated, guarded, buildings onsite).

Second best: living eastside seattle (i.e. Redmond) or SF Peninsula, and an easy (off-peak, or viable mass transit, so basically off-peak) commute in, with flexible wfh. I generally prefer entire-building-for-company vs. shared spaces, but not necessarily at the scale of the googleplex. However, minimum of 200 sf/person and ideally private offices or shared offices per small team, not open plan hell.

Suburban office building would be fine (the old vmware/fb/etc. buildings, or current googleplex/apple/etc.), and would be better than the super crowded cobbled together multiple offices of old Facebook or Palantir in downtown Palo Alto).

If suburban office parks in good locations (anywhere north of Mountain View) become substantially cheaper than DTPA or SOMA, I'd be happier with 500 ft/person there for $18-24 vs. 100/ft/person for $60-100. The trick would be having Facebook (or, it appears as is better today, Dropbox) quality catering and other amenities onsite, and a $25-50 pax/day shuttle system.


James Howard Kunstler has some pretty good talks/books about suburban obsolescence.

Here’s his TED talk from years ago: https://www.ted.com/talks/james_howard_kunstler_dissects_sub...


That was great!



I lived in that neighborhood in San Jose for 14 years. It's at least plausibly walkable if they put more businesses around there, and I think that will naturally happen if 10,000 tech workers magically show up.


It boggles my mind how many buildings Apple has. Altogether their office space in Silicon Valley probably approaches the size of Microsoft's Redmond campus, yet they make a mere fraction as many products as MS.


Apple has around 3.3M square feet of office space now, and their new spaceship HQ will contain around 2.8M sq ft:

> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Campus

Microsoft's Redmond campus occupies around 11M sq feet, with another 1.6M sq feet in Bellvue.

> http://thinkspace.com/office-space-bellevue-how-much-office-...


I can't help but think that there is opportunity here. It seems like most cities have gone through a cycle where industry moved out of cities, a lot of those parts of town got converted in to very affordable housing, industrial lofts, etc. Then because of the cheap rents, artists and young people flocked to these areas and they became the hip parts of town.

Shouldn't office parks be easier to convert than industrial buildings?


There's lot of regulation slowing this - floor area ratios, density caps, parking minimums, etc. Google "sprawl repair" for some interesting reads!


In the Boston area, there is no more industrial space left for illegal lofts.

I fully expect bohemians to start illegal squats in unused office parks in the coming years.


That would be amazing! I've always wanted an office building to myself.


Interestingly, a couple of companies I worked for in Italy grew, and moved into office parks that were pretty difficult to reach without a car. Here in Bend, Oregon, I'm now at a company with offices downtown, in easy biking/walking distance from where I live. It's kind of ironic as Italy is, generally, a more walkable place than the US. I'm very happy, though, in any event.


I'm not sure that Europe is actually much better than the US in terms of attitudes towards suburban/car-centric design, I think the reason why we have mostly avoided it is down simply to the historic patterns of development. Certainly in Britain, anywhere outside the major cities, most of the development seems to be extremely suburban - estates of tiny detached houses with tiny private gardens/yards, often just off a roundabout on a main road, tacked on to the edge of an existing town or village, without any idea about creating new public spaces, or walkability. Often these estates are mandated to have only one exit or entrance, in order to discourage crime (this is called 'security by design', and naturally kills any sense of a continuous settlement). This is still going full throttle even now.


I have heard that in Europe, taxation on property is based solely on the area, encouraging upward growth, while in the US the value of what you build on it also factors in. Therefore, in the US, a flat parking lot is not as expensive/wasteful as it would be in Europe. I can't speak to it generally, but it did seem my experiences of European downtown areas did not include private parking lots, but rather more parking garages.


One should note that what the article is discussing is things like access to public transportation and in-house cafeterias, not urban locations. Which makes sense.

There is certainly some percentage of younger employees who prefer true urban locations but this often won't be economically viable for companies nor is it preferred or perhaps even tolerable for those many people who live outside a city and have to commute in.

Furthermore, the data in the US around increased urbanization mostly points to a preference for certain very specific urban locations by an educated young demographic.

Having said that, office park locations without convenient lunchtime and other amenities in that vein are a pain.



If the development pattern is typical, office buildings near Denver's light rail station are likely to be newer. It is typically significantly more expensive to develop infrastructure among existing high level uses such as an office park. In addition there are typically density incentives for locating near mass transit that attract new development which existing automobile centric development cannot utilize without buying out existing leases, i.e. when the new rail station comes existing parking adjacent to buildings cannot be converted because it is already under lease agreement with existing tenants.

To go further, low occupancy rates of offices further from mass transit [and that's not quite the same thing as being walkable] may be a sign of impending redevelopment as leases are not renewed and older properties undergo less maintenance in preparation for redevelopment. Given the 30 year cycle that mortgages, depreciation schedules and institutional real-estate investors often operate on, things may not be as cut and dry as the article makes out. I wouldn't discount recent zero interest rates and the bottom falling out of the economy as factors either. [1]

Then again, in the big money long time horizon world of real-estate that's usually the case. Stable internal rates of return are the name of the game.

[1]: That transportation infrastructure was a major source of "shovel ready stimulus" projects is less direct but plausibly related to the public investment.


Between high school, college, and professional life I've worked in cities, rural areas, suburban wastelands, and urban areas like SF. The majority of the time, most of my colleagues were concerned more with commute than "what's around where I work". SF was a bit different, but parking and commute (late 90s early 2000s) were still top of list.

When I worked in SF, my getaway area was Grace Cathedral and the park near by. Uphill, no people, no trash, quiet overall.

But some office parks have walkable spaces, places to eat, etc. Some are easier to reach commute-wise than others.

Suburban does not rule out walkable. Walnut Creek is completely suburban, but the office complexes there have become (or been developed for) being walkable over the years -- one of the places I reference above was part of this.

And honestly, depending on the definition of "walkable" many suburban places are more "walkable" than big cities -- traffic, sidewalks, bums spread on the sidewalk etc.

Is the end goal a live/work situation where you don't have to commute a long way, have reasonable rent/mortgage, and a good quality of life? Honestly, pick two of three, if you want to be in the bay area.

Born here in South San Jose. Grew up/still live in in San Jose, Sacramento, the east bay, and Santa Cruz. Seen a whole bunch of things.


The total impermanence of so much of our architecture is depressing. While I'm glad people are moving to more walking-friendly locations, this is just more detritus to be demolished or forgotten.


James Kuntsler talks about this very thing--the places we are building he describes as "places not worth caring about." https://www.ted.com/talks/james_howard_kunstler_dissects_sub...


I agree but other than in major central business districts there's only so many places to house thousands of employees such as Google, Facebook, etc. For that reason, I don't think suburban corporate campuses will entirely disappear. Attracting tenants sub 30K square feet (guessing here) I can see this obviously being a big problem.


In the case of Google & Facebook, those employers have adapted and built office campuses to provide all the amenities the article suggested to stay competitive in a suburban setting.

I do agree with your statement but it is also complementing what the article is also suggesting should happen to office parks.


This isn't really a new thing though. The company I worked for in the late 80s/90s had a suburban campus and it had multiple cafeterias as well as other things that matter less today (cleaner, ATM, travel agent, insurance office, etc.). If a company in an isolated suburban office park doesn't provide services needed on a typical day, bad on them. But the basic idea isn't especially new.


I suppose if San Franscisco allowed it, Google and Facebook would build skyscrapers in the same vein as the banks in London around Canary Wharf.


Or buildings like Google is building in London http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2950181/Google-scrap...


Reading the comments here, a major part of the problem seems to be that some people move to suburbs because that is the only way to get their kids to a decent school.

Myself, I like living in a suburban area (though here in North Europe it's definitely walkable, and cyclable) but people here don't really choose between city core and suburban lower-density houses because of schools. Some love the city core, others prefer suburban areas.

(With the recent immigration and development of urban-but-not-nice satellite cities, there are a few areas that people like to avoid if they can afford it, including for reasons of school, but that's not a problem of city cores).

So, it looks like a major step in American urban planning would be to fix failing schools.


There's a neat trick for making spaces more user friendly, more traversed and more desired: Grids.

When a space doesn't intuitively tell you which way is North, what is behind the building in front of you, whether the road to the left or right will continue straight or curve and meander, how to find the main road etc, you create a fairly user-hostile space. Cities and even suburbs (usually inner city suburbs) with grid-like layouts tend to have more foot, bicycle and car traffic whereas most other layouts favor only one of those modes.

Grids are easier to intuitively interact with than shotgun-spaghetti layouts, removing the primary barrier to increased usage.


I remember as a child thinking 1 Infinite Loop would be a dream place to spend my long working days. When I finally got to work there, it originally was. Plenty of parking and Caffe Mac's was pretty premium lunch for what I was used to. Then the company exploded and parking was a nightmare. (They added a valet to cope with the problem.)

To eat lunch required standing in long lines no matter what time you went. San Jose/Cupertino had pretty ridiculous rules about buildings being set back from the highways, so the nearest sushi place required quite a hike across several parking lots and a highway to get to.

Also friends that got moved around would be shuffled to remote campuses that seemed so far away with disconnected transportation.

Not saying any of this would be better in a denser city like SF, but I am saying there were definitely tradeoffs to working in what was basically just another office park. As traffic in the bay has gotten worse, it makes them seem less appealing for sure unless you're okay with moving every time you get a new job.

Right now I work and live in the city, so I just walk to work and it's been a dream come true. When friends leave to other city jobs, its easy to meet back up for lunch and coworkers and I can hop on Muni when want to try a new place for lunch. Not perfect by any means, but right now it's way more of an appealing working environment.


One problem we face right now is that America was built on this "urban" vs "suburban" planning mindset. In the 60's to the 90's the city equated overcrowding and crime, the suburbs equaled privacy and freedom. Today we see things quite a bit differently, but it's still city vs suburbs - you walk, bike to work and see your neighbors regularly - or - live your life in the self-imposed isolation of cars and spaced out tract homes.

I wish we could get over this idea that it has to be one way or the other. Cities don't have to be densely stuffed with a grid of monstrous mixed use high rises to be a city. Suburbs don't have to zone stores a million miles from housing to be a suburb. Both places can share development patterns and still give people what they want. There's a middle ground that can be found here, but municipal planners and real estate developers seem to be fixated on these narrow visions of growth.

What's wrong with tearing up a few office parking lots to add a few shops and houses? What's wrong with building a few 4 floor walk-up apartment buildings instead of yet another block-sized, doorman-guarded fortress?

Hopefully the next century of urban development in America is spent at least partly figuring out how to blend these environments together better.


>municipal planners and real estate developers seem to be fixated on these narrow visions of growth.

It requires a huge amount of capital to build things that have to last 20+ years. They go with what works. Unfortunately, the revolutionary dreams of urban renewal and theme park millionaires[0] never really got us any closer to our ideal human habitat.

0. http://www.esquire.com/entertainment/news/a35104/walt-disney...


I think typifying cities as nothing but block-sized high-rises is completely wrong. Even large parts of Manhattan are full of 4-6 story buildings.


I guess singling out 4 floor walk-ups as something we need more of kind of muddles the point. The scale of the current crop of new apartment buildings is often measured horizontally.. The trend in development these days, in my neighborhood at least, is for developers to scoop up as large a parcel as they can get their hands on, demolish it and build a very large mixed-use complex. Most of them span at least a quarter of a block. Newly constructed smaller buildings get built only when the lot size doesn't fit much else.

Increasing density around transit accessible hub areas is a strategy championed by city planners these days, with somewhat good intentions. I just don't think anyone has really thought through what happens when entire neighborhoods are dominated by massive mixed-use condo buildings. What happens if these areas lose property value? What form does a contemporary condo complex take when blight sets in 20 years from now?


But office parks are a great place for breweries!


Not unless well-served by public transit.


I sorta lose it every time I see a brewery advertise "free parking."


Or patronized by adults that know their safe drinking limits? Novel idea, I know.


Where I live the legal drink driving limit is one beer. I can safely enjoy rather more than that if I take the bus.


We must be thinking of different kind of buildings.

I think the article is talking about those multi-story office buildings that a lot of people work in.

I see lots of breweries in semi-industrial/semi-commercial areas, single story buildings that have a lot of warehouse space and a small office area.


Under the desk? I'm in.

Sadly my work has a no alcohol policy; both inside of the office and anywhere else during business hours including lunchtime and even at home during standby.

It seems that they want to keep things "standard" whether you're operating a million dollar rig, or sitting in the office :-(


David Byrne has a book where he rides a bicycle around cities around the world and makes similar observations.

http://www.davidbyrne.com/archive/art/books/bicycle_diaries/


One of the problems that happens is that businesses who choose city centers in cities without good public transport end up excluding more experienced employees with families from working there. Those people will more likely live outside of the city in a house and will need to drive in and park, but parking usually isn't available in necessary quantities in city centers.

The solution of course is to build more robust mass transport systems, but that seems to be getting harder and harder.


The last time I worked in an office park I didn't have a car.

So walking through the giant parking lots meant that my otherwise thirty minute commute, became 40 minutes.

I wasn't happy.




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