People here seem to be so afraid that their neighborhoods will begin to look more like Dubai or Hong Kong. But clearly what we’re doing now isn’t sustainable, nor is it even that pleasant. Much of SV looks like it did in the 1970s, and you have to sit in a half hour plus of traffic if you want to do anything. I think we would be in pretty good shape if maybe we didn’t go to the extremes, but took a housing model more like Paris, London, or Amsterdam. We can limit heights, but still build dense and create a place people really want to live in.
I got lost walking to my meeting from the train station in Mountain View, and people didn't even know how to give me walking directions to where I needed to go. It was crazy. It wasn't that far by a straight line on the map, so I figured whatever I'll skip the taxi, but I had no idea what I was getting into. I finally had to ask a bunch of cyclists and it turned out I had to walk about a kilometer along a raised highway to get to the bridge and then cross several insane intersections.
At lunch I was driven to a burger place a couple of km away.
Ok. I get it. You need a car to live there. That just doesn't sound nice to me, frankly, and I don't know if I could convert to that way of living.
But, yeah, in general Silicon Valley is pretty much a sprawl. There are some nice small downtowns scattered around but you mostly need a car to get from place to place and most big companies are on their own disconnected campuses and others are scattered around industrial parks.
I asked, "did the slums exist before the highways and freeways that divide them from the wealthy whites?" The best I've come up with is "Sort of."
Apparently, in the 50's and 60s, city officials throughout the US thought of urban freeways as "a good opportunity to get rid of the local 'niggertown.'" But that attempt at clearing the local slums ended up further disrupting and distressing them, deepening the problem.
 Google Books: Downtown, Inc: How America Rebuilds Cities https://goo.gl/mdgYXE
That was before the Cypress freeway tore West Oakland in two, or 980 sheared it away from downtown Oakland, or the trans-bay BART tracks, or before the USPS distribution center was built. The last, for those not familiar, is a 6 story concrete windowless menace that I've started calling the "Ministry of Truth."
Slums exist because the privileged spent a century paving over neighborhoods filled with people that they wished would just stop existing.
You mean Oakland and Vallejo? Yeah that stuff has been there before the start of SV. See MC Hammer and Too Short for references to past gang activity in Oakland.
At least in the bay area the places where there are shops aren't hostile to pedestrians (although if I recall you do see more of this as you move down the peninsula into San Jose).
(I mentioned my experiences with high Walk Scores in St. Louis to imply that they are anomalous in the St. Louis metro, but that dense, walkable neighborhoods exist even in such car-centric MSAs.)
I also got the impression that Dubai wasn’t very walkable, but I’ve never been there.
I was stuck there for a few days for a job and wanted to do literally anything other than sitting in the hotel. There was literally nothing within a 30 minute walk (in brutal heat) so a taxi was required, but I didn't have any local currency, so I asked the hotel concierge where the closest ATM is. I then had to walk 30 minutes, just to find a broken ATM inside of a little structure with a broken A/C. At that point, I realized if I walked another 30 minutes, I would be at the mall. 2 of the 3 ATMs at the mall didn't work. After 20 minutes of realizing the mall was full of Gucci and other designer shops which I had no interest in, I took a taxi 15 minutes to the next nearest mall. Again, nothing but designer shops. Taking another taxi to visit yet another (unfinished) mall, which was worse than the last two, not to mention only 1/3rd of the shops were even open, but according to multiple people and the taxi driver, it was the "hot spot to go". The taxi driver refused to park inside because the line of cars was hundreds long and would have taken ~30 minutes. I ended up walking 15 minutes from the highway to the mall.
I agree the Montreal core is fairly walkable. Cold is generally easier to deal with than heat. There's also a large connected Underground that people use when the weather is bad.
But I have to say, Rochester, MN - the Mayo Clinic - has to be one of the more extraordinarily walkable places I've ever been: the whole city is not only interconnected underground between apartments, parking structures, and offices but there are plentiful underground facilities as well. It amazed me to have streets so empty when I first showed up: I had no idea where everyone was! The answer is: why on earth would you go outside? :)
So the Strip is walkable but mostly in the same sense that a big shopping mall with tower or two of apartments is walkable.
The rest of the city is basically giant soulless suburb. I've had friends who have lived there for close to a decade now.
But the nice area was really only a handful of blocks in each direction. And beyond that you are in mostly rundown post-industrial mill town and beyond that it is very spread out.
I wonder if anyone has ever built a city, or significant part of a city, with either a purely subterranean transport layer, or all pedestrian layers a storey above? (Obviously I'm talking beyond a subway system.)
Also, Minneapolis has a nice skyway network. Then there is La Defense in Paris where the pedistrian level is above street level.
Calgary also has a skyway network (called the Plus-15 http://plus15.com/). Living there one winter was odd to me after Toronto—you'd never see anybody on the streets. And downtown Calgary is reasonably quiet on a normal, nice day. That said that town is also quite walkable—though it's best parts are relegated to certain parts of the city that are separated by less interesting areas.
Victoria, BC is one of my favourite walkable places so far. I also really enjoyed my time in Montreal, but I'm a little conditioned to the cold.
To seanmcdirmid's point:
Now, we are left with the problem that the suburbs aren't going anywhere for the most part, due to lack of political will, and lack of a reasonable market-based solution -- single family homes are often in the $1-1.5 million range for ~1/8 acre lots in less desirable areas, and redeveloping even a relatively small subdivision would be extremely expensive, even if you could get everyone to sell (they wouldn't), and get permission from the city. Redevelopment is limited right now to the commercial corridors, such as El Camino Blvd, and existing commercial/industrial/business districts, all of which are undergoing pretty heavy redevelopment in much of Santa Clara County. Transportation infrastructure including both public transportation and public roads are also undergoing multi-billion dollar improvements, though some of the work may take a decade or more to complete.
source: I have lived in the Silicon Valley area for over 30 years -- its changing faster now than at any point I can remember.
Conversely, the precise details of what goes in to an area should be 'bottom up', but within zoning policies similar to how Japan does it.
Having lived and grown up in ultra-dense urban cities like Hongkong, Singapore and Tokyo, I very much prefer somewhere with a little more breathing space. Though not to the extent of American suburbs. The European cities are probably a good balance.
Of course there are not that many affordable lots with land near any jobs.
It will be interesting to see where it all leads. I applaud Mt. View's willingness to add 10K homes. its about a tenth of what is needed but it is a great start.
If that is the case, you may find, as I have, some interesting systemic properties in the various studies of Bay Area traffic. The part that really struck me is that traffic is more closely related to people living 'outside' a town or region than people living 'inside' a region. The analysis postulates a model like this:
Lets say you have a single large employer in a city, and no housing. Then every person who goes to work comes from somewhere else to get to the employer, then leaves to go back to where they live. This pattern was exacerbated in the 60's when new cities were all work and the communities around them were 'bedroom' communities. That leads to arterials to the city that get massively clogged during rush hour (and greatly reduced night life / commerce because no one lives there).
Now consider the opposite extreme, you have a large employer or industry and everyone who works there lives in the same town. Now you get short rush hours because people near to the employer can get there easily by walking or biking, people further away can drive but the drive is short. Additionally because there aren't any employees coming in from out of town there is no traffic on the roads between the town and other towns that is commute related.
I am not saying that any place is at either extreme, but in the Silicon Valley area (aka the 'south bay') it is believed that an imbalance exists between available housing and jobs, and further that the imbalance contributes to congestion on the freeways and arterials throughout the various cities. Many of the cities are building additional housing and doing it near transit so that it maximizes the choices the residents have for how they want to travel. There are however some cities that are not so convinced, Cupertino comes to mind, which continues to add office space without adding housing. This is forcing more people to drive through Cupertino to get to work.
Somewhere in the middle of South Bay Suburbs and taking an elevator to grocery store would be ideal. Somewhat like European cities.
I'm curious what you feel the cons are. I've lived in essentially this format now in two cities in two different continents, for a while overall, and I haven't really noticed downsides, except that sometimes I would need to cross the street to go to a different "grocery store" because the one I lived above didn't stock something, luckily the bodegas/farmers markets/produce stands nearby did.
All the cons about living in an apartment/condo vs a single family home (which all basically boil down to a reduction in one's personal freedom on/in their own home).
I personally grew up in a spacious single family home, but love my current life in an apartment. I don't feel it restricts my personal freedom at all, plus I get the perks of living in a vibrant area.
By isolated I don't mean walled, but a natural preference to just be within your conclave.
What might rather work is super fast door to door transit, which in the present is quite unrealistic. Congestion creeps in pretty fast.
To each its own I guess. I used to live in a small town where everybody knew everybody and absolutely hated it. Now I live in a city where I don't know even my closest neighbors, there's no pressure to interact with them and I love it this way. Though it's a personal choice, I see some neighbors socializing in a yard all the time, looking after each others' kids etc.
IMO Dubai is a pretty poor example of what cities should aim for, as you can’t get to a lot of places without a car. Public transport is good to the main tourist areas of the city, but if you want to go somewhere slightly further afield you need to walk (good luck doing that in the summer) or take a taxi.
Is the Bay Area actually opposed to that?
- adjacent to Millbrae BART/Caltrain https://www.smdailyjournal.com/news/local/millbrae-station-p...
- adjacent to Hayward Park Caltrain in San Mateo https://www.smdailyjournal.com/news/local/major-mixed-use-ho...
That's silly. San Francisco isn't the first city to boom. Detroit added more than a million people between 1910 and 1930. Brooklyn added a half a million people per decade in the early 1900s.
And neither of those cities look like Midtown Manhattan or Tokyo or whatever else SF residents seem to imagine is required to support fast growth.
They did it by building vast areas of multi-story mid-density mixed-use developments. There is zero mystery here, both about what was clearly starting to happen in the SFBA 30 years ago and what should have been done about it.
My grandfather told me that his commute from Santa Clara to Lockheed in Sunnyvale involved mostly driving past orchards all through the 1960s and into the 1970s. He left the area in the 1980s, saying that traffic and livability had become too much of a problem. It's been decades of intentionally not addressing the problems - nobody can reasonably claim to not have known or anticipated.
Suggesting that people could have predicted the dot-com boom of the 90s or the tech/startup driven boom of the past 15 years (and that it would be so heavily focused in the Bay Area) seems a little far fetched. It might seem obvious now that it has already happened, but in the 60s and 70s I don't see how you could have known (the industries driving development then were Defence and Manufacturing, both nearly nonexistent now). Plenty of areas in the US were increasing in density and economic development during that time, only one of them became Silicon Valley.
But there certainly have been rapid changes, especially in some currently popular cities. For example, I believe Boton was still losing population in the 1990s and, at one point, when Teradyne moved out that was pretty much the last tech company in the city (including Cambridge) leaving. There may have been some early biotech but pretty much none of the Route 128 computer companies were in the city.
New York City was also in pretty dire straights in the latter part of the eighties.
Robert Llewellyn's profile is optimistic, but gives the basic vision and much technical basis.
All of the above is true, which you've mentioned. You then say that citizens don't want higher density living, but if citizens want more affordable housing in a housing crunch, the way to do that is to increase density. And if you want shorter commute times, the way to do that is to increase density. And if you want workers to be able to afford housing, the way to do that is to push higher income citizens into more expensive housing, freeing up the more affordable housing for those who actually need it.
You can't complain about the cost of living and then refuse to increase density. Keeping density and new construction low during a housing crunch is how you get insane housing prices.
I grew up in and around Boston, where three family homes and corner groceries were the norm, schools were in the neighborhood and the T could get you just about anywhere. I remember seeing Karate Kid when I was young and boggled at the apartment he lived in (with the empty pool and all the doors facing in like a motel) and couldn't imagine that was a real apartment building, but even 30 years later, they're still everywhere in California, and newer versions aren't much better. Apartments are for collecting poor people and built as such, and suburbia everywhere else.
Not in Ireland. The last housing boom (late 90s/early 00s) gave us poor quality apartment blocks along with deficient building control regulations which in essence allowed developers to self-certify.
Which leads me to agree with your statements: "Every time they mass-build housing, the results are horrible" & "aimed at single 20 somethings without any thought to the long term or general community"
Made horrible as:
1) plenty of work so sub standard builders get away with it.
2) plenty of work so jobs are rushed
3) far left shouting for loads of (mainly free) housing to b e built right now.
4) plenty of work that any and all officials rush through decision making/inspection so that they don't have get chewed out of it.
Even with good facilities around and location being very walkable, nothing can compensate for not having a nice peaceful place to lay your head.
This is a great start. But I think we really need more like 100,000 new units built. Just to help reverse some of the astronomical housing prices.
I have no idea how a teacher would be able to live in SV and plan to have a family and everything else. At this rate, the housing costs are unsustainable. We wont be able to have a functioning city with all the needed staffing like teachers, nurses, sellers, etc.
I'm rather disappointed by lack of vision from SV and SV companies in this regard.
Apple has enough money that they could buy a huge block of land across the hills in Santa Cruz county. Build a large housing community of 10,000+ and hire the boring company to dig tunnel connecting that community to their new campus. Probably using autonomous electric shuttles.
That kind of housing project probably lessens the salary demands and I would imagine the project could not only pay for itself in 5-10 years, but it could also help increase Apple's retention rate.
Santa Cruz also has a green belt. But instead of encouraging density and all the environmental benefits of density, the aging political crew that enacted it now prefer sprawl, since they have their single family single story homes that continue to appreciate at astronomical rates. (At least until the homes are bought as tear-downs and replaced with single-family two story homes that extend to all corners of the property to maximize square footage.)
But if anybody can change attitudes, it's probably Apple or Google.
Maybe that's Ellon's plan: use Tunnel Boring machines to make transport tunnels, and use the extracted earth to push back the coastline to make more habitable land!
Because you can't just incorporate your own city because you own land. In California, you need to convince the Local Agency Formation Commission for the county you are in, and, if your land is in an existing city, also a supermajority of the residents both of the land you own and the existing city from which you are splitting.
you'd need quite a large amount.
When your message is "dense urban is the only acceptable way to live" don't be surprised when people who don't want their neighborhoods to turn into apartment complexes push back.
But please just let me live the way I and many others want. Just stop interfering with mixed use buildings in the middle of commercially zoned areas. So you might drive by a commercial area that has housing on top of retail, in a commercially zoned areas. What skin off your back is that?
And yes, it really is one of those small evils to make up crap like this in order to deny others housing, or a chance at opportunity like previous generations had.
There is a fair amount of rumbling about upzoning single-family lots to permit mid-rise apartment buildings, i.e. SB827.
Along rail and the very busiest bus routes is exactly where we need and want apartments that have 3-4 stories. It would make no sense to put them in the middle of single family housing because those are deserts unless you have a car, and most people that would appreciate density would love to be able to do most of their tasks without a car. That's the appeal of density.
And we shouldn't be building rail without such density, because otherwise the rail is going to underutilized. Similarly with bus routes; why send tons of buses along a route if there's no possibility to pick up lots of people?
SB827 is about fixing planning processes to allow such density where it works, and letting the sprawl stay sprawl.
Upzoning is needed and transit is the right place to start, but we have to acknowledge that this would certainly have a massive effect on many single family neighborhoods.
Park and ride is a thing. That said you need whatever the "ride" is to be cost competitive for people to take advantage of that and that's a tall order given the quality of local government in many places.
And as you ride those NJ lines, you see how many more people are supported at stops that have housing instead of parking. Parking is >200sq ft. that could be used for living instead.
A lot of my feelings are about my personal experience though, and I wouldn't want to stop park and ride if it works for enough people to support a train stop. For me, driving, then parking, then traversing a long ugly parking lot is a significantly worse experience than living there and walking out.
This assumes that "there" isn't a terrible place to live and also affordable.
Your NJ example is exactly the use case I was thinking of. It makes sense when density is uniform and job distribution is not because it's effectively a spur or extension of the mass transit line.
I don't care what you do to an already-urbanized area. Build housing on top of retail, knock yourself out. Pack another apartment high-rise next to the last one. Just please respect the desires of people who went out of their way to find one of the fewer and fewer affordable single family neighborhoods in the Bay Area to hang on to their lifestyle, too.
Even those projects generate opposition. San Mateo just rejected a 10-unit, 35 foot condo building fronting El Camino Real, that had 26 parking spaces, because... it was "too tall."
Millbrae residents fiercely oppose 5 and 8 story buildings located... adjacent to the Caltrain and BART station we paid $400 million for two decades ago.
I don't live in Scotts Valley, so don't have a horse in that race--I'm merely picturing myself in that person's shoes. Is it that surprising that someone who went out of their way to move somewhere far from an urban area, probably having to suffer a 2 hour commute because of it, would oppose nearby urban development?
This is the type of false exaggeration and straw men that is endemic to the discussion. And such straw men have to be made up, because otherwise there is no sensible objection to these projects. However the city council member wasn't being sensible, they were being bigoted. What was surprising was that they were open about the bigotry against those with less than <$300k/year incomes, usually there's at least a fig leaf of propriety.
Reasons to build more densely there would include
- accounting for a growing population,
- senior citizens who want to live with their adult kids/walk to downtown
- increased property tax revenue from construction with a 2018 basis to offset budget deterioration under Prop 13
- an increased number of school students (pretty much every city on the Peninsula is slowly aging, and many are dealing with budget crises/school closures)
- provision of BMR housing (if you can build it) for city staff and other service employees, which is cheaper to build as part of a larger structure than as single family units.
This may be a typo, but that's now what it does. It sets a minimum on the maximum height; people can still build below that.
There are tons of American cities where the suburban dream can be maintained, but the Bay area is not one of them.
Why not instead just run high speed commuter rail to the Central Valley? A maglev or something?
Definitely far more immediately useful than that San Fran — Los Angeles boondoggle.
Kill the asset appreciation, encourage density.
The math teacher at my high school in Santa Cruz was a retired electrical engineer with a Ph.D. from Stanford. There's no rule that says teachers need to make a living from teaching. It's known for being pleasant work.
Granted, the school hasn't pursued that strategy since then...
To be noted though, it's a specific Master's degree that's required to be a fully qualified teacher.
Caltrain capacity increase is on the way in 2-3 years thanks to electrification and a new fleet of trains.
828 is still worth watching, to see who comes down on which side.
Bucharest has several that are among the most dangerous urban areas on earth. And Romania is better off than some of the poorer Eastern European nations such as Moldova or Bulgaria.
Without roads and transit improvements, North Bayshore can easily turn into a nightmare.
It's time for a serious change to building around transit, walking, and biking.
>There would also be kids, who need to be transported to schools.
We should be building neighborhoods such that kids can walk to school. Even my single-family-home dominated 2.5 square mile "village" could manage that.
A lot of residents in those 10K new homes will be working outside of North Bayshore.
I live in Ljubljana (https://www.google.si/maps/place/Ljubljana/, ~300k), a capital of a tiny nation of Slovenia. I live in the city center and have in 5 minutes on foot radius (50m): multiple grocery stores, schools, kindergartens, parks, market, cafes, restaurants...
In the valley, it's impossible to live without a car. Just getting a freaking coffee usually includes a ride. ATM = ride, burger = ride, ... You guys spend hours in your car just to get the basics done. I actually didn't know what to do in Palo Alto until I got a rental.
And SF ain't any better. Sure there are parts of the city that are actually similar to what you would expect in a normal, livable European city, but most of it is not really. And you still need a car to move across town.
I find east coast much better - Boston is quite walkable and New York even more so.
Can anyone explain to me why do you have this shitty setup in the valley? Feels so random that it must be some kind-of wierd policy enforcement that caused this.
Why cause such problems for others? There are some people, even in this thread, that view the existence of such options as threats against their way of life. See for example the quotes in this opinion column about a San Francisco project in its 26th (!) public meeting:
A condominium is an apartment that is owned by an individual, who then pays maintenance fees to the condominium association, who in turn manages the building.
If you own a condo, you may be allowed to rent it out to someone else.
A more common option for rental apartments is that a landlord of some sort (an individual, a corporation, etc) owns an entire building, and rents out all apartments.
Other times they are just side by side "duplex" that are self-managed...is you are responsible for everything and have to depend on your neighbor to have money in the bank when the roof eventually fails
The bad part about that is that if the valley already seems like an extreme mono-culture a mass exodus certainly won't help.
Edit: To clarify, it's not as if tech companies, especially Google, are going to stop hiring and attracting more highly paid people to the area. 10,000 sounds like a number small enough to be gobbled up pretty quickly by SV tech growth.
Not that I'm in favor of turning the bay area into a high density population. A lot of what makes the region so nice to be, especially the peninsula, is the relatively low density. I really wish tech companies would make more of an effort to distribute their workforce and better leverage technology to enable remote work. It's really messing with the demographics, culture, and gender distribution of places like SV. When San Jose is being referred to as Man Jose, you've got a real problem.
Housing-as-asset-class, with phased new supply and demand stimulation might have opposite effects if the stock substitutes for other investment vehicles. Typical asset bubble.
“Affordable” or other non-market schemes simply raise the prices for everyone else — including the non rich that don’t win the “affordable” lottery.
More market housing everywhere solves the affordability crisis.
If you open it up to allow 10x or even 100x more housing units you'll get ones in every price range.
... it will likely like take years or even decades to
build out the 9,850 units that Mountain View has slated
for North Bayshore, depending on market conditions.
A classic is Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities. There was a fairly recent documentary on her as well. This book is a bit of a Rorschach test though. People who rail against cars highlight her opposition to Robert Moses' highways. But opponents to large-scale high-rise construction highlight her general opposition to urban renewal projects.
Otherwise a huge company can distort the home market .
Maybe not enough land is available, especially in places like NYC or the city wont let them build 50 stories high apartment buildings?
but sets apart a certain percentage for employee apartments.
A lot of millionaires from Microsoft competing for a relatively small supply of homes close to the office, and everyone else commuting for miles and miles.
Downtown Redmond and surrounding communities still have 1 bed, 1 bath apartments at cheap prices ($600 to $700), and a newly built apartment with 3 bedrooms near the MS campus can easily be had for $1800 to $1900 a month.
Then again, I don't think I'll ever take a job or live on the Eastside, perpetually trapped in my car!