Growth and the Suburban Chassis

14 thoughts on “Growth and the Suburban Chassis”

  1. Its interesting to know and understand how cities grew. Urban areas and the field is now getting more and more attention. The importance has now been realized also the related fields like geography, civil engineering also playing important role in building cities. Your article really helped. Probably a short video will also add to the usefulness of this information. A similar article with apt information on Concentric Zone Model and Central Place Theory valuable facts and information. Details on other such topics like Sector theory, multiple nuclei theory will add to the quality of content.

  2. Oh and Caltrain is really ridiculously loud.

    I looked at brand new apartments a block from a Caltrain station. Even with their new steel+concrete construction, thicker double-pane glass, etc, it was still too much noise to be comfortable, especially at next-to-Caltrain prices (like loud train horns and really loud brakes, not just regular city noise).

    It’s hard for me to imagine Caltrain in its current form becoming any sort of transit hub like a subway or light rail. I think if it were easier to live next to, at least there’d be a push on the higher end of the income bracket to build up next to it.

  3. Interesting analysis.

    What’s been fascinating for me lately, living in Redwood City, is that Downtown RWC has been undergoing an awful lot of exactly the renovation you describe—many new multi-story residential buildings. But within the downtown walkable area there has also been an attempt to add multi-story office buildings. Recently Box agreed to rent out the entirety of one of the largest ones.

    The fascinating part is the reaction of residents lines up with what you’re saying. People have asked me to sign several petitions demanding downtown be kept residential. It’s a constant topic on Nextdoor as well. No more companies with money, please, just houses and maybe restaurants and maybe ok it’s nice to have some shops. I guess the suburban origins are trying to reject even basic notions of a sane commute in an urban environment.

    Unrelated, I agree about the Oracle buildings being just as bland and office parky as the rest, but it is worth noting that there is an almost shockingly theme-park-like concept behind their design: They’re supposed to look like the iconographic representation of a database (which in turn was designed to look sort of like a bunch of hard disk platters + heads).

  4. This post seems to completely ignore the urban areas of Silicon Valley, particularly of note would be downtown San Jose, an urban walkable downtown area in San Jose, not to mention the other urban neighborhoods like Japantown, Willow Glen, the Alameda, these areas, and the downtowns in the peninsula were built up long before the suburbs surrounding them were. I would say while tech companies have ignored these places in San Jose, they haven’t necessarily done so for most peninsula downtowns, it is the case though demand for office space may be very high in downtown Palo Alto, the city will not zone for large offices there.

    On the other hand downtown San Jose has plenty of office space, but little demand, especially from high paying tech companies. Most are not really interested in setting up shop in an urban area, where they can’t control the employees being around as much as they can in an isolated campus.

    Going to these downtowns would give you a very different idea of what is building up and not building up in Silicon Valley. Downtown San Jose has a lot of new residential projects, but little new office space, downtown Mountain View has a few offices and a few new housing options. While downtown Palo Alto has 1 or 2 new offices and no new housing. I think the most revealing these days is downtown Redwood City, which was once derided as dead wood city.

    But yeah go to downtown San Jose in the middle of the day and you’ll see a lot of people walking to get a bite to eat, similar in downtown Mountain View and downtown Palo Alto.

  5. Briefly, you’ve got some of it right here, but not so much. San Jose is very much Not an edge city. Novato, Walnut Creek. Also, the boom & bust cycle is a much bigger part of the commercial real estate market would show. Frankly, it doesn’t make sense for anyone to buy in a boom market. Rent, and sometime over the next 15 years, the price cycle will make buying -even a decade late, a better deal. Boom growth is unsustainable growth. That which is unsustainable…..shall not be sustained. The biggest real understanding local SV governments have, is that by now they’ve seen enough boom/bust cycles to plan for it reasonably well. The quality of life in SJ isn’t sububitopia, though compared to Oakland, Berk, & SF it may look that way. The most defining thing about SF/SV is the mountainous valley nature of the big cities on the N half of the W coast. Compare the land use patterns in Portland & Seattle. If you want a better analysis, make better use of existing Urban Sociology models, historisize the analysis much more deeply do more comparison to similar cities.

    1. We are in broad agreement, but differ on some of the particulars.

      I advise people not to buy real estate anywhere in the Bay Area at this time. Bubble. Wait. Better yet, move to some other part of the country.

      You lost me with “SJ isn’t sububitopia” and “Urban Sociology models, historisize the analysis”.

      I define an Edge City as a place that has suburban infrastructure with urban density. That’s San Jose. “Exhibit A” is the San Jose Earthquake’s soccer stadium next to the Lowe’s parking lot and the In-and-Out Burger drive-thru. Downtown San Jose (City Hall, the convention center, the Tech Museum…) is an office park. Surface parking lots, landscaped berms, lots of decorative but useless “open space” with expensive nondescript plop art sculptures, the complete spaghetti freeway overpass bonanza you can see from the International Space Station… Whatever pre WWII historic architecture or urbanism might once have existed there was systematically removed or sanitized over the last seventy years. San Jose is too much to be a good suburb and way too little to be a good city. Edge City – textbook example.

  6. I think you’re missing a piece of the puzzle – traditional downtowns up and down the Peninsula are being renovated, often with relatively dense housing attached. Burlingame, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Mateo – they’re all packed thick with pedestrian traffic on the weekends, by suburban standards anyway. More plans are on the book and some cities that never had much of a downtown – like Sunnyvale & Colma – are building from scratch.

    So, tech campuses are a major part of the story but don’t represent the area as a whole. The big picture is that Silicon Valley is following a textbook (inner) L.A. growth pattern: poly-centric, medium density & auto-oriented but with vibrant walkable zones and supplemental transit. It’s true that it’s neither fish nor fowl and that causes a lot of problems, but I don’t have any better ideas for this “chassis.”

    1. I have a post about San Carlos (one of the transit served walkable town centers you mention) coming up. There are in fact many islands of good urbanism in the sprawl. I have friends who live and work in many of these areas. The problem is usually how to get from one little urban island to the next without being miserable as you traverse the Sea of Sprawl. Cost is also a factor for many people. You pay extra to live near the train station. Or you compromise and live in a condo when you really want a house. Or you rent instead of own. Or you get the house you want but it’s on a little raft shaped like a strip mall halfway between islands…

      1. Many folks like sprawl so traversing it is not such a chore, traffic notwithstanding. Their idea of nirvana is more Beverly Hills than Brooklyn. I think this applies especially to immigrant tech workers. We once hosted our Indian counterparts at a trendy Mission District restaurant. They were polite but looked non-plussed at the surrounding squalor. We found them outside taking pictures of a Harley. It was the the biggest motorcycle they’d ever seen and would be illegal in India. Subsequent Facebook posts included pictures of tech campuses (where people they knew worked), big SUVs, big houses and the wide clean streets of the Valley. The exotic American Dream.

        But yeah, the cost of that suburban dream (or my urban dream) in the Bay Area is just absolutely crushing at this point. People with good jobs are compromising left and right. Condo instead of a house, commute from Sacramento!, move to Portland, Austin or L.A., pool family money to buy a house – these are just a few reactions I’ve seen to this crisis. I think long-term things will even out with other Western states being the major beneficiaries (or victims?) of California’s inability to deal with our housing/transportation problems.

    2. I see the analogy to LA, but I think Silicon Valley has a worse pattern. A significant portion of the employment growth in LA is happening in walkable, transit-served neighborhoods like Downtown LA, Downtown Culver City, and Santa Monica along the Expo Line. The traditional downtowns in Silicon Valley are improving, but they’re getting housing growth, not employment growth. The communities didn’t want employment causing traffic in their centers, and the companies generally want the kind of isolated, large scale office park setting shown here.

      The housing is good, but the concentration of employment growth in office parks means that people can’t/won’t get there on public transit, which has a miniscule mode share there. The Silicon Valley downtowns are nice enough–and have plenty of consumer money sloshing around them–but they don’t feel like where the action is.

      Also, with the exception of the El Camino Real bus corridor, the major bus and rail transit lines in LA are more frequent than in Silicon Valley. In Silicon Valley, the Caltrain commuter train runs once an hour except during weekday peak hours.

  7. A bit off topic, but take a look at this:,pf_pt/house,mobile_type/0-200000_price/0-725_mp/priced_sort/41.345887,-71.94809,40.195659,-74.628754_rect/8_zm/ If the link works right, that’s Long Island and all the blue dots are foreclosed properties; I counted around 11,000 of them in the drop down ‘for sale and foreclosures’ link. I wonder if Hurricane Sandy blew a lot of houses away and with it, the jobs, if the insurance companies refused to pay out for damages, if the govt hasn’t gotten around to making things right yet (ha!) or what… I’m actually at the point where I’m expecting a Category Six hurricane to take out the entire Eastern Seaboard one of these years. Ever higher sea levels combined with more violent storms equals a mess for what, one third of the population of the U.S.? Already I’ve read that the Naval ports in the Carolinas are having to adapt to higher sea levels and frequent flooding every time it rains.

    1. The link you provide shows foreclosures – and there are many of them on offer in the greater New York metroplex. But the seemingly large number of foreclosures is relative to the huge number of properties in the area overall. I wouldn’t read too much into the raw numbers. A better metric would be the percentage of foreclosures relative to the economically healthy base. (Or the lack there of.) Poke a little deeper and see what you find. My guess is that some pockets will be strong while other areas are failing outright. The market is sorting zip codes into haves and have nots.

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