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San Francisco; or, How to Destroy a City | Public Books
"As New York City and Greater Washington, DC, prepared for the arrival of Amazon’s new secondary headquarters, Torontonians opened a section of their waterfront to Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, which plans to prototype a new neighborhood “from the internet up.” Fervent resistance arose in all three locations, particularly as citizens and even some elected officials discovered that many of the terms of these public-private partnerships were hashed out in closed-door deals, secreted by nondisclosure agreements. Critics raised questions about the generous tax incentives and other subsidies granted to these multibillion-dollar corporations, their plans for data privacy and digital governance, what kind of jobs they’d create and housing they’d provide, and how their arrival could impact local infrastructures, economies, and cultures. While such questioning led Amazon to cancel their plans for Long Island City in mid-February, other initiatives press forward. What does it mean when Silicon Valley—a geographic region that’s become shorthand for an integrated ideology and management style usually equated with libertarian techno-utopianism—serves as landlord, utility provider, urban developer, (unelected) city official, and employer, all rolled into one?1

We can look to Alphabet’s and Amazon’s home cities for clues. Both the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle have been dramatically remade by their local tech powerhouses: Amazon and Microsoft in Seattle; and Google, Facebook, and Apple (along with countless other firms) around the Bay. As Jennifer Light, Louise Mozingo, Margaret O’Mara, and Fred Turner have demonstrated, technology companies have been reprogramming urban and suburban landscapes for decades.2 And “company towns” have long sprung up around mills, mines, and factories.3 But over the past few years, as development has boomed and income inequality has dramatically increased in the Bay Area, we’ve witnessed the arrival of several new books reflecting on the region’s transformation.

These titles, while focusing on the Bay, offer lessons to New York, DC, Toronto, and the countless other cities around the globe hoping to spur growth and economic development by hosting and ingesting tech—by fostering the growth of technology companies, boosting STEM education, and integrating new sensors and screens into their streetscapes and city halls. For years, other municipalities, fashioning themselves as “the Silicon Valley of [elsewhere],” have sought to reverse-engineer the Bay’s blueprint for success. As we’ll see, that blueprint, drafted to optimize the habits and habitats of a privileged few, commonly elides the material needs of marginalized populations and fragile ecosystems. It prioritizes efficiency and growth over the maintenance of community and the messiness of public life. Yet perhaps we can still redraw those plans, modeling cities that aren’t only made by powerbrokers, and that thrive when they prioritize the stewardship of civic resources over the relentless pursuit of innovation and growth."



"We must also recognize the ferment and diversity inherent in Bay Area urban historiography, even in the chronicles of its large-scale development projects. Isenberg reminds us that even within the institutions and companies responsible for redevelopment, which are often vilified for exacerbating urban ills, we find pockets of heterogeneity and progressivism. Isenberg seeks to supplement the dominant East Coast narratives, which tend to frame urban renewal as a battle between development and preservation.

In surveying a variety of Bay Area projects, from Ghirardelli Square to The Sea Ranch to the Transamerica Pyramid, Isenberg shifts our attention from star architects and planners to less prominent, but no less important, contributors in allied design fields: architectural illustration, model-making, publicity, journalism, property management, retail planning, the arts, and activism. “People who are elsewhere peripheral and invisible in the history of urban design are,” in her book, “networked through the center”; they play critical roles in shaping not only the urban landscape, but also the discourses and processes through which that landscape takes shape.

For instance, debates over public art in Ghirardelli Square—particularly Ruth Asawa’s mermaid sculpture, which featured breastfeeding lesbian mermaids—“provoked debates about gender, sexuality, and the role of urban open space in San Francisco.” Property manager Caree Rose, who worked alongside her husband, Stuart, coordinated with designers to master-plan the Square, acknowledging that retail, restaurants, and parking are also vital ingredients of successful public space. Publicist Marion Conrad and graphic designer Bobbie Stauffacher were key members of many San Francisco design teams, including that for The Sea Ranch community, in Sonoma County. Illustrators and model-makers, many of them women, created objects that mediated design concepts for clients and typically sat at the center of public debates.

These creative collaborators “had the capacity to swing urban design decisions, structure competition for land, and generally set in motion the fate of neighborhoods.” We see the rhetorical power of diverse visualization strategies reflected across these four books, too: Solnit’s offers dozens of photographs, by Susan Schwartzenberg—of renovations, construction sites, protests, dot-com workplaces, SRO hotels, artists’ studios—while Walker’s dense text is supplemented with charts, graphs, and clinical maps. McClelland’s book, with its relatively large typeface and extra-wide leading, makes space for his interviewees’ words to resonate, while Isenberg generously illustrates her pages with archival photos, plans, and design renderings, many reproduced in evocative technicolor.

By decentering the star designer and master planner, Isenberg reframes urban (re)development as a collaborative enterprise involving participants with diverse identities, skills, and values. And in elevating the work of “allied” practitioners, Isenberg also aims to shift the focus from design to land: public awareness of land ownership and commitment to responsible public land stewardship. She introduces us to several mid-century alternative publications—weekly newspapers, Black periodicals, activists’ manuals, and books that never made it to the best-seller list … or never even made it to press—that advocated for a focus on land ownership and politics. Yet the discursive power of Jacobs and Caro, which framed the debate in terms of urban development vs. preservation, pushed these other texts off the shelf—and, along with them, the “moral questions of land stewardship” they highlighted.

These alternative tales and supporting casts serve as reminders that the modern city need not succumb to Haussmannization or Moses-ification or, now, Googlization. Mid-century urban development wasn’t necessarily the monolithic, patriarchal, hegemonic force we imagined it to be—a realization that should steel us to expect more and better of our contemporary city-building projects. Today, New York, Washington, DC, and Toronto—and other cities around the world—are being reshaped not only by architects, planners, and municipal administrators, but also by technologists, programmers, data scientists, “user experience” experts and logistics engineers. These are urbanism’s new “allied” professions, and their work deals not only with land and buildings, but also, increasingly, with data and algorithms.

Some critics have argued that the real reason behind Amazon’s nationwide HQ2 search was to gather data from hundreds of cities—both quantitative and qualitative data that “could guide it in its expansion of the physical footprint, in the kinds of services it rolls out next, and in future negotiations and lobbying with states and municipalities.”5 This “trove of information” could ultimately be much more valuable than all those tax incentives and grants. If this is the future of urban development, our city officials and citizens must attend to the ownership and stewardship not only of their public land, but also of their public data. The mismanagement of either could—to paraphrase our four books’ titles—elongate the dark shadows cast by growing inequality, abet the siege of exploitation and displacement, “hollow out” our already homogenizing neighborhoods, and expedite the departure of an already “gone” city.

As Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti muses in his “Pictures of the Gone World 11,” which inspired Walker’s title: “The world is a beautiful place / to be born into / if you don’t mind some people dying / all the time / or maybe only starving / some of the time / which isn’t half so bad / if it isn’t you.” This is precisely the sort of solipsism and stratification that tech-libertarianism and capitalist development promotes—and that responsible planning, design, and public stewardship must prevent."
cities  shannonmattern  2019  sanfrancisco  siliconvalley  nyc  washingtondc  seattle  amazon  google  apple  facebook  technology  inequality  governance  libertarianism  urban  urbanism  microsoft  jenniferlight  louisemozingo  margareto'mara  fredturner  efficiency  growth  marginalization  publicgood  civics  innovation  rebeccasolnit  gentrification  privatization  homogenization  susanschwartzenberg  carymcclelland  economics  policy  politics  richardwalker  bayarea  lisonisenberg  janejacobs  robertmoses  diversity  society  inclusivity  inclusion  exclusion  counterculture  cybercultue  culture  progressive  progressivism  wealth  corporatism  labor  alexkaufman  imperialism  colonization  californianideology  california  neoliberalism  privacy  technosolutionism  urbanization  socialjustice  environment  history  historiography  redevelopment  urbanplanning  design  activism  landscape  ruthasawa  gender  sexuality  openspace  publicspace  searanch  toronto  larenceferlinghetti  susanschartzenberg  bobbiestauffacher  careerose  stuartrose  ghirardellisqure  marionconrad  illustration  a 
march 2019 by robertogreco
What's Wrong with Apple's New Headquarters | WIRED
"But … one more one more thing. You can’t understand a building without looking at what’s around it—its site, as the architects say. From that angle, Apple’s new HQ is a retrograde, literally inward-looking building with contempt for the city where it lives and cities in general. People rightly credit Apple for defining the look and feel of the future; its computers and phones seem like science fiction. But by building a mega-headquarters straight out of the middle of the last century, Apple has exacerbated the already serious problems endemic to 21st-century suburbs like Cupertino—transportation, housing, and economics. Apple Park is an anachronism wrapped in glass, tucked into a neighborhood."



"Apple Park isn’t the first high-end, suburban corporate headquarters. In fact, that used to be the norm. Look back at the 1950s and 1960s and, for example, the Connecticut General Life Insurance HQ in Hartford or John Deere’s headquarters in Moline, Illinois. “They were stunningly beautiful, high modernist buildings by quality architects using cutting-edge technology to create buildings sheathed in glass with a seamless relationship between inside and outside, dependent on the automobile to move employees to the site,” says Louise Mozingo, a landscape architect at UC Berkeley and author of Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes. “There was a kind of splendid isolation that was seen as productive, capturing the employees for an entire day and in the process reinforcing an insular corporate culture.”

By moving out of downtown skyscrapers and building in the suburbs, corporations were reflecting 1950s ideas about cities—they were dirty, crowded, and unpleasantly diverse. The suburbs, though, were exclusive, aspirational, and architectural blank slates. (Also, buildings there are easier to secure and workers don’t go out for lunch where they might hear about other, better jobs.) It was corporatized white flight. (Mozingo, I should add, speaks to this retrograde notion in Levy’s WIRED story.)

Silicon Valley, though, never really played by these rules. IBM built a couple of research sites modeled on its East Coast redoubts, but in general, “Silicon Valley has thrived on using rather interchangeable buildings for their workplaces,” Mozingo says. You start in a garage, take over half a floor in a crummy office park, then take over the full floor, then the building, then get some venture capital and move to a better office park. “Suddenly you’re Google, and you have this empire of office buildings along 101."

And then when a bust comes or your new widget won’t widge, you let some leases lapse or sell some real estate. More than half of the lot where Apple sited its new home used to be Hewlett Packard. The Googleplex used to be Silicon Graphics. It’s the circuit of life.

Except when you have a statement building like the Spaceship, the circuit can’t complete. If Apple ever goes out of business, what would happen to the building? The same thing that happened to Union Carbide’s. That’s why nobody builds these things anymore. Successful buildings engage with their surroundings—and to be clear, Apple isn’t in some suburban arcadia. It’s in a real live city, across the street from houses and retail, near two freeway onramps.

Except the Ring is mostly hidden behind artificial berms, like Space Mountain at Disneyland. “They’re all these white elephants. Nobody knows what the hell to do with them. They’re iconic, high-end buildings, and who cares?” Mozingo says. “You have a $5 billion office building, incredibly idiosyncratic, impossible to purpose for somebody else. Nobody’s going to move into Steve Jobs’ old building.”"



"The problems in the Bay Area (and Los Angeles and many other cities) are a lot more complicated than an Apple building, of course. Cities all have to balance how they feel about adding jobs, which can be an economic benefit, and adding housing, which also requires adding expensive services like schools and transit. Things are especially tough in California, where a 1978 law called Proposition 13 radically limits the amount that the state can raise property taxes yearly. Not only did its passage gut basic services the state used to excel at, like education, but it also turned real estate into the primary way Californians accrued and preserved personal wealth. If you bought a cheap house in the 1970s in the Bay Area, today it’s a gold mine—and you are disincentivized from doing anything that would reduce its value, like, say, allowing an apartment building to be built anywhere within view.

Meanwhile California cities also have to figure out how to pay for their past employees’ pensions, an ever-increasing percentage of city budgets. Since they can’t tax old homes and can’t build new ones, commercial real estate and tech booms look pretty good. “It’s a lot to ask a corporate campus to fix those problems,” Arieff says.

But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t try. Some companies are: The main building of the cloud storage company Box, for example, is across the street from the Redwood City CalTrain station, and the company lets people downtown park in its lot on weekends. “The architecture is neither here nor there, but it’s a billion times more effective than the Apple campus,” Arieff says. That’s a more contemporary approach than building behind hills, away from transit.

When those companies are transnational technology corporations, it’s even harder to make that case. “Tech tends to be remarkably detached from local conditions, primarily because they’re selling globally,” says Ed Glaeser, a Harvard economist who studies cities. “They’re not particularly tied to local suppliers or local customers.” So it’s hard to get them to help fix local problems. They have even less of an incentive to solve planning problems than California homeowners do. “Even if they see the problem and the solution, there’s not a way to sell that. This is why there are government services,” Arieff says. “You can’t solve a problem like CalTrain frequency or the jobs-to-housing ratio with a market-based solution.”

Cities are changing; a more contemporary approach to commercial architecture builds up instead of out, as the planning association’s report says. Apple’s ring sites 2.5 million square feet on 175 acres of rolling hills and trees meant to evoke the Stanford campus. The 60-story tall Salesforce Tower in San Francisco has 1.5 million square feet, takes up about an acre, has a direct connection to a major transit station—the new Transbay Terminal—and cost a fifth of the Apple ring. Stipulated, the door handles probably aren’t as nice, but the views are killer.

The Future

Cupertino is the kind of town that technology writers tend to describe as “once-sleepy” or even, and this should really set off your cliche alarm, “nondescript.” But Shrivastava had me meet her for coffee at Main Street Cupertino, a new development that—unlike the rotten strip malls along Stevens Creek Blvd—combines cute restaurants and shops with multi-story residential development and a few hundred square feet of grass that almost nearly sort of works as a town square.

Across the actual street from Main Street, the old Vallco Mall—one of those medieval fortress-like shopping centers with a Christmas-sized parking lot for a moat—has become now Cupertino’s most hotly debated site for new development. (The company that built Main Street owns it.) Like all the other once-sleepy, nondescript towns in Silicon Valley, Cupertino knows it has to change. Shrivastava knows that change takes time.

It takes even longer, though, if businesses are reluctant partners. In the early 20th century, when industrial capitalists were first starting to get really, really rich, they noticed that publicly financed infrastructure would help them get richer. If you own land that you want to develop into real estate, you want a train that gets there and trolleys that connect it to a downtown and water and power for the houses you’re going to build. Maybe you want libraries and schools to induce families to live there. So you team up with government. “In most parts of the US, you open a tap and drink the water and it won’t kill you. There was a moment when this was a goal of both government and capital,” Mozingo says. “Early air pollution and water pollution regulations were an agreement between capitalism and government.”

Again, in the 1930s and 1940s, burgeoning California Bay Area businesses realized they’d need a regional transit network. They worked for 30 years alongside communities and planners to build what became BART, still today a strange hybrid between regional connector and urban subway.

Tech companies are taking baby steps in this same direction. Google added housing to the package deal surrounding the construction of its new HQ in the North Bayshore area—nearly 10,000 apartments. (That HQ is a collection of fancy pavilion-like structures from famed architect Bjarke Ingels.) Facebook’s new headquarters (from famed architect Frank Gehry) is supposed to be more open to the community, maybe even with a farmers’ market. Amazon’s new headquarters in downtown Seattle, some of 10 million square feet of office space the company has there, comes with terrarium-like domes that look like a good version of Passengers.

So what could Apple have built? Something taller, with mixed-use development around it? Cupertino would never have allowed it. But putting form factor aside, the best, smartest designers and architects in the world could have tried something new. Instead it produced a building roughly the shape of a navel, and then gazed into it.

Steven Levy wrote that the headquarters was Steve Jobs’ last great project, an expression of the way he saw his domain. It may look like a circle, but it’s actually a pyramid—a monument… [more]
apple  urbanism  cities  architects  architecture  adamrogers  2017  applecampus  cupertino  suburbia  cars  civics  howbuildingslearn  stevejobs  design  housing  publictransit  civicresponsibility  corporations  proposition13  bart  allisonarieff  bayarea  1030s  1940s  1950s  facebook  google  amazon  seattle  siliconvalley  isolationism  caltrain  government  capitalism  publicgood  louisemozingo  unioncarbide  ibm  history  future  landscape  context  inequality 
june 2017 by robertogreco
Why Are America’s Most Innovative Companies Still Stuck in 1950s Suburbia? | Collectors Weekly
"When Apple finishes its new $5 billion headquarters in Cupertino, California, the technorati will ooh and ahh over its otherworldly architecture, patting themselves on the back for yet another example of “innovation.” Countless employees, tech bloggers, and design fanatics are already lauding the “futuristic” building and its many “groundbreaking” features. But few are aware that Apple’s monumental project is already outdated, mimicking a half-century of stagnant suburban corporate campuses that isolated themselves—by design—from the communities their products were supposed to impact.

In the 1940s and ’50s, when American corporations first flirted with a move to the ‘burbs, CEOs realized that horizontal architecture immersed in a park-like buffer lent big business a sheen of wholesome goodness. The exodus was triggered, in part, by inroads the labor movement was making among blue-collar employees in cities. At the same time, the increasing diversity of urban populations meant it was getting harder and harder to maintain an all-white workforce. One by one, major companies headed out of town for greener pastures, luring desired employees into their gilded cages with the types of office perks familiar to any Googler.

Though these sprawling developments were initially hailed as innovative, America’s experiment with suburban, car-centric lifestyles eventually proved problematic, both for its exclusiveness and environmental drawbacks: Such communities intentionally prevented certain ethnic groups and lower-income people from moving there, while enforcing zoning rules that maximized driving. Today’s tech campuses, which the New York Times describes as “the triumph of privatized commons, of a verdant natural world sheltered for the few,” are no better, having done nothing to disrupt the isolated, anti-urban landscape favored by mid-century corporations.

Louise Mozingo, the Chair of UC Berkeley’s Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning Department, detailed the origins of these corporate environments in her 2011 book, Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes. From the 1930s designs for AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey to Google’s Silicon Valley campus today, Mozingo traced the evolution of suburbia’s “separatist geography.” In contrast with the city, Mozingo writes, “the suburbs were predictable, spacious, segregated, specialized, quiet, new, and easily traversed—a much more promising state of affairs to corporations bent on expansion.” It also didn’t hurt that many top executives often already lived in the affluent, low-density areas near where they wanted their offices built.

Like the expansive headquarters of many companies who fled dense downtowns, Apple’s new office falls into the architectural vein Mozingo dubs “pastoral capitalism,” after a landscaping trend made popular more than a century ago. In the mid-19th century, prominent figures like Frederick Law Olmsted promoted a specific vision of the natural environment adapted to modern life, beginning with urban parks and university campuses and eventually encompassing suburban residential neighborhoods.

“There was this whole academic discussion around what defined the picturesque, the beautiful, and the sublime,” Mozingo told me when we spoke recently. “Landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing had written extensively about it in American publications, but Olmsted went beyond that, and called his ideal park landscape ‘pastoral.’ He was well-read enough to understand that this combined elements of wild nature with agricultural nature.”"



"But perhaps even more damaging was the way this architectural trend turned residents away from one another and reduced their engagement in the public sphere. From the 1950s onward, the vast majority of suburban office projects relied on a model Mozingo refers to as “separatist geography,” where people were isolated from their larger communities for the benefit of a single business entity.

Mozingo’s concept of a separatist landscape builds off the ideas of geographer Allan Pred, who describes how our daily path through the built environment is a major influence on our culture and values. “If you live in a typical suburban place,” Mozingo explains, “you get in your car and drive to work by yourself, then stay in your office for the entire day seeing only other colleagues, and then drive back home alone. You’re basically only interested in improving highways and your office building.” Even as big tech touts its green credentials, the offices for Apple, Facebook, Google, and their ilk are inundated with parking, discreetly hidden below ground like their savvy mid-century forebears, encouraging employees to continue their solo commutes.

Today, this segregation isn’t only aided by architecture—it’s also a function of the tech-enabled lifestyle, with its endless array of on-demand services and delivery apps that limit interactions with people of differing views and backgrounds (exposure that would likely serve to increase tolerance). A protective bubble of affluence also reduces the need for civic engagement: If you always rely on ride-hailing apps, why would you care if the sidewalk gets cleaned or repaired?"



"“There are a handful of companies who are finally doing interesting things in the suburbs,” she continues. “For instance, there’s a developer in Silicon Valley, Kilroy Realty, building a development called the Crossing/900, which is the new Box headquarters, and it’s going to be high-density and mixed-use near Caltrain, so everybody’s excited about that one.” Mozingo also sees potential in a future Facebook project, since they’ve purchased a large plot of land near a disused rail line. “It’s supposed to be mixed-use with explicit public space, and a farmer’s market, and there’s the potential to actually service this area with rail,” she says. “I’m skeptical but hopeful.”

Clearly these modern suburban offices can’t resolve all of a community’s planning issues on a single, isolated site. But even companies that do try to affect change on a larger municipal level are often turned off by the required public process, which Mozingo calls “long, arduous, boring, and annoying.” Despite these misgivings, Mozingo’s understanding of urban history gives her faith that suburban corporate architecture could remedy the problems it has wrought.

“One of the reasons cities function really well,” Mozingo says, “is that in the first few decades of the 20th century, after industry had its way, there was a coalition of progressives who said, ‘We want good lighting, good transportation, and clean water in our cities. We’re going to have sidewalks and streets with orderly traffic, and we’re going to do some zoning so you don’t have a tannery right next to an orphanage.’ They put in big public institutions like museums and theaters and squares with fancy fountains. It cost everybody money, but was agreed on by both the public and private sectors. This is the reason why we still love San Francisco and New York City. Even if we don’t live there, we like going there.

“Believe me, in 1890, cities in the United States were just dreadful–but by 1920, they were much better, and everybody could turn on the tap and drink some water. This was not a small victory,” Mozingo emphasizes. “Suburban corporations have to realize that they’re in the same situation: They have to build alliances with municipalities, counties, state agencies, and each other to come together and spend the next three decades figuring it out—and it is going to take decades.”"
suberbs  suburbia  apple  google  ibm  belllabs  isolation  2016  cities  urbanism  us  corporatecampuses  janejacobs  allanpred  publicspace  urbanplanning  segegation  whiteflight  history  class  race  racism  1970s  1980s  housing  jobs  economics  work  generalmotors  transportation  publictransit  normanfoster  architecture  louisemozingo 
august 2016 by robertogreco

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