Facebook’s company town gets a new Main Street

Disneyland has its own Main Street, Walt Disney’s vision of idyllic small-town American life, and now Facebook’s campus is getting its own version:

Unlike the days of Henry Ford and George Pullman, when industrialists built towns surrounding manufacturing operations, Facebook is bringing retail shops onto its sprawling private campus on the outskirts of Menlo Park where there are few commercial establishments other than fast-food joints.

The company is subsidizing the construction; handpicked merchants will offer discounted prices to employees.

“It is the 21st century company town,” said Silicon Valley futurist Paul Saffo, managing director of foresight at investment research firm Discern Analytics…

But Facebook had to come up with new carrots when it moved its headquarters a few months ago to a suburban outpost at the edge of tidal mud flats and salt marshes cut off from the rest of Menlo Park by a six-lane highway. It’s so isolated that when former tenant Sun Microsystems occupied it, the campus was nicknamed “Sun Quentin.”…

“It’s just a great perk: ‘My company has created a little city for me,’ ” said Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile, coauthor of “The Progress Principle,” who studies how everyday life inside organizations can influence people and their performance.

The comparison to company towns is fascinating: as I remember it, these towns didn’t last long. Pullman, for example, might have been viewed as efficient but workers ended up seeing it as paternalistic. So why exactly is this “21st century company town” strictly a perk – because Facebook is cool? Because the jobs don’t include manual labor manufacturing work and are creative class jobs that pay well? Because Facebook is reclaiming this brownfield of sprawl? Couldn’t the Main Street be viewed as controlling and an inducement to ask people to work even longer hours?

Two other quick questions:

1. What would happen if employees didn’t like the Main Street, stopped going, or started protesting? It is company property so I assume activities are somewhat restricted though a company like this doesn’t want to alienate all of their workers.

2. It is interesting that Americans like to hearken back to small town life even when we as a country have rapidly moved to an urban (and often decentralized) landscape. Is this Main Street more like a theme park, akin to Disneyland? Perhaps Facebook should start including some dormitories so that Main Street could have more activity around the clock.

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  1. […] of Katz’s arguments is that corporate efforts to build all-inclusive work campuses (like with Facebook recently building a Main Street) just isn’t as appealing as the more “authentic” urban life. Posted in […]

  2. […] even in suburbs and towns that have real Main Streets as opposed to the shopping mall kinds (see here and here), is […]

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