Why is Silicon Valley in Silicon Valley?
“You’ve got Stanford, you’ve got federal expenditures, and you’ve got an ecosystem” of start-up mentors and established institutions, said Bruce Katz, the founding director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. But Silicon Valley’s stranglehold on West Coast innovation is in danger, he said at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Friday. The main problem?
It’s no fun to live in Silicon Valley.
“What’s happening now is workers want to be in Oakland and San Francisco,” he told Walter Isaacson. Young workers want to live in a city — somewhere they can ride bikes, shop locally, walk to their favorite restaurants and bars, and live in a dense urban or urban-lite environment with nearby amenities. But Silicon Valley isn’t like a city. It’s like a suburb. “Silicon Valley is going to have to urbanize,” Katz said. “[There is a] migration out of Silicon Valley to places where people really want to live.”
This sounds like Richard Florida’s arguments about the creative class: a younger generation of educated workers want to be in thriving urban environments. However, I’m not sure Katz’s arguments are consistent – at least as presented in this article. He suggests that groups of politicians and business leaders help create certain environments. Hence, an area like Silicon Valley exists because there was a concentration of investment and infrastructure. Yet, Florida’s argument emphasizes more the individual desires of the creative class (or perhaps some sort of class consciousness). If Silicon Valley was indeed losing workers to cities (not just the Bay Area but places like Austin or Chicago or Manhattan), it could respond by creating more urban environments. This is a popular idea these days in more suburban settings: retrofit older developments like strip malls, shopping centers, office parks, and tract home developments into something denser and mixed use. Young workers may want a certain kind of environment but business leaders and politicians can help create and develop such areas, whether in Silicon Valley or somewhere else.
Another interpretation 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.