Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Will Google Doodle With San Jose?

http://www.citylab.com; November 4, 2017


Hello Everyone: 

It is a warm, sunny, and windy Tuesday in Blogger land.  First, a little business: Bears Ears National Monument needs your help.  Thanks to a presidential proclamation, this treasure trove of archeology is being reduced to accommodate mining interests.  Bears Ears is also historically and culturally significant to the Navajo Nation, the Pueblo of Zuni, the Hopi Tribe, the Ute Indian Tribe, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, who have joined together, along with hiking equipment supplier REI, to sue the administration to prevent the proclamation from being implemented.  Sites like Bears Ears and Grand Escalante-Staircase are part of what make America truly great.  They are part of our cultural history.  They tell the story of the Native American civilizations before westward expansion.  If you would like to help, please go to savingplaces.org for more information. Even if you are not American, Blogger knows that you understand the cultural and historic significance of indigenous land.  Thank you.  Now, on our way to San Jose.

San Jose, California is a wonderful city in the very heart of Silicon Valley.  Blogger has nice memories of the two years of living in the south San Francisco Bay Area's largest city.  Blogger lived in the downtown area and at first, it struck Yours Truly that downtown San Jose was not much of a downtown compared to Downtown Los Angeles.  Downtown San Jose is one of the most walkable cities in California.  Blogger used to take walks around the city, exploring all the the hidden corners.  One of the best things about San Jose is its close proximity to tech companies like Google (Mountain View), Apple (Cupertino), EBay (Campbell), Adobe (San Jose), and Intel (Santa Clara).  Here are some facts: San Jose is home to over 1 million people, it is the third largest city in California (behind Los Angeles and San Diego), the 10th largest in the United States.  Combine this with an abundance of good weather, close proximity to gorgeous natural resources, and academic institution (Stanford and San Jose State University), you have a great place to live.  It is little wonder why tech companies like Samsung and Hewlett-Packard (Palo Alto) are expanding their headquarters there.

Richard Florida and Benjamin Schneider write in their CityLab article "How Google Can Help San Jose Become a Model of Inclusive Urbanism,"While all urbanists eyes have been trained on Amazon's much-talked-about second headquarters [citylab.com; Sept. 12, 2017; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017], another tech giant, Google, has quietly proposed to build a massive new campus in downtown San Jose."  The proposed new campus will be located near the Diridon Station and will house up to 20,000 (mercurynews.com; Oct. 19, 2017; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017) Google employees in an office space as big a 8 million square feet.  The co-authors writes, "For context, the company's current headquarters,the 'Googleplex' in Mountain View, contains [bits.blogs.nytimes.com; June 4, 2008; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017] just 3.1 million square feet of office space."

As of writing, the city and ompany are in the process of negotiating an agreement.  In the meantime, community groups (siliconvalleyrising.org; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017) have begun advocating for an agreement that benefits the city and its residents as well as Google and its high-paid employees.  San Jose is a more racially and socioeconomically diverse city than Palo Alto and Mountain View.  Like every city, San Jose is beset with all the challenges of the new urban crisis: Sky-rocketing housing costs, hair-pulling traffic, severe economic and racial inequality.

The co-authors write, "As it moves forward with this project, Google has the opportunity to forge a new model of more inclusive, tech-fueled urban development.  It's in the company's interest to do so."  Google's reputation has taken a beating, as it an other tech have been pilloried in the press for being "monopolistic, even exploitive enterprises, with little commitment to their communities."  Case in point, a few years ago the company's biggest problem was the "Google buses."  Today, it is dealing with a Congressional investigation and widespread public mistrust.  Thus, investing in more inclusive prosperity in San Jose can go along way to rehabilitate the company's battered brand and image.

San Jose should accept nothing less.  San Jose most definitely can use the jobs and investments, the municipal government must be resolute about this.  San Jose is one of the most multi-cultural cities Blogger has spent time.  It is also one of the most progressive cities; thus should "demand a fair, forward-thinking deal that makes the city's needs a priority."  Besides, "it has one of the few urban, transit-connected sites in the region where Google, or any tech company,..., can go."

So, how can Google can be a corporate citizen to the people of San Jose?  Richard Florida and Benjamin Schneider offer some suggestions.

First, from an architectural point of view, Google's new home should be as distinct as possible from Apple's "Spaceship" (citylab.com; April 27, 2017; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017).  The co-authors suggest, "Rather than being a campus per se, Google should build a fine-grained, mixed-use neighborhood, with walkways between between buildings and numerous public spaces."  The proposed Diridon site is located very near the downtown area.  Google should take advantage of this ideal location by stressing public transport, walking and bicycling, and keep parking down to an absolute minimum.  These are pretty obvious, already mentioned in intial discussions (mercurynews.com; June 18, 2017; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017).

Next, Google can leap ahead of the tech-company pack by building enough housing units commensurate with the number of new jobs it will bring to San Jose.  The co-authors report, "Because housing is so difficult to build in California, 'the market' cannot be expected to suddenly accommodate 20,000 well-heeled workers."  Constructing new housing units together new office construction "would not only prevent a major shock to the housing market, it would also improve the experience of the new neighborhood, be a boon to business downtown and help transit usage."

Richard Florida and Benjamin Schneider suggest that "A significant percentage of these housing units should be below market rate".  The median cost for a house in San Jose is $880,703 (zillow.com date accessed Dec. 5, 2017).  Google can follow the example of the San Francisco Giants baseball team when they agreed "to make 40 percent of the units in their Mission Rock development affordable" [sfexaminer.com; Oct. 8, 2017; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017].  Google and its real estate partner Trammell Crow should be able to meet this standard.  The co-authors speculate, "Perhaps Google could set aside a portion of these units as 'workforce housing' for teachers, firefighters, and police."  Google could also build housing units for its service workers-i.e. cafeteria workers and maintenance staff-while we are here, pay them a living wage.

The challenge of finding an affordable place to live in San Jose is closely tied to its transportation challenges.  There are buses and light rail but they do not really reach deep into the suburban areas, thus residents must rely on cars to get them to and from work.  Diridon Station is next door to the proposed site and state officials have big plans for "the Grand Central of the West" (mercurynews.com; June 18, 2017; date accessed Dec. 5, 2017), which will eventually serve high-speed and BART, as well to Caltrain and VTA.  The problem is no one figured out how to pay for it.  Typical.

This is where Google can help.  "Developing a financial mechanism for Google to contribute to the reconstruction of Diridon would be complicated..."  Be that as it may, developing a financial mechanism should be part of the conversation about the proposed site.  The co-authors offer this idea, "Perhaps the city could create a special property tax for Diridon-adjacent plots.  Or Google's community benefits agreement could include a substantial commitment to transit improvements."

However this unfolds, it is an Google's best interest that Diridon Station become the western "Grand Central-" i.e. a "multimodal hub that it is meant to be."  Extending BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) access to the south San Francisco Bay Area would make Google employees' commute incredibly simple and high-speed rail would make taking meeting in San Francisco and Los Angeles easier for executives.  Richard Florida and Benjamin Schneider write,"Turning the station into an iconic contemporary landmark would symbolize San Jose's arrival as an urban 21st-century global city-something that Google is clearly interested in associating itself with."

Contemporary politics being what they are, San Jose and the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area should expect much, if any, help for the federal government with their progressive urban agendas.  The flipside of the anti-urban, anti-progressive political climate in Washingon D.C. is Americans are looking toward other institutions to fill the void.

The co-authors ask some very important questions: "Do the Bay Area's nominally progressive tech companies really care about making our communities and our world a better place?  Or are they simply opportunists, relentlessly extracting value wherever they can, and leaving the rest of us to deal with the consequences?"

Google has a great opportunity in San Jose to demonstrate their true core values.  Will they step up or be one of those exploitive tech companies?