Menus Subscribe Search

Burgh Diaspora

sf-cable-car

A cable car ascending Hyde St. (Photo: John O'Neill/Wikimedia Commons)

San Francisco’s Detroit Moment

• February 01, 2014 • 4:00 AM

A cable car ascending Hyde St. (Photo: John O'Neill/Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t be surprised when, in 50 years, the structures being built to accommodate the spread of Silicon Valley are left abandoned and crumbling.

If one were to compare Boston to Detroit in 1960, certainly the judgment would have been that Detroit was the more dynamic metropolis.” By some accounts, Detroit was the wealthiest metro in the United States at that time. In 1970, Detroit was 6th in per capita income. First place belonged to the combined statistical area (CSA) of San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland. More recently (2009), the Detroit CSA ranked 52nd. The San Francisco CSA was (is) still number one, half a century of economic dominance that is already begun its Detroit-like decline:

In early 2005, as demand for Silicon Valley engineers began booming, Apple’s Steve Jobs sealed a secret and illegal pact with Google’s Eric Schmidt to artificially push their workers wages lower by agreeing not to recruit each other’s employees, sharing wage scale information, and punishing violators. On February 27, 2005, Bill Campbell, a member of Apple’s board of directors and senior advisor to Google, emailed Jobs to confirm that Eric Schmidt “got directly involved and firmly stopped all efforts to recruit anyone from Apple.”

The wages in Silicon Valley are too damn high. Better move your bootstrap start-up to St. Louis and beat the coming collapse. The gloves are back off in the war for talent. The scramble for office space is the leading indicator:

Competition for talent prospects was one of several employer issues at the event that reflect side effects of a rapidly improving regional economy. While most economic indicators point to continued growth in 2014, the region is also at an inflection point for managing that growth. …

… On the ground, economic growth will likely manifest with another busy year for real estate developers. As perennial strongholds like Palo Alto and Mountain View look to maintain momentum, developers are also circling lesser-known cities like Santa Clara and Redwood City for dense mixed-use projects.

The real estate boom could also push some existing companies out of the Peninsula and pricier South Bay markets. San Jose neighbor Milpitas and Fremont are two potential candidates to cash in on higher prices in better-known employment hubs, said Cushman & Wakefield Regional Research Director Petra Durnin.

In search of lower rent, innovation is sprawling, not agglomerating in San Francisco. Tech companies get squeezed at both ends with soaring salaries (hence collusion to refrain from poaching talent) and the rising cost of office space. Once again, scarcity is the mother of invention:

In Shenzhen, the goal was to “create that sort of bubbling energy you would find on a really vibrant campus” by giving employees every opportunity to share ideas. Tencent, the fourth-largest Internet company in the world, has seen revenue double in the past two years, and sees fostering teamwork and connection between employees as a significant aspect of its future growth. Set for completion in 2016, with roughly 2.6 million square feet of space over 55 floors, the new headquarters will add space for 12,000 more employees.

“We did a lot of research about campuses, and we applied that to a tower,” NBBJ’s Jonathan Ward, a design partner, tells Co.Design. This meant pulling apart the design for one single tower into two separate buildings connected by three large skybridges that would function like quads, becoming places where employees could mingle and interact. Called links, each one of the connections is designed to foster something different: “culture,” “health,” and “knowledge.” Each link features a plaza surrounded by seating, cafes, and snack shops to try to encourage interaction. At the bottom of the building, the “culture” link symbolizes reaching out to the city, with Tencent Expo, a gallery about the company that’s open to the public, an auditorium for cultural events, and a lobby that’s open on both sides of the building for people to pass through as they make their way into the high-tech Nanshan District from other parts of the city. In the middle, the “health” link has a juice bar, game rooms, a basketball court, and a fitness center. At the top of the tower, the “knowledge” link contains company-wide meeting spaces.

That’s right. The superior innovation environment of the suburban campus is repackaged as a dense high-rise that can fit in a city where the rent is too damn high. Towers will spring up in Bay Area greenfields, just like Detroit back in the day. Fifty years going forward, these hulking structures will be suburban ruin porn and people will be shocked that San Francisco used to be the wealthiest city in the United States.

Jim Russell

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

August 22 • 4:00 PM

The Invention of the Illegal Immigrant

It’s only fairly recently that we started to use the term that’s so popular right now.



August 22 • 2:00 PM

What Can U.S. Health Care Learn From the Ebola Outbreak?

A conversation with Jeanine Thomas, patient advocate, active member of ProPublica’s Patient Harm Facebook Community, and founder and president of the MRSA Survivors Network.


August 22 • 1:22 PM

Two Executions and the Unity of Mourning

The recent deaths of Michael Brown and James Foley, while worlds apart, are both emblematic of the necessity for all of us to fight to uphold the sanctity of human dignity and its enduring story.


August 22 • 10:00 AM

Turbo Paul: Art Thief Turned Art Crime Ombudsman

There’s art theft, there’s law enforcement, and, somewhere in between, there’s Turbo Paul.


August 22 • 8:00 AM

When Climate Change Denial Refutes Itself

The world is warming—and record-cold winters are just another symptom.


August 22 • 6:17 AM

The Impossibility of the Night Shift

Many night workers get “shift-work sleep disorder.” And no one knows how to treat it.


August 22 • 6:00 AM

Long Live Short Novels

Christopher Beha’s Arts & Entertainments comes in at less than 300 pages long, which—along with a plot centered on a sex-tape scandal—makes it a uniquely efficient pleasure.


August 22 • 4:00 AM

Why ‘Nature Versus Nurture’ Often Doesn’t Matter

Sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense to try to separate the social and the biological.


August 21 • 4:00 PM

Julie Chen Explains Why She Underwent Westernizing Surgery

The CBS news anchor and television personality’s story proves that cosmetic surgeries aren’t always vanity projects, even if they’re usually portrayed that way.


August 21 • 2:37 PM

How the Brains of Risk-Taking Teens Work

There’s heightened functional connectivity between the brain’s emotion regulator and reason center, according to a recent neuroscience paper.


August 21 • 2:00 PM

Cracking Down on the Use of Restraints in Schools

Federal investigators found that children at two Virginia schools were being regularly pinned down or isolated and that their education was suffering as a result.


August 21 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, School Principal?

Noah Davis talks to Evan Glazer about why kids aren’t getting smarter and what his school’s doing in order to change that.



August 21 • 10:00 AM

Why My Neighbors Still Use Dial-Up Internet

It’s not because they want to. It’s because they have no other choice.


August 21 • 8:15 AM

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.


August 21 • 8:00 AM

To Fight the Obesity Epidemic Americans Will Have to First Recognize That They’re Obese

There is a void in the medical community’s understanding of how families see themselves and understand their weight.


August 21 • 6:33 AM

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.


August 21 • 6:00 AM

The Fox News Effect

Whatever you think of its approach, Fox News has created a more conservative Congress and a more polarized electorate, according to a series of recent studies.


August 21 • 4:00 AM

Do Children Help Care for the Family Pet?

Or does mom do it all?


August 20 • 4:00 PM

Why Can’t Conservatives See the Benefits of Affordable Child Care?

Private programs might do a better job of watching our kids than state-run programs, but they’re not accessible to everyone.


August 20 • 2:00 PM

Oil and Gas Companies Are Illegally Using Diesel Fuel in Hundreds of Fracking Operations

An analysis by an environmental group finds hundreds of cases in which drillers used diesel fuel without obtaining permits and sometimes altered records disclosing they had done so.


August 20 • 12:00 PM

The Mystery of Britain’s Alien Big Cats

In a nation where the biggest carnivorous predator is a badger, why are there so many reported sightings of large cats?


August 20 • 10:00 AM

Death Row in Arizona: Where Human Experimentation Is the Rule, Not the Exception

Recent reports show that chemical roulette is the state’s M.O.


August 20 • 9:51 AM

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.


Follow us


The Impossibility of the Night Shift

Many night workers get “shift-work sleep disorder.” And no one knows how to treat it.

How the Brains of Risk-Taking Teens Work

There's heightened functional connectivity between the brain's emotion regulator and reason center, according to a recent neuroscience paper.

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one
Subscribe Now

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.