Richard Florida’s “The Joys Of Urban Tech”

Outside Velo Rouge Cafe, San Francisco

I just read Richard Florida’s op-ed “The Joys of Urban Tech” that was published last week in The Wall Street Journal.

Florida makes a good cultural argument about why technology companies are relocating to cities after previously headquartering in suburbs–namely to keep their young employees happy. Why would the brightest engineers and software developers want to live and work in Silicon Valley when San Francisco represents a funner environment. I’m assuming San Jose doesn’t exist in this scenario, or represent a “true” city in Florida’s argument.

That aside, Florida doesn’t mention a couple things that would make cities (using the Bay Area as an example) more attraction to this workforce demographic. First, technology companies employ high-salaried people. These workers can actually afford to live in high cost cities like San Francisco; sure, they may not want to live in big houses, but SF rental housing isn’t what you would call cheap. Add the fact that couples are waiting longer to start families and you have people that have much more disposable income.

Second, Silicon Valley is almost completely built out (i.e., there aren’t many vacant lots to build campuses and new development on). There really isn’t enough office space in the South Bay to expand, unless you can convince those cities to accept denser neighborhoods and build up. Some of the companies have chosen to relocate to cheaper parts of the cities. Florida himself states that Zappos moved to Las Vegas’ “old city hall” and Twitter moved to the “formerly derelict Art Deco building in San Francisco’s Mid-Market neighborhood.” With the latter, San Francisco officials bent over backwards to persuade the company to move in a blighted neighborhood. In other words, the decision to move back to cities may be financial as urban real estate may be cheaper and local tax breaks may be possible.

While I think Florida’s cultural argument has merit, he glosses over a more plausible financial argument that cities could just be cheaper to locate nowadays.

[photo via PJ]

Only A Slow Internet Connection And Reddit Can Interrupt You From Participating In Plan Bay Area’s Virtual Workshop

Plan Bay Area Logo

For those who were put off by the incivility at recent public meetings in support of Plan Bay Area, residents can now participate and send comments to regional planners at their Virtual Workshop.

There’s less text than one would expect for a blueprint to help guide land use and transportation planning and policy for the next few decades, but there are easy to watch videos and handouts to read. Oh, and plenty of opportunities to comment by way of numerous surveys (or simply email your comments as well).

Remember, Plan Bay Area is a joint regional effort by these important agencies: Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC).

FYI. The Virtual Workshop is open until Wednesday, 15 February 2012.

I Think Bay Area Residents Need A Reminder As To What Urban Planners Actually Do

Urban Planning and Legos
Youth collaborative community build guided by Denver city planners, architect, and streetscape designer. Photo by Cherie Lewis, August 6, 2011.

After repeated disruptions at regional plan workshops in support of Plan Bay Area across the San Francisco Bay Area, I think it would be a good time to remind residents what urban planners actually do.

Here’s an excerpt from John M. Levy’s Contemporary Urban Planning (pg. 95):

Planners are basically advisors. Alone, the planner does not have the power to do many of the things that cause change within the community: to commit public funds, to enact laws, to enter into contracts, or to exercise the power of eminent domain… The planner’s influence on events, then, stems from the capacity to articulate viewpoints and develop consensus and coalitions among those who do wield significant powers.

And similarly, of the importance of holding such workshops (pg. 95):

A more modern view is that good plans spring from the community itself. In this view the planner’s proper role is to facilitate the planning process and to aid it with his or her own expertise, rather than to deliver the plan full blown… The very act of participating in the planning process informs the citizen about the details of the plan. Giving time and energy to the process of planning builds the citizens’ commitment to the plan.

More positivity would help.

[photo via Cherie Lewis]