Durable Growth

The Facebook development in Menlo Park offers lessons for corporate developers

Anton MenloEmployees of Facebook will soon get the option of living near the office, thanks to some new housing helped along by Facebook in Menlo Park. The development, called Anton Menlo, is rightly turning heads across the country. Is this going to be a new model for corporate homebuilding?

Greater Greater Washington, in DC, published the views of five of its writers, including myself, to address the promise and shortcomings of Alta Menlo. Neil Flanigan captures the heart of the unease many urbanists have about the project:

Facebook’s sponsorship is really the only unusual feature of this project. Developers are already large corporations who must look for investors that believe the profitability of a project. The kind of directness Facebook brings does cast a specter of trying to insulate and isolate the residents. Given that there’s not much street life around it, isolation might be unavoidable. If the street urbanizes further, this might get more complicated.

Here, as is common when large suburban properties become residential complexes, developers often fill out street networks that remain private. Perhaps what we should worry about is how much of this new urban vitality remains exclusive. Bringing it closer to home, the private courtyard at CityCenter DC looks really promising as an urban space. How will it shape up as a public space? Will the whole city feel welcome there?

One concern not mentioned in the piece is whether quite a bit of new housing in the Bay Area will end up being relegated to disused industrial areas. While infill development is certainly necessary, these areas, including Brooklyn Basin in Oakland, are marginal, far from the transit networks that allowed the town to spring up in the first place. It means more traffic and a potentially damaging design monoculture. Perhaps, as places like this grow, people will see they don’t cause the sky to fall after all and allow infill in downtowns.

Written by David Edmondson

David Edmondson

David is a native Marinite working in Washington, DC. He writes about how to apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of his home.

1 comment to The Facebook development in Menlo Park offers lessons for corporate developers

  • Menlo Park has actually recently zoned for a fair amount of housing in the downtown/El Camino area near Caltrain. The first two good-sized developments including a several hundred apartments are being slowed by concerns about the Specific Plan. Some of the concerns are anti-density; some are about the plan’s lack of a mechanism to fund needed infrastructure.

    The only place you can access from Facebook site without driving is Facebook. It is located across a freeway hairball from the closest stores and restaurants – 3/4 miles away, but you take your life in your hands at the freeway crossing.