Employees 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.