Sunnyvale speaker predicts the decline of the office park

The Sunnyvale of today was designed for the industrial era, with factories located far from homes, retail malls built for freeway access and free parking, and cheap gas to drive from home to work to stores. All of these things are changing, according to Erik Calloway of planning firm Freedman Tung Sasaki, at a presentation for Sunnyvale Cool. These changes are transforming the places people prefer to work, shop, and live.

Separated zoning for the industrial era

Separated zoning for the industrial era








The business parks that emerged in the mid-20th century were designed to be standalone centers for industrial manufacturing, far from homes and stores. They have plenty of landscaping, but no public space – the activity is inside the complex.

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Today the largest companies can still be self-contained – companies including Apple, Facebook, and Google are building internally focused headquarters – see Facebook HQ below.

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But a greater proportion of the economy is taking place among networks of collaborating business partners.

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Increasingly, people prefer public spaces to interact and collaborate.

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Many of the free-way-located shopping centers and arterial strip malls developed in the mid to late 20th century are now past their useful life, and no new malls are under construction for the first time since the 1950s.   More shopping is taking place online, so not all of the old retail space will be replaced.

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So there is demand for workplaces that have public space, and that have access to restaurants and services that people like to have nearby.

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The shift in workplace preferences is accompanied by a shift in the places where people many prefer to live.   More people prefer places where they need to drive less.  During the “great recession”, homes in urban areas maintained value more strongly than homes in remote suburbs.

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Driving is declining, in an age of more expensive gasoline and changing preferences.

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Because of these preferences, a much greater share of startup companies are starting to locate in center cities and walkable suburban downtowns, according to a new report highlighted in Atlantic Cities.

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Skeptics in Sunnyvale and other Bay Area suburban communities argue that there is no need to create new development, because the existing area is “built out.”  The presentation by Erik Calloway suggests that much of the existing building stock no longer meets today’s needs, so changes will be needed to keep up with how people want to live, work and shop.

An alternative, of course, is to continue to lose market share to more highly preferred walkable places with public space.

The full video is online, with many more insights on the evolution of Sunnyvale and Silicon Valley.


The slides from the presentation are online here:

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3 Responses to Sunnyvale speaker predicts the decline of the office park

  1. Pingback: The Decline of the Suburban Office Park |

  2. Jame says:

    Did you see this interesting article, about how larger companies can’t find the space there are looking for in the walkable parts of San Mateo County, so they are leaving town?

    Apparently this is an acute problem in downtown San Mateo. There isn’t really larger office space, so although early stage startups are located downtown, once they get to let’s say 100-200 people, there isn’t any space available, in the walkable areas.

    I know my recent office location choices have been driven by walkability. I hate working in an office park that is disconnected from the rest of “city life” where you need to drive to get lunch or do any sort of errands.

    • admin says:

      Hopefully this will get through to decision-makers. I still see various Peninsula/South Bay cities tempted to add traditional car-centric office space, not yet seeing the change in the market. I wonder if there are ways to communicate to residents how much the services they value depend on having the jobs.

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