Google City!

by on September 21, 2017 at 7:24 am in Economics | Permalink

Amazon is looking for a city for its new headquarters. Boring! Google is looking to build a city. The FT reports:

Google’s parent company was working on a sweeping plan to build a city from the ground up, the executive in charge of its urban innovation business said on Tuesday, in an attempt to prove that a technologically-enabled urban environment can improve quality of life and reduce cities’ impact on the environment.

…“We actually want to build a new city, it is a district of the city, but one that is of sufficient size and scale that it can be a laboratory for innovation on an integrated basis,” said Dan Doctoroff, head of Sidewalk Labs, at a talk to the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association.

Sidewalk was “quite far along” in its search for a city with which to partner to build a testing ground for new approaches to transport, infrastructure and possibly even governance and social policy, he said.

As I said in my NYTimes op-ed on private cities (with Shruti Rajagopolan):

The world is building more cities, faster than ever before. China used more cement in the last three years than the United States used in the entire 20th century. By 2050, India will need new urban infrastructure to house an additional 404 million people — a task comparable to building every city in the United States in just 35 years.

…As the world urbanizes, we need to experiment with new urban forms and new forms of urban planning, and privately designed and operated cities — proprietary cities — like Jamshedpur, India, or Reston, Va., may provide answers.

By the way, Virginia’s private city, Reston, was just named by Money magazine as one of the best places to live in the United States.

1 Adrian Ratnapala September 21, 2017 at 7:31 am

Errm, don’t know anything about this field, but still I can’t help reading this as “Development company owned by big conglomerate wants to develop new neighbourhood near existing city”.

In other news: dog bites man!

2 Bill September 21, 2017 at 11:22 am

Corporate towns were a feature of the late 19th and early 20th century.

The employer owned the land; you may or may not own the house. Is this a way for Google to capture the externality of its office location, much in the same way the stadium owner wants to own the bars and restaurants near the stadium.

Of course, there was also another example of a corporate city,

Disneyland.

3 Charles Quimby September 21, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Fordlandia

4 athEIst September 22, 2017 at 2:24 am

And Ludlow. Ludlow was definitely a corporate town.

5 Chris September 26, 2017 at 12:26 am
6 rayward September 21, 2017 at 7:47 am

Not everyone likes “new urbanism” (living, working, shopping, etc. all within a short – walking – distance), preferring instead the suburbia and exurbia for which metropolitan areas are known. Of course, there’s no guarantee that Google’s new city would conform to new urbanism.

7 Butler T. Reynolds September 21, 2017 at 8:28 am

No, not everyone likes new urbanism. But a lot of people think it is a great place to live in theory.

8 Bob September 21, 2017 at 8:33 am

New? That’s how large swaths of Europe has lived more or less forever. The monstrosity we have in the US hails from the 50s. If anything, what you call new urbanism is trying to make cities for humans again, instead of making them for cars and for segregation. We are not seeing those places thrive, with the possible exception of Houston, which isn’t doing all that great this month.

It’d do wonders for the midwesteners’ health if, instead of 20-40 minute commutes by car, they had 20-40 minute commutes mostly by foot.

9 Jeff R September 21, 2017 at 9:22 am

LA seems to get by.

10 prior_test3 September 21, 2017 at 9:36 am
11 Jeff R September 21, 2017 at 10:06 am

Nobody walks in LA.

12 prior_test3 September 21, 2017 at 10:30 am

Come on, at least include a youtube link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_UpLtGEWoY (Fine, the song is called ‘Walking In LA,’ but the chorus includes ‘Nobody walks in LA’)

13 A Definite Beta Guy September 21, 2017 at 10:30 am

Everyone having a 20 minute walking commute is a lovely fiction. In reality, urban places with walkability and public transit have longer commutes than anyone else. The average Parisian has a commute of 90 minutes, Londoners even longer. You are still dealing with funneling people into CBDs. A corporate campus like Apple is not workable in a New Urbanist format, which only does well with small employers, small campuses, small walks, short commutes.

If you’re looking for that, make a lot of money, and retire in a seasonal tourist town.

14 Hwite September 21, 2017 at 11:15 am

“We are not seeing those places thrive, with the possible exception of Houston, which isn’t doing all that great this month.”

Define “those places” and “thrive.” If you’re comparing big cities to suburbs, and account for the effect of immigration, the suburbs are growing faster. Cities grew faster than suburbs(due to immigration) for a short period that is now over: even with immigration the suburbs are back to the historical norm of growing faster:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/cities-growing-more-slowly-than-suburbs-for-the-first-time-in-six-years/2017/05/24/aeee0f36-40bc-11e7-adba-394ee67a7582_story.html?utm_term=.09b49e7235d3

If this makes you scratch your head in wonder, analyze the difference between “20-40 minute commutes by car” and “20-40 minute commutes mostly by foot” in the context of a group called “children.”

15 Max September 21, 2017 at 4:49 pm

Do we? Well, some in Europe HAVE to live like that, but it is not like they choose to live. I think the choice of living changes due to age, meaning that may be for young googlers the new urban style is actually ok.

For many European cities there is no other option due to very strict zoning laws & housing regulations or due to space (just look at urban sprawl in the Stuttgart or Paris area). Paris or Barcelona are walking cities for tourists, but not for many Parisians or Barcelonians (except perhaps the upper 10%).

If you go to Italy, you find that even though Italian cities are cramped and they could be walking cities, most Italians dont walk. Naples is full of cars, traffic jams & motor bikes and it is much smaller compared to LA.

16 A Truth Seeker September 21, 2017 at 8:40 am

Brazil has pioneered the division of cities (in Brasília, for instance) in sectors: commercial sector, hospital sector, hotel sector, military sector, press sector, military sector, administrative sector, living quarter sectors, etc.

17 Borjigid September 21, 2017 at 10:42 am

Brasilia is generally considered to be an unlivable hellhole, no?

18 Scott Mauldin September 21, 2017 at 11:51 am

That’s my understanding – an A+ final project for an urban planning class, but not a place for people to actually live in.

19 FYI September 21, 2017 at 12:05 pm

Well, no. You have to compare Brasilia to other cities in Brazil and compared to those it is not bad. the actual “planned” part of it works ok. Of course, then you have the sprawling slums around it that are real hellholes. So yeah, hard to tell what is the lesson to take from it.

20 The lesson is always: September 21, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Brazil sucks

21 GondwanaMan September 21, 2017 at 1:11 pm

New Urbanism is just code words for, “what childless SWPLs want”.

22 Dick the Butcher September 21, 2017 at 8:03 am

What will Google name it “Leningrad”?

My new urban solution: move to the mountains of rural Wyoming.

23 prior_test3 September 21, 2017 at 8:29 am
24 Lanigram September 21, 2017 at 11:18 am

“…Wyoming…”

Shhhhh…don’t tell anyone!

25 prior_test3 September 21, 2017 at 8:27 am

Reston is not a ‘private city.’ Fairfax County is responsible for the schools, transportation infrastructure, policing, and water/sewage among other things, for example.

Reston is a planned community, which is hard to see as the same thing as a private city, otherwise Greenbelt and Columbia MD would also be ‘private cities,’ which in the case of Greenbelt is absurdly ironic – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenbelt,_Maryland

26 JFA September 21, 2017 at 8:33 am

+1

27 Anon GMU Econ Prof September 21, 2017 at 9:35 am

Since when do facts matter?

28 Ray Lopez September 21, 2017 at 10:14 am

AlexT is naive with facile stuff it seems. He’s MR’s fluff guy. AlexT: “By the way, Virginia’s private city, Reston, was just named by Money magazine as one of the best places to live in the United States.” – but I recall back in the 1970s or 60s, before anybody lived in that area of Dulles Airport, that Reston was considered not that great a place to live in the DC area. “It takes a village to raise a child”- African proverb.

Bonus trivia: one of the reasons Africa is so backward, say people who study this, is the “tyranny of distance” (besides not having good port towns on the west coast of Africa, it’s all cliffs going down to the sea). Not enough people = hard to do things. Just look at Arizona for anybody who has lived there like I have; relatively expensive and but for the Hoover dam and other Fed subsidies probably is not sustainable.

29 Hazel Meade September 21, 2017 at 10:25 am

Huh? Arizona has one of the lowest costs of living in America.
I miss $1.50 a gallon milk and 99c a lb tomatos and 3-for-1 $6.99 sirloin steaks in the middle of winter.

30 Ray Lopez September 21, 2017 at 8:15 pm

What year? I was there in the late 1990s and it was as expensive as California. Not to mention freezer burn on all frozen veggies (fresh were hard to find). I lived in Tempe and met lots of cute coeds though as an early middle aged man I was a bit too old for them (no such problem in the Philippines, where I live now when I’m not in DC). And Walmart and Aldi’s here in DC sell milk for about 99 cents a gallon. And there’s no winter in Arizona. Bonus trivia: I got caught in a dirt devil once, on a highway, it shook my car and on a bike it would have flipped me over, and all the dust from outside came inside my car despite having all my windows up. Pretty neat. That and tumbleweed.

31 Hazel Meade September 21, 2017 at 10:20 am

Yes, and Reston blows. It’s a shopping mall with condos.
An outdoor shopping mall, but still, overpriced semi-upscale chains. No local character.

32 Chappy8 September 21, 2017 at 10:32 am

I totally agree. Plus, the Money “report” is complete junk. If you read the methodology they are basically limiting themselves to locales with 10k-100k residents. It basically reads like a list of best “bedroom” communities to places people would actually like to live. Call me crazy, but if a place has a large population and high cost of living, it’s probably a pretty good sign that people want to live there. Instead the lists reads like “places that are great to live in if you don’t factor in that it takes an hour to commute into work.”

33 Hazel Meade September 21, 2017 at 11:13 am

Yes. If you don’t mind an hour’s commute, live in Leesburg, which actually has an authentic downtown and is close to the Blue Ridge, Harper’s Ferry and the Shenadoah Valley.

34 Max September 21, 2017 at 4:52 pm

Or they only want to work there because Pay & Subject Work is good there.
I think many people only consider side-costs after they experience it, because they did not know all ramifications.
For me this is the silicon valley effect, because many people living there dont seem to be happy given how much they complain about the living situations…

35 Student September 21, 2017 at 10:50 am

Agreed. I would also add that Reston kinda sucks. It ok I guess but it reminds me of a hospital. Clean, nicely built, but it is so sanitized with little interesting things.

36 Butler T. Reynolds September 21, 2017 at 8:31 am

Why would he give a talk to the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association? If you’re seriously looking for innovation in urban development, I’d think that there is nobody anywhere in California you’d want to talk to.

Too bad Walt Disney was a smoker. I wonder what would have become of EPCOT.

37 Anonymous September 21, 2017 at 9:28 am
38 The Anti-Gnostic September 21, 2017 at 8:34 am

Huh. I bet they’ll have borders and strict rules about ingress too. And if you decide to quit working for Google, you have to leave.

To expand on this novel idea, people who don’t have controlling interests in multi-national corporations could band together and draw lines in the dirt, say, “borders,” and pay money to a central authority which arms a force to maintain them, say, a “Border Patrol,” and set rules about ingress as well.

Revealed preferences.

39 Hazel Meade September 21, 2017 at 10:22 am

And then their 18th generation descendants are still compelled to adhere to those rules!

40 The Anti-Gnostic September 21, 2017 at 10:50 am

Yes. They’re called laws. There’s a process for changing them, with policy debate and everything.

Another alternative is dissolve the State and let people shop their fealty around and draw their own borders, as appears to be the trend.

41 roadrunner September 21, 2017 at 3:06 pm

Yes, they can call such restrictions “covenants”

Revealed preferences indeed.

42 Euripides September 21, 2017 at 8:39 am

I can see some basketball recruiters assigning people to research kids that are predicted to be more than 7 feet tall and potentially develop a relationship with them early…

43 A Truth Seeker September 21, 2017 at 8:53 am

But would they fit in Googlepolis?!

44 Mike W September 21, 2017 at 8:53 am

Will “high modernism” from the private sector work any better than that what has come from the public sector?

45 Slocum September 21, 2017 at 11:03 am

Absolutely. It won’t be built with tax dollars or through the use of eminent domain. I can’t really imagine wanting to live in such a city, but I have no problem with them trying the experiment.

46 Carl September 21, 2017 at 8:56 am

Reston is not a private city.

47 Anon GMU Econ Prof September 21, 2017 at 9:34 am

Yes, but facts need to fit my narrative!

48 Enrique September 21, 2017 at 8:58 am

So Google is building a “company town”? Except for the surveillance, is that really so new?

49 RPLong September 21, 2017 at 10:42 am

+1

This was my first thought, too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for these kinds of social experiments, but let’s hope that they learn a few lessons from the not-so-ancient past.

50 Tanturn September 21, 2017 at 12:49 pm

+1

Not sure if it’s true in thus case but it fits with the pattern of the gilded age repeating itself. It’s irking because there’s really no place to discuss this outside the Left which won’t let you talk unless you agree with all their sjw bs. The right is all “muh zosialism.”

51 Jay September 21, 2017 at 1:50 pm

Maybe the right doesn’t want to have a discourse with you because you say things like “muh zosialism”, just a thought.

52 harpersnotes September 21, 2017 at 9:00 am

Maybe they could choose.. The Center? (Egads – sounds like a science fiction title!) Inspired in part by Disney World, ‘The Center’ .. for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation is an off-again on-again project out of D.C. looking mostly at New Mexico for testing various urban design projects. Estimated at one billion dollars, it has had a lot of publicity over the years, mostly around 2005 I think. It was first conceptualized around alternative energy production and energy conservation but many ideas have been added and subtracted along the way. Energy grids for energy flows have a kind of design resemblance to large information flows, or so it sometimes seems to me in an abstract information theory of physics sort of way. Not entirely sure of the project’s current status. If it does go forward I wouldn’t be especially surprised if it winds up in Las Cruces New Mexico near Branson’s Spaceport America. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Center,_New_Mexico ..

53 Axa September 21, 2017 at 9:09 am

Lots of words used in the FT article have been used before for Songdo (Korea): smart city, low-carbon, etc. 35 billion USD invested in prototype of a city. There a few things to learn from this prototype of future city.

The experiment started in 2003 and the main investor (Gale international) ……”declined to say whether the company has earned a profit on its investment, saying it is too early to declare success or failure. George Mason U has a campus there, it would be quite interesting to listen to them. http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-korea-songdo-snap-story.html

This quote is specially interesting “…for a country that is one of the most wired in the world, Songdo’s tech features are not the biggest draw for its 100,000 residents.” People seems to be more attracted by clean air and good schools for the kids than free WiFi and any other smart feature. http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/green-spaces-and-good-schools-win-kudos It seems central planner/developer interests are not the same as customer’s.

It seems it takes a very long time (if ever) to make money developing cities, so what’s the business interest? Also, what if innovations/disruptions from any other letter of Alphabet makes the smart-city look dumb? Sunk costs will be there in an entire city, not only a district.

54 Anonymous September 21, 2017 at 9:26 am

Sounds like more fun than not quite driverless cars.

And hey, maybe they came to the same conclusion as me, that if you want to do autonomous people movers today, keep them separated from people. Monorails, tracks, tunnels, whatever.

55 Hazel Meade September 21, 2017 at 10:12 am

If they’re going to go all utopian and shit, why not make it a Seastead?
At least that way their new city won’t be subjected to state and federal regulations on how they run it.

56 Anonymous September 21, 2017 at 10:47 am

It is a common misread on this page to think Silicon Valley types are conventional libertarians, or want that sort of utopia.

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/06/silicon-valleys-politics-liberal-with-one-big-exception.html

It is really kind of hilarious. Deep red business groups will make “indexes” of which cities are “best for business.” The indexes are scored on things white shoe Republicans have as their hot buttons. On such lists San Francisco usually (and by design) comes dead last.

But where is Uber?

57 A Definite Beta Guy September 21, 2017 at 11:04 am

Uber is too busy losing billions of dollars to move their HQ.

58 Hazel Meade September 21, 2017 at 11:09 am

I didn’t say it had to be a libertarian utopia.
I’m sort of envisioning some sort of horrifying corporate dystopia in my head actually.
Tiny identical dorm rooms and giant Google logos everywhere. Morning calisthentics. It would be fun to live in for a while, and then secretly plot a revolution.

59 Lanigram September 21, 2017 at 11:37 am

Hazel, you are the best! 😅

60 NatashaRostova September 21, 2017 at 12:18 pm

Can I be the Wyoming Knott to your Hazel Meade?

61 Hazel Meade September 21, 2017 at 12:58 pm

I don’t know, are you a transracial white-to-black woman?

62 NatashaRostova September 21, 2017 at 2:36 pm

I can be whatever you want me to be.

63 Justin September 21, 2017 at 10:48 am

I assume the city is tax free but filled with hidden cameras selling your activity data at all times (and I do mean all) to advertisers.

64 RPLong September 21, 2017 at 10:48 am

One big downside of working at a place with a strong and deeply entrenched corporate culture is that you can never really “go home” at the end of the day. Every minute of your life is spent breathing and thinking the company culture. Your friends are work friends. Your hobbies are hobbies that often make appearances at work. Your social circle eventually excludes almost everyone except people who are already a lot like you, as demonstrated by their agreeableness to the corporate culture.

Now imagine that you’re all living in the same cul-de-sac (or whatever), your kids are attending the same school, you all pay exactly the same price for all your groceries, you all have roughly the same set of toys and decorations at home, etc. etc. You have the same commute, right down to the same commute times.

Maybe I’m alone here, but that sounds like Edward Scissorhands to me.

65 PaulD September 21, 2017 at 3:44 pm

It sounds like hell to me. You could never talk frankly about the workplace to your neighbors, since they could not be trusted to report you to corporate. Un-Corporate thoughts will get you fired and expelled from Eden.

66 Hopaulius September 21, 2017 at 11:05 am

Google will utterly destroy a pristine wilderness, then demand that all the area around it remain undeveloped, except for organic arugula farms.

67 Ali Choudhury September 21, 2017 at 11:19 am

Maybe they can call it Delta City and have it policed by appealingly designed drones.

68 Hwite September 21, 2017 at 11:27 am

If we can only choose between stupid and evil, I’ll choose stupid. Nationalize it!

69 Lanigram September 21, 2017 at 11:39 am

We already have that!

70 Lanigram September 21, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Hubris in a bubble. We should put a sign on it.

71 Lanigram September 21, 2017 at 12:18 pm

Speaking of bubble cities…I love this SNL spoof of lefty bubble communities@

https://youtu.be/vKOb-kmOgpI

72 Actually101 September 22, 2017 at 10:38 pm

Thanks for sharing – funny video!

73 Brett September 21, 2017 at 1:46 pm

It sounds like they’re just building a new neighborhood/expansion rather than a full company city, which is a pity – the latter would be more interesting, although they’d probably have to move to a state with a lot of cheap open land.

74 chrisare September 21, 2017 at 2:05 pm

I find it strange that economists much less libertarian economists would be excited by this. When does planned development work? Brasilia. Millennium Village Projects. Yamoussoukro. Does it ever work? Paging James C Scott.

75 RPLong September 21, 2017 at 3:46 pm

You make a good point, but I would guess that the thing to be excited about is not the planning, but the fact that there could be competition in the real of civil engineering. Right now, it’s a government-only game in most places. The possibility that we might be able to choose between a “Google city” and a “traditional city” could ultimately improve outcomes for everyone, if competition is maintained.

76 spencer September 21, 2017 at 4:07 pm

If you want to see “planned towns” at their most workable, look at the communities created for the families of the most socialist organization in existence — the US Army & Air Force.

77 Russ Mitchell September 21, 2017 at 7:47 pm

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