Why its a good thing that Silicon Valley titans haven’t built corporate fortresses in downtown San Jose

For years in downtown San Jose, we’ve heard the anthem (including from this blog) that “If downtown could just land another major institutional tech company it would become a destination!” No offense to Adobe, who through the redevelopment agency’s reign decided downtown would be where they would set up shop, but tech company and valley culture of the old stalwarts is to build low rise suburban campuses spread over large amounts of acreage. So how do we convince these companies to change their culture by going vertical and joining a burgeoning downtown core? We don’t. Leave them be. We don’t need that mentality in one of the only distinct cultural districts in San Jose. Yes, the taxes generated from having Apple or Google in San Jose’s city limits is undeniable, but after talking to someone who works for one of these giants, this is not a fight worth fighting, nor a fight we need to join.

Downtown does not and will not benefit from the “culture” of big tech. Employees come from all over the area by car or bus to their campuses, and once there, rarely leave the premises for any reason, then return home at the end of the day. The campuses have become self sustaining cities within cities, walled fortresses, that are impossible to enter without proper reasons, and just as hard to leave do the workloads. The Silicon Valley desire for space accompanied by unlimited money, and amenities that may not even be needed, has set a pompous tone and sense of exclusivity and entitlement.

Every need is taken care of for these employees, from car washes, to dry cleaning, and of course meals. Bringing a entity like that to downtown does nothing for the social culture, and definitely does help the small businesses that should thrive in an urban setting with thousands of people within a 1 mile radius. As much as Adobe is great, most of the workers never leave the walls of the world headquarters. The neighborhood is relatively dead for block that has 2,000 people within its perimeter. The only spill over is along the Guadalupe Trail which sees an uptick in users during the lunchtime hours. Abode has become a large building that sits in the center of the San Jose skyline, but does very little to the human experience on the street.

What does big tech culture look like in an urban setting? Look no further than San Francisco. “The City” who for 5 decades has maintained a culture of creativity for all to come and be a part of, has been decimated by the tech industry through high rents forcing the very people who make San Francisco great to live and create elsewhere. Do we really want that to happen to downtown before it even becomes established? No. In fact we should be accepting San Francisco’s creative cast offs with open arms. Come to San Jose, the city of opportunity for all, especially those looking to be creative. Yes the cost to live here isn’t much lower than San Francisco, but we are looking for you, we want to be a unique culture. We are grassroots at its plainest level.

Yet not all tech companies culture are built in vain. The newer generation of start-ups are not as antiquated in there vision of culture. They don’t have the resources and space to provide for every waking need of their employees, and the their employees actually get out and partake in their surrounding environment. Electric Cloud, Apigee, Move Inc, Xactly to name a few, chose downtown because of low cost rent, the nearby amenities, and the proximity to transit. These are the companies in which downtown will thrive. The urban setting is a great incubator for companies growing up in its arms. We need small companies to expand in a setting so that when they become a titan of industry their 3,000 employees walk and live the streets, use the businesses and reside within downtown. We want people who want to be here. There’s no culture fight here, just a welcoming environment looking for companies and people who are wanting something different in their everyday life, something more than an isolating working environment and car riddled traffic commutes. Silicon Valley culture will never change from the campus one works at, and that is why downtown should not want it and definitely does not need it.

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3 thoughts on “Why its a good thing that Silicon Valley titans haven’t built corporate fortresses in downtown San Jose

  • Ken

    >“The City” who for 5 decades has maintained a culture of creativity for all to come and be a part of, has been decimated by the tech industry through high rents forcing the very people who make San Francisco great to live and create elsewhere.

    Blaming the housing crisis on the tech industry? I thought this blog would be above that. The housing crunch in SF and elsewhere is due to lack of development and NIMBY residents who *want* prices to go up. Please stop propagating the “tech ruined SF” scapegoat.

    • Obviously, there is more to the housing crisis than tech, my focus was more of a cautionary tale, that downtown San Jose needs to be smart about what companies we attract to the core. We want companies and people who buy in to what’s going on, rather than who are doing their own thing in spite of downtown.

  • I agree. But SF is set up for urbanism and for tech companies to thrive if they want to. Downtown is growing into urbanism, and thus more of a focus on selection is needed. I think another large tech company would be fantastic for downtown, if and only if they are a willing participant in what is going on here.

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