Would you live in an actual company town?
Facebook’s $120 million housing community might just bring the old 'company town' concept back into fashion.
Fri, Oct 04 2013 at 3:35 PM
Facebook's planned housing community for employees in Menlo Park, Calif. (Rendering: St. Anton Partners)
Silicon Valley’s biggest players are known for their amenity-rich corporate “campuses,” grown-up playgrounds oozing with perks created to entice the industry’s most coveted engineers. But now Facebook is moving beyond the fancy campus and creating a luxury residential community to help sweeten the deal.
But these are more than just dorm rooms to complement the campus; the $120 million, 394-unit Facebook community comes complete with a café, market, sports pub, bike repair shop, pet spa, doggie day care, a resort-inspired pool and spa, wellness areas, a yoga facility, and a rooftop entertainment deck with theme areas.
Within walking distance of the company’s offices, the 630,000 square-foot rental property, to be called Anton Menlo, arrives during a housing shortage in Menlo Park and as real estate prices in the Bay Area are reaching into the stratosphere. The utopian community is sure to attract the interest of prospective employees choosing between tech companies.
As evidenced by the Facebook campus environment, it’s clear that the company is aiming to alleviate all of the little headaches offered by the typical daily grind. Buses shuttle workers around, laundry and dry-cleaning are provided at the office, there’s a hair salon, yoga, massages, child care, bike maintenance … and even free ice cream to eat while lounging in one of the sculpture gardens at the 56-acre corporate office compound.
But to move in next door and become a resident of Facebookville? What would it be like to have all the components of your life managed by the entity that provides your paycheck? The model brings to mind the company towns from the turn of the 20th century, whereby a company created a town to house its workers.
Generally isolated from populated areas, company towns were built around a large production site, like a lumber mill or an automobile plant; at their peak in popularity, there were more than 2,500 such towns housing 3 percent of the population, according to the book, “The Company Town: The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy,” written by Hardy Green.
While some company towns could have sprung from the pages of a Charles Dickens novel — workers forced to live in company shacks and to spend their pay in company stores — there were utopian models as well. Altruistic bosses like Milton Hershey created an environment replete with good housing, schools, libraries and other small town amenities. According to Green, Hershey served as his town's mayor, constable and fire chief. But with the rise of car culture and global competition, the company town all but faded away, and worse.
As noted in The Economist, “some company towns have been reduced to tourist sites: Hershey attracts thousands of people a day with its tours and amusement park. Others have been transformed into post-industrial hells. Gary, Indiana, one of US Steel's proudest creations, now suffers from one of the highest murder rates in the country.”
In the current day, several companies have been flirting with some of the characteristics of a company town. IBM and PepsiCo have created enormous corporate campuses in the middle of nowhere, and Google and Microsoft have built huge tracts to host their “server farms,” but these lack the human element and culture of the corporate communities of the past.
But Facebook’s Anton Menlo calls up certain components of the classic company town, where a company strives to take care of its employees in the expectation of a more productive and prosperous company. With a cultural zeitgeist leaning toward the benefits of community, combined with a potential decline in car culture, could company towns be the wave of the future?
The appeal of amenities and the convenience afforded by such a model is hard to deny, but there’s something about the concept that feels slightly cultish and potentially claustrophobic. There’s an element of control in having your employer also be your landlord, shopkeeper and dog groomer.
Then again, it could be Utopia. Would you want to live in a company town?
The "Today" show reports on the Facebook project in the video below:
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