Traditional real estate being manipulated by billionaires. Hat tip to Anna for sending this in!

The digital renderings of North Bayshore, a massive proposed development in Mountain View, California, are crowded with glistening buildings and cheerful, animated pedestrians. There’s a lot to show off, including 7,000 new homes, three distinct neighborhoods, and nearly 300,000 square feet of retail and community space. Notably, though, the gleaming images don’t bear any hints of the company behind the whole endeavor: Google.

Companies like Google and Facebook’s parent, Meta, conquered the digital realm a long time ago, setting the ground rules for how we search, interact, and shop online. Not content to stop there, however, these firms are now making huge bids to expand their reach. They want to be landlords, too.

Across the country, corporations are using their considerable sway and resources to build modern company towns — mini-cities that will feature all the trappings of traditional civic life, including housing, shops, and public spaces. These new projects won’t have corporate logos on every building, and many of the units will be available to the general public, not just employees. But in the grand scheme of real estate, they’re distinct: After years of running up against housing shortages in their backyards, companies like Google, Meta, and Disney — not exactly known for building new homes — are taking matters into their own hands. Their creations have boring names like Middlefield Park and Willow Village, but they might as well be called Zucktown or Google City, USA. And while the developments promise thousands of new homes, the plans are also a tacit acknowledgment of the bleak state of the American housing market and the roles these companies have played in driving up home prices near their sprawling HQs.

The companies behind these projects argue that they can help solve the country’s lack of affordable housing, but it’s fair to approach the plans with a healthy degree of skepticism. America’s single-employer “company towns” have a long, bloody history of exploitation and labor strife. While the current plans hardly represent a return to those dark days of the 19th and early-20th centuries, they probably won’t usher in a new era of futuristic techno-utopias, either. Judging by the plans that have been publicly unveiled so far, the Googles and Metas of the world aren’t aiming nearly that high. Instead, their visions of city living spaces look a lot like what we’re already used to seeing from modern real-estate developers: glassy office buildings, verdant parks, and walkable main streets with coffee shops, salad bars, and alluring apartment buildings. It’s nice, but not exactly groundbreaking stuff.

Rather than the floating cities or domed villages once dreamed up by science-fiction writers (and Peter Thiel), these watered-down plans show that what these companies have been after all along is a way to one-up their competitors. They want to attract and retain top employees, and ideally get them back in the office, too. It doesn’t hurt that right now, residential real estate looks like a pretty good bet. The noble aim of building more housing, including affordably priced units, is the cherry on top. But make no mistake: These companies will only pursue these plans as long as they fit their business goals.

After years of planning, teasing, and slogging through local board meetings, the latest iterations of company towns are picking up steam. In June, Mountain View’s city council approved the master plan for Google’s North Bayshore project, a partnership between the tech giant and the Australian real-estate firm Lendlease. The new community will replace a suburban office park with a sprawling new neighborhood in the heart of Silicon Valley. The plans call for as many as 7,000 new homes across “a mix of income levels,” as well as parks, restaurants, shops, and more than 3 million square feet of office space on 153 acres. Roughly 15% of those units will be priced below market rate, although the city hasn’t settled upon the exact income thresholds that will determine who can apply for the units. Mountain View also greenlighted the master plan for Middlefield Park, another Google development that proposes to tear down existing office and industrial buildings and construct nearly 2,000 new housing units, as well as more office and retail spaces.

Other household names are getting in on the action. Last year, Menlo Park’s city council voted unanimously in favor of the plans for Willow Village, Facebook’s 59-acre project that’s also affectionately, or cynically, referred to as “Zucktown.” It promises more than 1,700 homes, as well as office, hotel, and retail, right next to Meta’s headquarters at 1 Hacker Way. Walt Disney World also plans to break ground next year on 1,400 affordable housing units across 80 acres a few miles from its flagship theme park in Florida, the company said in the spring. Nearby, the competing resort company Universal is also building 1,000 affordable apartments and 16,000 square feet of retail space. While the companies will continue to own the land the homes will be built upon, in each of these cases, they’re partnering with traditional real-estate firms to build and operate the buildings. In other words, you wouldn’t end up cutting a rent check directly to Google. And anyone who meets the criteria can apply to rent the units — not just employees.

Read the full article here:

Pin It on Pinterest