Geographic options

· November 12, 2018

I’ve been catching up on season two of The Intersection podcast, which focuses on the corner of Shoreline and Space park way in Mountain View, right in the heart of Google. 

One of the discussions is whether Mountain View is a company town, and whether the town as a whole is benefitting from Google’s presence. As a few commentators have mentioned, it’s certainly better-than-not: Google has brought a lot of high paying jobs to the town, and no one wants to cut that out. It’s the source of a lot of low paying jobs too though, and that is more of a challenge. 

Geography is a killer. Despite being at the nexus of high tech, space is still scarce (within a given boundry) and rivalrous - use for one thing precludes use for another. The boundries of the scarcity are what make the situation so painful. As anyone that has driven to the Googleplex will know the traffic is awful, because basically everyone has to commute by road - there is little mass transit to North Bayshore, and even less housing there. 

One bus driver interviewed lived in an RV parked in Mountain View, having previously lived in Stockton. The podcast kind of glossed over it, but this was interesting - Stockton both had space and was affordable enough for some one on a $15/hr wage. But it’s two hours drive away from where the person needed to be to do their job. 

If they could have got the same job in Stockton, I imagine they would have. The geographic concentration of employment drives the geographic clustering of employees. This isn’t a particularly insightful observation, but the conversation mostly revolves around creating affordable housing in areas with work rather than creating good employment in areas with housing. 

There is a self-reinforcing loop where big tech companies (and Stanford) spawn smaller tech companies, and as companies expand they naturally want to stay somewhat close to where their employees already live. That’s a good thing for the work opportunities in an area, but not so good for diffusing those options over a wider area.