Facebook makes plans to build its own village

Zuckerland: An architectural rendering of Facebook’s proposed village. © OMA

If all goes well, Facebook’s Silicon Valley employees will start moving to “Willow Campus” in around four years’ time. Should more big businesses start building homes for their workers?

It has been two years since thousands of Facebook employees started working at their vast new headquarters in Menlo Park, California. The building comes with huge art installations and a nine-acre park on its rooftop.

But the city’s influx of new workers has caused major problems in the city. Average house prices have tripled since 2011, and the roads are jammed with traffic; according to The Guardian, it can take half an hour to drive just four miles to the supermarket. Meanwhile, homelessness throughout Silicon Valley has soared.

Now, Facebook has announced that it plans to tackle the housing crisis by building a new “village” called Willow Campus. According to a blog post, there will be a grocery store, pharmacy, and 1,500 new homes. Around 15% of these will be at affordable prices “below market rates”, and the village will be “mixed-use”, meaning that ordinary Californians can live alongside Facebook workers.

Other companies, like Microsoft and Apple, have also tried to help Silicon Valley’s housing crisis; Apple is paying a $5m “housing mitigation fee” to its home city of Cupertino, while Google recently announced that it would spend $300m building apartments for its employees in Mountain View.

Facebook is the first tech company to plan an entire village — but this is far from a new idea. During the Victorian era, businessmen like the chocolatier George Cadbury often built “model villages” for their workers in Great Britain.

The idea was that good housing would provide happy, loyal workers for their employer’s factories. This would make them work harder, and perhaps encourage their children to do so one day, too.

But could this plan work in the 21st century? Do we want bosses to provide homes as well as jobs?

Happy homes

“Sign me up!” say some. Silicon Valley is not the only place with a housing crisis. All over the world, young people are struggling to move to the expensive cities where they are most likely to get a job. At the same time, employers are struggling to hire workers who can afford to live nearby. Building homes themselves, or even helping out with the rent, is a win-win. After all, business is not just about making money — at its best, it is about building communities and improving people’s lives.

Others are less sure. Is it really a good idea to give employers more control over their workers’ lives? Young people could end up feeling trapped in their jobs, or totally dependent on the whims of their bosses. Communities like Facebook could end up becoming even more isolated from the outside world. The 21st century “gig economy” is often criticised — but at least it gives people the chance to be flexible, creative and independent.

You Decide

  1. When you get a job, would you like your boss to build your house too?
  2. Has Facebook become too ambitious?

Activities

  1. Design your own village, starting with Facebook’s basic plan: a shop, pharmacy and 1,500 homes.
  2. Choose a company you admire — or don’t admire — and write a case study about how it treats its workers.

Some People Say...

“Move fast and break things.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Facebook has submitted its plans for Willow Campus to the local authorities. It says it hopes to create 125,000 square feet of new retail space and 1,500 new housing units. Last year, it also gave $18.5 million to the Catalyst Housing Fund, an initiative to improve affordable housing in its local area. If the plans are approved, it hopes the first stage will be finished by 2021.
What do we not know?
Whether or not the plans will be approved, or whether the project will be completed if they are. We also do not know how much the village will help the local community. Only 225 of the homes are set to be affordable (15% of the planned 1,500), and it is unclear how these will be allocated. Do Facebook employees get first pickings, or can anyone apply? And will they want to?

Word Watch

Thousands
According to The Guardian, 9,000 Facebook employees work in Menlo Park, an increase of 54% in the last year alone.
Tripled
The average monthly rent in Menlo Park is now $3,349 (£2,600). The cost of a two-bedroom apartment is far higher than larger cities like New York.
Homelessness
Last year it was reported that in East Palo Alto, a district of Silicon Valley, one-third of schoolchildren were homeless. Often people with low-wage jobs in tech companies (such as drivers or cleaners) cannot afford the same high rents as entrepreneurs.
George Cadbury
The chocolate company founder was a Quaker who believed in providing decent, cheap housing for ordinary people. He built the village of Bourneville, near Birmingham, in the 1870s.
Hire workers
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) recently released a report blaming the housing shortage in the UK for not allowing companies to hire and keep staff.
Gig economy
An economy with lots of short-term freelance work, which means that employers do not have to provide benefits like holiday and sick pay. Think Uber drivers or Deliveroo.

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