This month’s “urban issue” of FP features Margaret O’Mara warning that “you can’t build a new Silicon Valley just anywhere.” I was immediately reminded of one of the countless SV replicas out there, the Hong Kong Science Park:
As O’Mara writes, “It turns out that sparkling facilities alone aren’t enough to create a high-tech ecosystem. The essential error is in thinking that Silicon Valley can be packaged into ‘innovation in a box’ that you can simply build overnight, unconnected to its surroundings, to the culture, to a moment in history.” That success has much more to do with freeing and feeding human capital than with creating a tidy physical setting.
Broad government policy can indeed nurture an innovation culture — witness the Research Triangle — but the manicured office park really has little to do with it. Creating Research Triangle Park (an initiative usually credited to then-Governor Luther Hodges, but obviously involving others [full story]) was undoubtedly a far-sighted achievement for its time, and the park thrived by catalyzing existing pools of talent within the context of a fast-urbanizing area. In retrospect, it seems that RTP’s strictly separate-use 100-acre corporate campuses (the archetypal nerdistan, to use a phrase from none other than Joel Kotkin) are a relic from a time when suburban campuses were thought to be free of stress and distractions. Today, that setting seems to encourage siloization compared to a more urban, mixed-use environment like the increasingly popular NCSU Centennial Campus down the street. (Centennial was always a long-off vision while I was a campus brat, but it finally now feels sort of like a real place. Interestingly, I doubt that anyone back in the 1980s thought that having the state farmers’ market on campus would be a selling point.)
(The same FP issue also has another dreary city ranking, and Christina Larson writing about Chongqing, Chicago on the [inland] Yangtze. Except, well, it has the population of California and is adding a million people a year.)
Oh, and since I’m writing about suburban offices (and since I keep looking for this info), here’s a graph comparing American downtowns, by office space — a useful proxy for white-collar job concentration.
July 2010 data from Cushman & Wakefield.