Facebook Planathon

Ramblin’ On The Green

Facebook held the “Grandaddy of all Charrettes” yesterday, March 5, 2011,  to discuss its campus planned for the community of Menlo Park, CA. The plan was to run the charrette like the company’s famous “hackathons.”

The all-day event, dubbed “Creating a Sense of Place,” was open to the public and coordinated with the City of Menlo Park and the San Mateo County chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

After touring the area in a bus, local architects, planners, and the general publicwill then spend the afternoon incorporating feedback from public participants into their own plans and present refined proposals at the end of the day.” One assumes there were plenty of caffeinated beverages on hand. According to  a spokesperson for AIA San Mateo County, it’s “very likely that these ideas will have a significant impact on the development of this area of Menlo Park for many years to come.”

Refined proposals at the end of the day! No boring series of charrettes over many months, followed by many months (sometimes years) of discussion and deliberation. But that’s to be expected from a company that lets everyone act like Sally Fields at the Oscars (“I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!”) and is celebrating its 7th year of existence with a net worth of $70 billion. It must be true that the internet compresses time.

The idea of a corporation helping to shape a community is nothing new, of course. Some have drawn an analogy between the railroad business in the 1800s and the internet industry today. Pullman, Chicago is considered the first company town created in the United States, and many followed. At one point there were over 2,500 company towns in the United States housing 3 percent of the population. An example of a company town in the Hudson Valley is the old Groveville complex in Beacon.

Google is investing in energy infrastructure

Will the 21st century bring us new forms of industrial paternalism? (Don’t confuse largess at the whim of corporations as equal to worker rights or fairness and equity.) Since the 90s, companies have been buying the rights to name sports stadiums.  A few days ago, Topeka, Kansas, renamed itself Google. In 2003 a town in Oregon changed its name to Half.com, a subsidiary of eBay.

Aside from namechanging stunts, though, a number of high profile companies in the last decade have sought to create or facilitate a  “lifestyle brand” for their employees. Sometimes creating elaborate campuses created conflict with the surrounding community, as was the case with Nike and Beaverton, Oregon.

Others have made marketing a part of community life: PepsiCo has its Pepsi Refresh Project, a sort of online grant popularity contest; Levi’s has adopted/sponsored the town of Braddock, PA. as part of an upcoming ad campaign.

Celebration, Fl was created by Disney

Once internet-only companies are getting into infrastructure as well. Not only did Google Ventures recently put up about $25 million in capital for Transphorm, a company that develops products designed to significantly cut energy conversion losses, Google Energy also recently won the right to charge for electricity. Ebay is hyper local with its stake in craigslist.

One modern day equivalent of a company town is the master-planned community of Celebration, Florida, brought into existence by the 20th century entertainment giant Disney. How long will it be before Googleville, Yahooburg, Twitterville, and Faceport show up on Googlemaps?


2 Responses to Facebook Planathon
  1. jessica wickham
    March 6, 2011 | 10:43 pm

    What a great idea though, to get diverse opinions together in a public forum and literally roll up the sleeves and synthesize feedback on the spot! This happens a lot inside of companies but you don’t often see it in the fresh air…

    I wonder how it went…?

    • admin
      March 7, 2011 | 12:14 am

      Hi Jessica. Yes, I’m curious to see how it will play out. Having been involved with this kind of community input planning in the Hudson Valley, I do wonder what value a single 12-hour session will produce. It’s like taking an upholstery lecture and thinking you’ll be able to redo your sofa. Some things just take time no matter how you try to hack it.

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