‘Facebook town’ plan echoes company settlements of the past
Facebook plans to create its very own 630,000sq ft town in Menlo Park, California
CGI of “Facebook town” beside the company’s Menlo Park campus in California
Reporting from the heart of Cannapolis, North Carolina in 1933, a Fortune magazine journalist noted the town was “like a medieval city, standing aloof and self-contained… suspicious of strangers and loyal to its feudal lords”.
Founded by JW Cannon – chairman of the Cannon Mills Corporation – to house the employees of his textile empire, the town has since become known as Kannapolis and that is not the only thing that has changed.
No longer solely reliant on textiles to provide jobs, it’s a hub of technology development, hosting the $1.5 billion (€1.1 billion) North Carolina Research Campus.
Welcome to Facebook town. Well actually, it’s called Anton Menlo, though some have dubbed it Facebookville and Zuckland among other titles. The $120 million “apartment community” is being built by the social networking giant alongside developers, St Anton Partners.
Work begins this month, and while other Silicon Valley giants have used various methods to encourage staff to spend as long as they can at work – from Google’s “nap pods” to getting a haircut in the Dropbox office – the Facebook town development represents a large leap forward for such web giants.
“In terms of design and integration of amenities, living space and services,” said Seán O’Leary, executive director of the Irish Planning Institute. Anton Menlo is a “along the normal principles” of a “standard” housing development.
The 394-unit, 630,000 square feet project will be within a five-minute walk of Facebook’s existing Menlo Park headquarters and its new West Campus.
In all there will be 35 studio apartments, 208 one-bedroom residences, 139 two-bedroom units and 12 three-bed homes. To keep residents happy there will also be convenience stores, cafés, a sports bar, concierge services, barbecue pits, a “rooftop entertainment” deck, “resort-inspired pool, spa and cabana area”, pet spa with “doggy day care facilities” as well as a bicycle repair shop.
O’Leary also adds though that as company towns of the past were built on “frontier, green field” sites “seeing how this one is integrated into an existing area” will be “very interesting”.
“In the past these [towns] were built around, rivers, waterfalls… now you’re trying to follow where the people are, where the entrepreneurial, IT centres are.
“That’s interesting in itself,” said O’Leary.
Prof James Wickham, who is head of the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy at Trinity College noted that previous company towns were often, an attempt to “stop employees going off to somebody else and also if you like to ensure their ideological commitment”.
The creation of such developments have, he added, almost completely stopped over the past 100 years in the Western world. Hardy Green, author of The Company Town: The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy, which looked into the history of towns like Kannapolis and Hershey, Pennsylvania, warned earlier in the year that “the history of US company towns shows that Facebook is up against an old problem” with Anton Menlo. That issue being sustainability.