Solving Cities

Is the solution to sprawl reimagining office parks?

Is the solution to sprawl reimagining office parks?

Posting in Cities

With half of the office space in the United States located in the suburbs, we need to rethink the suburban office park. Here are three solutions.

Cul-de-sacs, single-family homes, cars.

These are some of the images that come to mind when thinking about sprawl. But when discussing the ill-effects of sprawl are we too focused on residential properties instead of suburban office parks?

When it comes to wasting resources through sprawl, suburban office parks might actually be the bigger problem, writes Louise A. Mozingo in the New York Times:

In metropolitan areas across America, corporate campuses for research and development units proliferated and top executives ensconced themselves in palatial estates like the Deere & Co. Administrative Center outside Moline, Ill. Meanwhile, branch offices, small corporations and start-ups found footing in the office parks that lined suburban highways and arterial roads, like those of Silicon Valley in California and the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.

Born in an era of seemingly limitless resources, this pastoral capitalism restructured the landscape of metropolitan regions; today it accounts for well over half the office space in the United States.

Yet suburban offices are even more unsustainably designed than residential suburbs. Sidewalks extend only between office buildings and parking lots, expanses of open space remain private and the spreading of offices over large zones precludes effective mass transit.

Mozingo recognizes that suburban office parks aren't going away anytime soon and offers three solutions that reimagine the suburban office park:

  • Federal government stops paying for highway extensions that lead to the conversion of agricultural land for development.
  • Suburban jurisdictions use zoning codes to require office parks to be connected to transit.
  • Cities encourage corporations to move back downtown.

In places like Detroit and Las Vegas, two large corporations are already doing the latter. Quicken Loans (Detroit) and Zappos (Las Vegas) are taking advantage of cheap real estate and moving thousands of workers downtown. Quicken Loans is even offering employees incentives to live downtown and closer to work with their Live Downtown program.

"Live Downtown fits in well with what we want here," Quicken Loans CEO Bill Emerson recently told The Detroit Free Press. "We are excited to be part of something that really can help. Detroit is a well-kept secret. When people live, play and work here, you can see the momentum."

Photo: Wayne Senville/Flickr

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure