History will judge Frances Cairncross’s predicted “death of distance” correct

The irony of America’s tech-fueled brain drain is that the internet should have freed us from location-based employment and helped disperse high-skilled tech workers. In her 1997 book The Death of Distance, British economist Frances Cairncross heralded the ways that digital technologies, particularly the internet and mobile phones, were “killing location” and “loosening the grip of geography.” For Cairncross, one of the many implications of ubiquitous internet access was that “companies will have more freedom to locate a service where their key staff want to live, rather than near its market” and employees “will gain more freedom to live far from their employers.” Reality proved far messier.

Cairncross says she “misjudged” the extent to which concentrated labor markets matter in the knowledge economy, because they provide an available pool of specialized skills and other agglomeration benefits. So rather than decentralizing the American labor pool, the rise of the internet and digital technologies had the opposite effect: It accelerated its concentration. The face of this change is the San Francisco Bay Area, which consistently ranks as one of the most congested and expensive regions in the US. But a similar scenario is playing out in Denver, Boston, Seattle, and other major tech-driven metro areas.

Source: How Smaller Cities Are Luring High-Tech Talent | WIRED

Despite her misgivings, I believe history will ultimately prove Cairncross correct. Knowledge work is currently in transition between the centralized Industrial Age when the automobile and high speed highways made it possible for office workers to work daily in communities far from their homes to an emerging decentralized “work anywhere” mode.

The trouble in the San Francisco Bay Area and other metro centers the high speed highways that made commuting a breeze in the 1950s and 1960s aren’t so speedy anymore and overcrowded with too many knowledge workers during the morning and evening commutes. Building more highway lanes only induces more commute trips. Autonomous vehicles can’t solve the congestion because there will always be a limited amount of pavement over which they can travel. Mass transit isn’t the answer either given the differing schedule and location circumstances of knowledge workers and limited practical range that has served as a perpetual disincentive.

Of course, there is nothing that beats the natural inclination of humans to socialize and exchange ideas that drive the information economy co-located, face to face. The question is whether doing that every work day remains practical in congested and expensive metro areas given the personal time and economic costs extracted by daily vehicular commute trips. These trips are lengthened by housing market dynamics. Affordable homes are often located at the periphery of metro areas.

Information and communications technology provides the best alternative means to perform knowledge work. And yes, there still needs to be old style in person social interaction. But that can be obtained at training sessions, symposia and social gatherings. Commuting should be confined to getting to and from these events and not daily to a centralized, commute in office.

New generation of policymakers, planners needed to solve metro area traffic congestion

Liccardo, who also sits on the commission board, said reducing traffic congestion in the South Bay will require cities to add more housing units instead of simply focusing on job growth, and it might require regional incentives and penalties on cities.“We need to get people living closer to where they work,” Liccardo said.

Source: Highways to hell: Bay Area’s worst commutes ranked by MTC – SFChronicle.com

True for those who must be on site for their work. Not true for most knowledge workers who thanks to today’s information and communications technology — much of it innovated in the Bay Area. A new generation of policymakers and planners is needed that recognizes the potential of ICT to reduce the need for daily commute trips that substantially contribute to the enormous transportation demand that’s choking the Bay Area and other metros.

S. F. Bay Area hitting the wall with unaffordable housing, lengthy commutes

The September losses, combined with 2,400 job losses reported by the EDD for August, paint an unsettling picture and lend credence to the assessment from a growing number of experts that the Bay Area’s job growth has begun to slow dramatically.

“The slowdown is real,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Palo Alto-based Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy. “There were times this year we thought that job losses here and there were just temporary. But the slowdown is a fact. It’s happening.”

The lack of housing also makes it tough for employees to live near their workplaces, forcing many into lengthy commutes on roads choked with traffic. Some prospective employees decide they’d rather not bother.

“The economy in the Bay Area has pushed up against the physical limits of a lack of housing and a lack of places for workers to live,” said Jeffrey Michael, director of the Stockton-based Center for Business and Policy Research at University of the Pacific.

Source: Bay Area hammered by monthly loss of 4,700 jobs

The San Francisco Bay Area is reaching the limits of time and distance. People will only commute so long and so far before it becomes unfeasible.

The silver lining is the Bay Area is headquarters to many information and communications technology companies that innovated the tools to bridge and time and distance gap and make it possible for knowledge workers to work in the communities where they live — and can find affordable housing — rather than wasting time in needless, traffic choked commutes.

Poll shows voter support for $3 bridge toll hike

With constant gridlock turning freeways into parking lots, BART trains packed to the gills and mounting concerns about how to accommodate continued growth in the region, more than half of prospective voters said they’d be willing to pay up to $3 more in bridge tolls to ease congestion, according to a new poll.Commissioned by the region’s two largest business boosters, the Bay Area Council and Silicon Valley Leadership Group, along with the transportation policy think-tank, SPUR, the poll surveyed more than 9,000 residents, 85 percent of whom said they felt traffic is worse this year than it was last year. Roughly three quarters, of 74 percent, said they’d be willing to pay more to cross the Bay Area’s seven state-owned bridges if that money is invested in “big regional projects” that ease traffic and improve mass transit.

Source: Poll shows voter support for $3 bridge toll hike

Raising bridge tolls is based on the erroneous assumption that commuting is a discretionary activity and thus economically penalizing it will get drivers off jammed highways. It’s not. For commuters, commuting is part of their jobs. They are merely conforming to an outdated cultural expectation that knowledge workers show up every day at the office. This “solution” dates back to the 1980s when Bay Area traffic congestion began getting out of control. Transportation planners suggested at the time that market-based approaches such as higher tolls during peak hours would help alleviate it.

Bay Area employer organizations can have the greatest impact on reducing commute hour traffic congestion by reducing the role of the centralized, commute-in office. That can be done by leveraging information and communications technology — much of it innovated in the Bay Area — to enable knowledge workers to work in communities where they live instead of driving daily to work.

Dealing with the Sprawl Devil

In the last seven years alone, 600,000 new residents have settled in the region. Alameda is the fastest growing of Bay Area counties. Here, 120,000 people found elbow room—and in many cases, vast suburban lawns, swimming pools, and multicar garages—between 2010 and 2015. The county is now home to more than 1.6 million people. Contra Costa County’s population jumped from 1 million to almost 1.1 million in the same five-year period. The city and county of San Francisco also grew, from 800,000 people in 2010 to about 870,000 today. But most of this population growth is taking place in suburban areas far from major centers of employment, according to a report released by the California Department of Finance in early May.

The suburban growth is driving traffic congestion to crisis levels as residents commute hours each day to and from work on the Bay Area’s overburdened roadways. Traffic is increasingly cited in polls as one of the top reasons that locals want to leave the area. While many towns and cities combat traffic by improving transit systems and supporting housing projects near bus and train stations, traffic is getting worse—and the housing boom in the remote suburbs is directly reversing progress by introducing tens of thousands more people into communities that can only be easily accessed by automobiles. “Sprawl creates traffic,” Devalcourt noted. “It’s designed to accommodate driving.”

Source: Dealing with the Sprawl Devil

The San Francisco Bay Area Paradox I’ve frequently referenced on this blog continues to build.  The region — an Information and Communications Technology innovator — remains mired in a 20th century, post World War II Industrial Age mindset and the consequent paralysis of ever growing commute traffic congestion. Much of it generated by knowledge workers unnecessarily commuting to centralized office spaces elsewhere in the sprawling region when ICT makes it possible to work in the communities where they live.

The continuing commuting paradox of the S.F. Bay Area, stuck in the 20th Century

 

 

 

 

Eighty percent of jobs in the Bay Area are concentrated in suburban fringes with little access to regional rail, and three-quarters of Bay Area workers drive alone to work as a result, the study’s authors note.The report highlights a seeming irony: Despite pioneering innovations in their products and work spaces, they house their lava lamps and free cafes in suburban corporate campuses with seas of parking lots. It’s a form of office that took shape in the middle of the 20th century. Google, Apple and Facebook’s offices are all more than 3 miles from the nearest rail station.This isn’t going to be good for the companies’ economic vitality in the long run, said Allison Arieff, SPUR’s editorial director. “Something’s gotta give.”

Source: Study calls on big tech companies to move closer to transit – San Francisco Chronicle

The paradox of the San Francisco Bay Area continues. The Chronicle’s Nicholas Cheng points out the irony of companies that innovated information and communications technology (ICT) advances that have made the centralized, commute-in office spaces of the previous century all but obsolete, yet continue to cling to the outdated pattern. And as SPUR’s Allison Arieff says, the current state of affairs is unsustainable. There is only so much real estate, highway lanes, parking spaces and public transit capacity to work with. ICT provides far more capacity to move the products of knowledge and information work than transportation infrastructure can to move bodies every work day.

Bay Area commuters back taxes to pay to improve road, transit – SFGate

Bay Area residents have grown so exasperated by worsening traffic and the paucity of government money to make things better that they’re willing to tax themselves to pay for a regional program of improvements.That’s according to a poll released Friday, just two days after Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic state legislators announced a transportation funding plan that would boost fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees for $52 billion in road and public-transportation improvements. Two years in the works, the plan would deliver much-needed funding for transportation but still leave many needs unfunded.

Source: Bay Area commuters back taxes to pay to improve road, transit – SFGate

Those long suffering commuters have a much lower cost solution thanks to the ingenuity of the Bay Area’s information technology companies. And it’s already available to them without the need for new taxes. Knowledge workers can utilize ICT to work at home and in their communities instead of getting into their cars and onto crowded freeways to drive to an office.

As management guru Peter Drucker sagely asked, “What is the point of spending such huge sums to bring a 200-pound body downtown when all you want of it is its eight-and-a-half-pound brain?”

SF Bay Area paradox: 21st century ICT leader chokes on 20th century rush hour traffic

“Congestion is having a dramatic impact on the quality of life in the Bay Area,” said Jim Wunderman, CEO of the Bay Area Council, a business lobbying group active in transportation issues. According to the study, drivers in the San Francisco area, which includes the inner East Bay, the Peninsula and the South Bay, wasted 83 hours sitting or creeping along in traffic in 2016. Last year’s survey, which used a different methodology, ranked San Francisco second in the nation, tied with Washington, but behind Los Angeles. Bay Area drivers in 2015 wasted 75 hours in traffic. Congestion causes San Francisco-area drivers $1,996 a year per person in wasted time, Inrix concluded, compared with a national average of $1,400. […] Bob Pishue, Inrix’s senior economist and study co-author, said San Francisco’s congestion during the morning and evening commutes is the worst in the nation, particularly on city streets. In the Bay Area, Wunderman said, the long, slow commutes combined with the rising cost of housing are starting to drive away some job seekers and could have the same effect on employers. “I hear anecdotally from companies all the time about problems with people getting to their jobs,” Wunderman said.

Source: SF traffic ranks as 4th worst in world

This puzzling paradox continues. The San Francisco Bay Area and nearby Silicon Valley are home to many of the world’s information and communications technology (ICT) leaders. But the region continues to function as if it were 1965 when everyone commuted to the office because there was no Internet yet and all the tools knowledge workers needed to do their jobs were still at the office. And that none of the innovations its companies have created exist, tools that have decentralized knowledge work and the centralized, commute-in office, effectively obsoleting daily commute trips that are choking its streets and highways.

Ongoing paradox of SF Bay Area that underutilizes ICT, chokes on traffic congestion

If it seems as if you’re spending more time behind the wheel than ever, it’s not an illusion. Since 2010, the amount of time Bay Area drivers endure crawling along in freeway congestion has soared 70 percent.That’s the highest level of “congested delay” — time spent in traffic moving at speeds of 35 mph or less — since traffic experts began keeping track in 1981.

Source: Drive across Bay Bridge tops list of Bay Area’s worst commutes – SFGate

The San Francisco Bay Area continues to underutilize its signature product — information and communications technologies (ICT) — that could make a big dent in its world class traffic congestion by reducing commute trips.

Instead of commuting along freeways to offices located elsewhere in the Bay Area, ICT enables knowledge workers to remain at home or in the communities rather than playing road warrior each work day. But the Industrial Age commute to the office habit is proving to be very enduring even as traffic congestion and associated delays and adverse quality of life impacts continue to increase.

Plumbing the paradox of Silicon Valley: Where culture trumps ICT

silicon-valley

The late management master Peter Drucker’s perhaps most quoted aphorism is “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In California’s Silicon Valley, culture makes a daily meal of a key benefit of its products and services: information and communication technologies (ICT) that decentralize and make knowledge work – now the essential activity of Silicon Valley with most if not all manufacturing done outside of the area – location independent.

As a geographical location, Silicon Valley has effectively obsoleted itself but doesn’t know it yet or simply cannot accept it. There are a couple of reasons why Silicon Valley remains defined by location even though for much of the world, Silicon Valley connotes ICT innovation rather than a spot on Google Earth.

First is its founding in the 1960s. Intel made microprocessors there. Hewlett Packard manufactured test instruments and minicomputers in Silicon Valley. Late in the following decade, Apple Computer got its start there. These companies all predated the information economy even though their products would later give rise to it as the 20th century drew to a close. As manufacturers, their cultures are heavily based on the Industrial Age paradigm of commuting in daily to a centralized work location: the plant and the office.

That cultural touchstone combines with a second powerful element that reinforces daily commute trips to Silicon Valley companies: Stanford University. Stanford and Silicon Valley’s proximity to it was the academic component of Silicon Valley’s synergy of the early years that brought together academics and cutting edge engineers. Stanford lent Silicon Valley an academic, campus culture that remains in place today. Silicon Valley companies honor that culture by regarding their headquarters as “campuses.” Apple and Google have built enormous mega campuses that offer the amenities of the most modern college campus such as gyms, food service, and laundry facilities (but without the dorms).

The raison d’etre of the campus is another c-word: collaboration. Silicon Valley’s campus culture is strongly tied to the belief that collaboration can only truly occur on the campus in real time, face to face — much like graduate fellows discussing the latest theories of quantum mechanics. That discussion might produce an important breakthrough.

In 2012, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer and Hewlett-Packard soon thereafter paid homage to the campus culture by ordering staff to report to the office daily and cease working from elsewhere. Enforcing the collaborative campus setting was the hoped for secret sauce to lift these companies fortunes during a challenging time in their histories. The campus culture combined with Silicon Valley’s Industrial Age roots also spawned the so-called “Google Bus” that transports staff back and forth daily between their homes in San Francisco and the corporate campus.

Even though the very ICT tools Silicon Valley brought to the world make collaboration possible anywhere and in real-time and non-real-time via voice, text and video, its Industrial Age roots and campus culture continue to define it today. But with it comes the huge and unnecessary cost of a time sucking commute and horrible traffic borne daily by Silicon Valley workers.