An army of 20,000 Googlers is expected to descend upon the capital of Silicon Valley when the search giant opens a new campus here. To see what happens when an explosively growing technology company moves into downtown, look no further than Seattle. Amazon’s dramatic expansion there has wrought a profound transformation on the city, and holds lessons for San Jose. Some points are beyond dispute: rent and real estate costs in Seattle have skyrocketed, as has homelessness, even among people with jobs. Each day, on average, one small, older home is demolished to be replaced by a larger one three times as expensive. Traffic has gone from awful to nightmarish. At the same time, unemployment has plunged below 4 percent, while average household income has spiked, fueling local businesses and creating opportunities for entrepreneurs. Amazon’s expansion — it has doubled its office space to 8 million square feet in the past three years as its workforce has ballooned to 40,000 employees — has not only filled the city with well-paid young techies, it has drawn other tech firms large and small to Seattle, adding more fire to the robust economy. But most of the problems afflicting Seattle in the age of Amazon are already major concerns in San Jose and Silicon Valley — the booming tech industry has sent the cost of living skyrocketing, snarled traffic and put people onto the streets. Would Google make these problems worse? Probably, say experts, but there are ways to lessen the misery and maximize the benefits — if Google and City Hall follow the right playbook.
Lessons learned from Amazon in Seattle run from a need to move quickly on housing, to the importance of locating offices and homes near transit, to the pressure the city must exert on Google to minimize problems it helps create, and to the integration of office workers into the local economy. “Companies should really think about downtown as the amenity and how they should help and encourage their employees to take advantage of it,” Scholes said. “You want to create opportunities to get your employees outside and into the downtown, and support the vibrancy on the street and the sidewalks, and create great spaces.”
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