Facebook is branching out into a new field: real estate development.
The internet behemoth has plans to begin construction on a village near its Menlo Park headquarters as early as next year, but the firm is scoffing at claims that they’re creating their own city.
Willow Village, which will span 1.6 million square feet on the site of an industrial warehouse complex, will be smaller than most cities and will not be incorporated, but it will feature a grocery, pharmacy, cafés, a 193-room hotel, and a “town square.” There will be 1.25 million square feet of new Facebook office space and 1,729 residences around the property.
A century ago, this kind of endeavor would have been referred to as a “company town” or a community in which all shops and housing are controlled by one business, which also acts as the primary employment.
Those mid-century corporate towns became an emblem of American capitalism’s expansion. Many “utopian” communities are seen as exploitative and dictatorial, with inhabitants’ life at the whim of the company.
After their popularity waned and the businesses that created them went bankrupt, many of them became little more than ghost towns.
Facebook likes the terms “village, complex, and neighborhood extension” to describe their project.
After Menlo Park city authorities fought back against Facebook’s intentions to make housing a priority during the public comment process last year, the company modified its plans.
The most recent footprint has decreased business space while increasing housing, resulting in more affordable and senior housing. 320 units will now be affordable houses, compared to 225 in the original proposal.
The town would be bordered by East Palo Alto, a mostly Latino city with a median family income of $68,000, a per capita income of $27,500, and a 13.5 percent poverty rate.
Although the precise rental pricing of those affordable apartments was not revealed, a spokeswoman for Willow Village assured reporters that they “will meet or exceed the city of Menlo Park’s affordable housing policies.”
This year, Facebook isn’t the only digital firm to start constructing mini-cities. Google has received permission to build “Downtown West,” an 80-acre city inside a city in San Jose’s downtown area.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is purchasing land in the isolated bayside hamlet of Boca Chica on the Rio Grande, causing anger and accusations of intimidation from some longstanding inhabitants.