Facebook already has a social network, a virtual company, and digital payment system, and now it’s adding real estate developer to its list of functions. The company plans to build an entire town called Willow Park near its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, plans that could be approved as early as this summer.
The project, between the social networking giant and Oakland-based Signature Development Group, would include 1,729 apartments, a supermarket, a pharmacy, retail, as well as 1.25 million square feet of new Facebook office space housing roughly 7,000 employees.
Willow Park would also feature a number of architectural highlights, according to renderings, including an elevated park in the style of New York City’s Highline, as well as a modernist office building for employees with a large glass dome.
Facebook has promised the site will feature 120 units of senior housing, as well as 320 for affordable housing, though in Silicon Valley, even those with six-figure salaries struggle to afford astronomical real estate prices, meaning even below-market-rate housing is out of reach for most working people. The company first applied to redevelop the site, an office and industrial park where it already owns some property, in 2017, and a city review is ongoing and could conclude in the middle of this year.
“We’re deeply committed to being a good neighbour in Menlo Park,” John Tenanes, Facebook’s VP of real estate, told The Mercury News last year, after the company revised its plans to include more housing and less office space amid community concerns. “We listened to a wide range of feedback and the updated plan directly responds to community input.”
Others have argued that the company is reviving the midcentury practice of company towns, and that yet another high-tech development would further squeeze the housing supply, even if it includes some carve-outs for the community.
“They’re doing more than most companies, but most of what they do serves them,” Patti Fry, former chairwoman of the Menlo Park City Planning Commission told The New York Times. “They’re in business to be in business.”
Willow Park will border East Palo Alto, a largely working class Black and Latinx neighbourhood where incomes lag way behind the wealthy tech enclaves surrounding it. This new/old model only looks set to continue. In 2020, Google announced its own plans for a city-within-a-city in San Jose, which could house up to 25,000 employees.