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Apple’s Form and Function Meets Location Efficiency

with Louis Liss

When it comes to design, there’s no question that Apple knows how to impress.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs recently addressed the Cupertino, CA city council to pitch a new corporate campus to accommodate the company’s burgeoning workforce. The new facility will be a circular architectural wonder. It will triple green space, add needed office area, and produce its own energy. Critics have cited the new campus as a model for better architecture in Silicon Valley as well as a green marvel.

But just as important as how the building is built is where it is built. The importance of the location of major corporate headquarters is an important issue, as identified by Christopher Leinberger in this post on major downtown relocations of companies on the East Coast. And while Chris highlights UBS, it isn’t the only firm: Panasonic is moving to Newark to be closer to transit; and several examples in Chicago.

Fortunately, Apple never threatened to pick up and move to an exit ramp out on the suburban fringe. The proposed site is about a mile east of their current location and will raze existing buildings and consolidate parcels in an already-relatively dense neighborhood, as this satellite image shows. In fact, when it comes to housing density Cupertino ranks in the top quintile among the 1,100 other communities in California. Hard to believe, but it is denser than the cities of Sacramento and San Jose.

Steve Jobs says that many of his highly-skilled employees will look to live as close as possible to the campus, enabling a reasonable bike ride. Given the high cost of living in Cupertino, however, there will inevitably be employees that have to commute from farther away, especially low skilled workers that will service the site.

Because of its location, the site is served by Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) buses. In fact, according to our Missed Opportunity web tool, residents in the neighborhoods of Apple’s current and future campuses can reach 71 and 66 percent of jobs in the San Jose metro area respectively. This is much higher than the 58 percent average for other residents of the metro area.

To supplement the public transit service and reach labor pools in San Francisco and Santa Cruz, Apple will also continue to operate private shuttle buses. Indeed, many other high tech companies in the area offer similar services, notably Google. A StreetsblogSF post from 2009 and a report from the San Francisco Transportation Authority both note the growing impact that private transit has on the commuting services and culture in the Bay Area. In the Puget Sound region, Microsoft operates an extensive private service to help its employees commute to and from their Redmond campus.

While the approaches of all these companies are certainly different, they’re accepting the reality that more young professionals are choosing urban living. Car-dependent commuting looks to be a competitive disadvantage.