Apple City and other company towns

Apple City was an idea for a walkable urban center in the heart of Cupertino, CA – the city that houses Apple’s headquarters. It was designed after Steve Jobs proposed his own Apple City in 2011, but Jobs’ idea centered around a huge building designed to house 12,000 employees. Critics compared it to the Pentagon, and many people decried it as furthering the suburban sprawl problem.

So in response to Jobs’ idea, architect Hillel Schocken proposed to Jobs himself via email the idea of an urban center that focused on the individual. He wrote:

It is odd because even in the USA people are beginning to realize the ills of suburbia and urban sprawl, both concepts belonging to the middle of the last Century. A project the size of yours could mark the beginning of a new era in American urbanism, an era that puts human beings before the car, pedestrians before drivers. It could invest in creating a lively public realm, in the shape of streets rather than roads, where the people of Cupertino, including Apple employees, could meet, connect, do business and interact for their mutual benefit. Instead, your project replaces parking lot placelessness with ‘green’ placelessness.

I personally think this idea is leaps and bounds above Jobs’ idea for Apple City, seen here. His Apple City just seems so disconnected, and I just wouldn’t like to work in an eerie, spaceship-like structure like that. Jobs never replied to Schocken’s email, and he died just a few months later.

Even though Jobs never approved it, Schocken and his students decided to design Apple City anyway. His city was dense with stores, museums, and libraries, and it boasted the ability to easily travel through the city by foot.

The idea of a company town got me thinking, and I was reminded of Hershey, Pennsylvania. The city was built in the early 20th century in order to integrate community and employment, as the Hershey factory, completed in 1905, was located in the area. The town is similar to Schocken’s proposed Apple City – Hershey had an amusement park, trolleys and trains, a community center, a large hotel, and a stadium all before 1910. Even though the town essentially exists now for tourism purposes, the idea when it was built was that employees would not have to break their backs to make it to work every day, a stunning insight for the era, as sprawl and suburbs were on the rise at the time.

Orlando, Florida is in a similar position as Hershey. Orlando’s economy is boosted by the fact that it is essentially Disney’s company town, with DisneyWorld being just a few miles away. However, Orlando is a bit different than Apple City or Hershey. Orlando was an established town long before Disney came around, whereas Hershey was built specifically to house employees of the Hershey company, as Apple City would do similarly.

It is undeniable that Disney makes up a huge part of the Orlando area. This blogger points out that you can hardly go anywhere without feeling Disney’s presence. He makes another interesting point – if Disney were to fail, what would happen to Orlando?

We’ve seen what has happened to industry-reliant cities like Detroit when their industries fail. It’s not difficult to imagine what would happen if the Hershey company went under – the city of Hershey, PA would likely experience some harsh times, as nearly all of their tourism relies on the company. It’s not so much about housing employees anymore, but more about keeping the city afloat. The company does not rely on the city as was probably the intent in Hershey in 1905, but rather the city relies on the company. If something drastic were to happen to the Disney company, it is sure that Orlando would face serious hardship, even though the city came well before Disney did.

And Apple? Luckily there is not a lack of tech companies in the area, so if something happened to Apple and they went bankrupt, surely somebody else would pick up the tab. In fact, Jobs bought the site of his enormous Apple building from Hewlett-Packard. Regardless, a building of that size would have to be insured by some staying power – it would be a shame to see that building abandoned when it is likely so finely-tuned to Apple’s specifications.

All info and images via Co.EXIST, brandchannel, and Wikipedia. 


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