Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Tech Companies Are Stepping into the Urban Fray. Here’s Why

June 16, 2014
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Tech Companies Are Stepping into the Urban Fray. Here’s Why
Tech companies are changing how they look at urban environments. Ken Ishii/Getty Images
Surprisingly, the soul-crushing (often traffic-clogged) commute isn't even the main reason.

It’s officially a mass exodus: Techies are decamping from “Nerdistan” and heading for the big city.

Thank Richard Florida, urban studies theorist and author of The Rise of the Creative Class, for this particular “–stan,” which he uses to describe the suburban office parks ringed with vast parking lots where tech companies have traditionally set up shop.

These isolated Nerdistans are declining in popularity, Florida and others have noticed, in favor of companies headquartered in urban centers — extra points if they’re within walking distance of public transit.

“Cities were always the cradles of innovation,” said Florida, as quoted in a recent Boston Globe article on the suburb-to-city trend. “Suburbanization was a deviation on the course of history.”

Take the Boston metro area, for example. Recent research from recruitment firm WinterWyman found that in 2013, 63 percent of available software jobs were in the urban core of Cambridge and Boston, and only 13 percent were located in suburbs Burlington, Lexington, and Waltham, where, back in the 1990s, the majority of such jobs were based when high downtown rents and space needs made the suburbs a no-brainer.

Why the flight from suburbia?

Now, software companies don’t need the square-footage that once held servers and other oversized equipment. And tech CEOs say they’re willing to pay cities’ higher rents when it means having a wider selection of top talent — including young urbanites eager to hold tight to their car-free commutes.

Other cities with high techie concentrations — San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York — are exhibiting similar patterns of urban migration.

Who knows, if Richard Florida is right, maybe the hours-long, smoggy suburban commute will soon be headed the way of the Commodore 64.

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