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Gentrification and corporate shuttle buses

A couple of months ago I had coffee with an urban planner who had recently relocated from the Bay Area back to Toronto. One of the interesting things that came up during our conversation – that I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to before – was how corporate shuttle buses (from the likes of Apple, Google, Facebook and so on) could be impacting cities.

On the surface, they seem fairly benign. Most of the big tech companies are located outside of San Francisco, but young smart people today like living in cities. So let’s run shuttles buses that take people back and forth. Employees get to live the life they want and employers get broader access to human capital. It seems like a win-win.

But in reality, some argue that these shuttles buses reinforce a powerful trend already plaguing the region: The alienation of non-tech people. George Packer of the New Yorker called the buses “a vivid emblem of the tech boom’s stratifying effect in the Bay Area.”

What I wonder though is to what extent these buses are not just an emblem, but an actual driver of stratification and other negative outcomes. The first concern that comes to my mind is the possibility for this to lead to infrastructure disinvestment. Already there seems to be a philosophical divide around transit (see BART strike).

Wired just published an interesting set of maps that try and map “Silicon Valley’s gentrification problem through corporate shuttle routes.” They’re worth checking out. It’s also interesting to see how they collected the data; it was a fairly messy process.

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