The Bay Area is known for its environmentally conscious mindset – that of its citizens, environmental policies and the kind of development the region attracts. Initiatives have developed at municipal levels, such as San Francisco’sban on plastic checkout bags in 2013 and San Jose’s sustainable city plan. Private companies have also taken similar initiatives, think Facebook’s campus with its 9-acre green roof and Salesforce East’s Platinum LEED status remind us that sustainability is here to stay. Along with environmentally-intelligent development and the regulations that govern it, the need for equitable water management practices at both public and private levels is a growing issue. Currently, the Bay Area’s approach to water management is steadily improving with the help of the region’s development standards and the increase in our collective environmental awareness.
I first started as a civil engineer during the 1980s. At that time, Fremont, California, located in the East Bay of California’s San Francisco Bay Area, was a sleepy suburban community in the backdrop of the larger region. The not-too-distant Silicon Valley was in the throes of a recession. The historical farming community was evolving with acres of land being developed into subdivisions and ancillary commercial strip center development. Large areas of pristine open space were under threat from encroaching suburbia. The City of Fremont government, actively dealing with development pressure and market forces, was also beginning to steer the City away from unplanned, market-driven development.
Can the San Francisco Bay Area handle the growth? The Bay Area region is one of the most in-demand places in the country to live, especially for professionals in the technology industry. After all, it’s the place where tech companies come to grow, and subsequently, the region attracts great talent. However, the increased demand has contributed to a housing shortage, making it unaffordable for many, and it’s caused other problems such as traffic congestion and long commute times. Also, environmental conditions are much harder to predict with a warming climate. From a civil engineering perspective, the growth can last if development is well-planned and sustainable.
Peter Akinosho, a civil engineering student at the University of Georgia, spoke about why he chose the profession: “[Civil engineers] do what we do so people don’t have to worry about their basic needs.” Paramount among these needs is health. We are building structures for tomorrow’s generations, who are more conscious about the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle, even at work. Especially in the realm of Bay Area green building, tech giants are building headquarters with green roofs equipped for walking meetings, and offer daylighting, yoga, and healthy food. To remain competitive for clients, we developers, architects, and engineers must work together to design and build developments that are not only sustainable but also promote the health of the people who use them.
The technology sector and Silicon Valley construction have always had a symbiotic relationship. The agreement between companies such as Google and Bay Area development has usually been good, for the most part.
Since the time of Steve Jobs in his garage working to develop the Apple computer, to the hardware revolution that gave the Valley its name, technology has attracted the best, and the brightest to this part of California, and construction usually followed.
The symbiosis between innovation and commercialization have set the West apart to enjoy the rapid increases in private nonresidential construction. This growth is in stark difference to the energy production renaissance of the past, which has slowed. Tech investment, on the other hand, is still growing as consumers buy new products and the U.S. economy has improved since 2008. According to Anirban Basu, the chief economist for the Associated Builders and Contractors, nonresidential construction rose 12.4 percent between September 2014 and September 2015. He predicts a 7.4 percent expansion in nonresidential construction this year.
In 1956, five townships came together to form Fremont, California. Sixty years later, the City is becoming more of an urban place than a suburb, especially with an additional new transit station and associated development. However, the City has lacked a central place, or downtown, to bring everyone together. In fact, the center of the City is walking distance from an existing local BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station, but the land has historically been underutilized, filled with large surface parking lots and underused retail shopping centers. However, after years of planning, the possibility of a Downtown Fremont CA is emerging.