Tech startups helped turn a handful of metro areas into megastars. Now they’re tearing those cities apart.
In the 1980s, I was part of a team doing research into the geography of the high-tech industry. We couldn’t find a single significant high-tech company in an urban neighborhood. Instead, they were all out in the suburbs—not just Intel and Apple in Silicon Valley, or Microsoft in the Seattle suburbs, but the Route 128 beltway outside Boston, and the corporate campuses of North Carolina’s Research Triangle.
Now everything’s changed. In 2016, the San Francisco metro area was the top location for venture capital investment in the country, hauling in $23.4 billion—more than triple the VC investment in Silicon Valley proper. New York had virtually zero VC-backed startups in the 1980s, but last year it took in $7.6 billion, eclipsing Silicon Valley as well. Boston and Cambridge were close, with $6 billion. Los Angeles drew $5.5 billion. The likes of Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook continue to maintain suburban campuses, but more than half of venture-capital-financed startups are now in dense urban neighborhoods. Amazon’s headquarters are in downtown Seattle, and Google has now taken over the old Port Authority building in Manhattan.