With Willow Village, Facebook moves from digital communities to real ones

Over the past few years, Facebook has created a digital community of more than two billion people. Now the tech giant has set its sights on the real world and begun work on creating a community known as Willow Village. The town will include housing, retail outlets, parks, and more. Whether or not people will want to live in “Zucktown,” as critics have named it, is far from a sure thing.

Indeed, the most likely residents would be Facebook employees, who already receive a bonus if they live close enough to the office. Facebook has also promised that 225 of the 1,500 proposed apartments will be offered at lower than market rates, widening their appeal.

Facebook is far from the only tech company considering this move, and these new company towns could have major implications for the tech industry. Disruption is one of the driving factors of Silicon Valley. Employees who do not like who they are working for — or those who have an idea they think would do well for a competitor — can find a new job fairly easily. What’s not so easily found in the area is affordable housing, and if Facebook, Google, or Twitter owns your house, then you may be less likely to jump ship. This does have the potential to lead to stagnation in an industry that pride itself on new ideas.

It isn’t just tech industry workers that will be impacted by this. Silicon Valley is home to more roughly 1.2 million people who work as teachers, clerks, and in other non-tech jobs. Many of them have trouble finding affordable housing in the Silicon Valley and the wider Bay Area. These people might find Willow Village or similar places a tempting proposition when compared to the crowded apartments they’d otherwise be resigned to.

“Corporations are paying for things that the city or county and state used to pay for,” Cecilia Taylor of Belle Haven Action told the New York Times. “They have a lot of money. A lot of money. More than the city does. And a lot more power.”

Corporate towns are nothing new in American history, with Hershey, Pennsylvania and Celebration, Florida, being prominent examples. While Milton Hershey offered employees perks for living in the community that sprung up around his chocolate factory, others were less benign and factor heavily into the labor movement of the early 20th century. Willow Village will likely be a vast improvement over the corporate towns of the past, but it remains to be seen rather anyone will want to live there, especially considering the recent privacy concerns leveled against the company.

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