When it opens later this month, Apple’s shiny new Norman Foster-designed headquarters in Cupertino, California will be more than just a spaceship-like orb nestled in 175 acres of trees. It will have enough space to park 11,000 cars—an area far bigger than the square footage of the actual building.
Apple’s parking infrastructure serves as the the opening anecdote of “Parkageddon,” an investigation by The Economist looking at why humans devote so much land to the storage of motionless vehicles:
For 14,000 workers, Apple is building almost 11,000 parking spaces. Many cars will be tucked under the main building, but most will cram into two enormous garages to the south. Tot up all the parking spaces and the lanes and ramps that will allow cars to reach them, and it is clear that Apple is allocating a vast area to stationary vehicles. In all, the new headquarters will contain 318,000 square metres of offices and laboratories. The car parks will occupy 325,000 square metres.
That’s almost 3.5 million square feet, or about 80 acres dedicated to parking.
Did I mention the building has been named Apple Park?
But before you go blaming the technology giant for paving over paradise, as The Economist quickly points out, it’s not really Apple’s fault:
Apple is building 11,000 parking spaces not because it wants to but because Cupertino, the suburban city where the new headquarters is located, demands it. Cupertino has a requirement for every building. A developer who wants to put up a block of flats, for example, must provide two parking spaces per apartment, one of which must be covered.
Ah, of course. Even the most forward-thinking new structures are subjected to backwards-looking parking requirements, often the most antiquated, outdated aspect of local zoning laws. An estimated 25,000 square miles of land nationwide are devoted to parking our vehicles, an area that’s roughly the size of West Virginia.
But Cupertino’s arcane parking minimums aren’t just taking up valuable space in the city (and at great cost to its biggest taxpayer, I might add). By prioritizing parking minimums, welcoming all those cars to Apple’s new headquarters will only exacerbate the region’s horrific traffic congestion. Plus, even though the building will run on renewable energy, the emissions generated by all those vehicles will greatly expand its carbon footprint.
Apple knows this, which is why the company funds an expansive transit system of private shuttles that ferries its employees from San Francisco and other cities around the region. The new building’s plan also includes an on-campus bike share system and parking for 2,000 bikes. Additionally, the company offers incentives to get employees to use shuttles, carpool, or bike, so by Apple’s own estimates, about 28 percent of its employees don’t drive to work. And still, the city is requiring way more parking spaces than Apple’s employees and visitors will ever need.
Should Apple have pushed back more? It’s interesting that the city demanded infrastructure funds from Apple to prepare the region for increased vehicular demand. Apple is paying $1.3 million to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and Caltrans to improve local roadways. You’d think that the same thinking would apply to solutions that might reduce the number of cars. What if that $1.3 million went towards public transit improvements to better connect the campus to Caltrain? What if the city required that, instead of offering free parking, Apple had to charge employees to park? What if Apple had—gasp—moved to a city with better transportation?
A hyper-efficient building and a forest of 9,000 trees is certainly better than what was on the site before. (It used to be an aging Hewlett-Packard building surrounded by a huge surface parking lot.) Still, the company’s promise of “transforming miles of asphalt sprawl into a haven of green space” is really only partially true. Apple’s actually making the city’s sprawl worse, and cleverly distracting everyone from the issue with a giant black-glass donut.