Remember when Mark Penn, in one of his less successful efforts to slice and dice the electorate, came up with the swing voter demographic term “office-park dads”? It was in 2002, not that very long ago. But as a fascinating piece today in WaPo today by Dan Zak explains, the office park has gone through a calamitous decline in popularity in much of the country since then, and in recently cooled off but previously go-go areas like metro DC, office parks are virtual ghost towns.
The American ghost town has assumed different forms: the abandoned gold-rush towns out West, the silent Floridian subdivisions of underwater McMansions. Now, we have fiefdoms of mid-Atlantic office space, on streets named Research Boulevard and Professional Drive, thinning out in the sprawl. They are hobbled by changing work styles and government shrinkage. People telecommute. People move into the city or into faux-urban areas that are friendlier to pedestrians, that aren’t barnacled on a highway. Younger generations don’t want to be stranded in a “Dilbert” cartoon. They want cozy nooks and nap spaces, walkable commutes, the tastes and conveniences of the city.
Zak goes on to report that in Silicon Valley the big tech giants are in the process of reinventing their own less sterile and non-automobile-parking-dominated version of the office park in large integrated campuses. But it’s not, thank God, the same.
There’s something especially poignant about abandoned office parks, with their pretensions towards sci-fi modernity and their ambitious names. They look like something a future archeologist would puzzle over like we boggle at the sight of ziggurats. But who’s going to bother to tear them down? What would replace them? It’s very hard to say.