For years, one of the great debates that always stirred the pot around these parts was whether Seattle or the Eastside (Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond) contained the most vibrant tech scene.
It seemed like pretty equal battle at the turn of the last decade, but now the pendulum certainly has swung to the big city. And it is not just the rise of Amazon.com’s massive campus in the heart of Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, or the growing ranks of startups popping up in Pioneer Square or Capitol Hill. Or, for that matter, the host of Silicon Valley tech companies like Facebook and Splunk and Zynga that have chosen Seattle for their offices.
Many technology service providers, which once called the Eastside home, including Silicon Valley Bank, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Cascadia Capital and Cooley, have all left for downtown Seattle high rises.
You’ve got to be where the action is, and increasingly that action is now primarily in the cities.
Now, before I get railed on by my friends on the Eastside, this urban trend (reported on a few days ago in The Wall Street Journal) actually is playing out in Bellevue as well.
As the Eastside’s once sleepy bedroom community continues its transformation into a real city, tech companies are flocking to its downtown skyscrapers. Expedia moved from its corporate campus along I-90 to downtown Bellevue a few years ago, and Concur Technologies recently said it plans to leave its longtime home in Redmond for downtown Bellevue next year.
The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Florida digs into this new urbanization trend, discussing how it is playing out from San Francisco to New York to Seattle to Las Vegas (Via Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s remaking of that city).
Still, escaping sprawl is only part of the explanation. There are also the distinct lifestyle advantages of setting up shop in the hurly-burly of real urban districts. Compared with previous generations, today’s younger techies are less interested in owning cars and big houses. They prefer to live in central locations, where they can rent an apartment and use transit or walk or bike to work, and where there are plenty of nearby options for socializing during nonwork hours.
In Seattle, that’s playing out in South Lake Union, a neighborhood that’s been transformed in just a few years, with a slate of new restaurants and nearby apartments and condos. But it is more than just the lifestyle, with Florida noting that cities act like “giant petri dishes” where innovation can thrive based on the collision of new ideas that often take shape in a more collaborative open source manner.