Edge City: Life on the New Frontier

New Stuff

An Edge City in Ethiopia
Of all places. But hey, Addis Abeba is growing fast, and sure enough, the greatest activity is in the Bole District, which includes Bole International Airport. Lots of new commercial high-rise construction north of the airport, along two major arterials, and in between. It also sports the largest (and quite beautiful) Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the country. read more

Shockingly Empty Chinese Edge Cities
Sixty Minutes tours millions of square feet and miles of high-end emptiness all over the country, saying this is a bubble that could take down the Chinese economy. read more

Surprising Study of Phoenix Area Edge Cities
In a slide show, Daniel J. Christen shares a study of the Phoenix area he started in grad school. Joel is not familiar with his numbers methodology. But if true, the most startling aspect is the growth of the Scottsdale Airport Edge City -- coming out of essentially nowhere when Joel published in 1991 -- to become the biggest Edge City in the entire region. Particularly interesting is its relatively great distance from downtown and the more established Edge Cities, coupled with its proximity to "nice" -- Scottsdale still prides itself on being a destination resort. It has fancy housing, fancy food, strict architectural and environmental review, good schools, outdoor recreation in mountain and desert preserves, paid for with relatively high tax rates. And oh yes, a busy airport devoted entirely to private aircraft, especially private jets. Joel had been scratching his head about what all that traffic on the 101 was about. This would explain a lot. read more

The Stuff Coming to Us in Ways That Transform Cities
We are in the middle of a freight revolution that is transforming the built environment. Instead of us needing to go to the stuff (traditional retail), the stuff is increasingly coming to us (Santa Claus now comes in a Big Brown truck). Now, South Korean commuters can shop the “shelves” of a convenience store billboard using their smartphone cameras, and the goods they purchase will be delivered to their homes within the day. Time to start figuring out how we are going to adaptively reuse a lot of bricks-and-mortar 7-Elevens. read more

Even The New Yorker Eventually Gets It
Nick Lemann in The New Yorker has a lovely 80,000-foot overview of the future of cities in which he gently puts to rest most of the weirdnesses endemic to many New Yorkers' ideas of right thinking. He deftly stitches together a lot of the current visions, kindly mentioning Joel's. And he lands in the right place, rooting the built environment -- no matter how transformative -- in what most people are looking for: "a neighborhood, a patch of ground, a measure of peace and security, a family, status, dignity." read more

Santa-Fe-ing Dispersed Concentration as the New Normal
Joel's "Santa Fe-ing Effect," in which the future of cities seems to be a technology-enabled drive toward dispersed, nicer and smaller places that are great at creating face-to-face contact, is noted by Witold Rybczynski in Slate. Rybczynski is Joel's favorite academic thinker about urbanity. This piece is adapted from his new book, "Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities." read more

The Future of Cities
The Financial Times writes about the future of cities, prominently including Joel's "Edge City 2.0" aka "The Santa-Fe-ing of the Planet." read more

Las Vegas as an Exemplar of the Santa-Fe-ing Phenom
The New Yorker has an excellent piece describing how, in the age of advanced communications and rapid global delivery of anything, cities can now rise anywhere people choose to congregate. It masquerades as a piece about how haute cuisine is possible in Las Vegas. (A plane lands there every three minutes. One chef talks about a fisherman in the Adriatic calling on his cell phone to show him a fish and ask him if he would like to buy it.) But really, the point of the piece is, as one chef put it, that "Las Vegas is a pilot project to see if man can live on the moon." read more

Top Secret Edge Cities I -- The Series
We've long known that high-security businesses warp the statistics describing Edge Cities. No matter how sophisticated the data source you go to, you find anomalies in which the numbers just wildly do not match the office buildings, retail locations and expensive homes you can plainly see. You know you're in this territory when the GPS in your car starts giving you screwy results -- because it's being jammed. Now Joel's former Washington Post colleagues Dana Priest and William H. Arkin and a platoon of their associates have done an astounding job of lifting the veil. In their two-year investigation, "Top Secret America" -- sure to win a Pulitzer -- they've put together an authoritative data base of government and private job locations where 854,000 people with high-level clearances work. (That's one and a half times the population of the District of Columbia.) They call it "an alternative geography" of the United States, and they're right. The home page for the sprawling report is here. read more

Top Secret Edge Cities II -- Some Numbers
Howard County, Md., has the largest secret Edge City in the United States and the numbers are eye-popping. The headquarters of the National Security Agency -- the communications intercept spooks -- is 6.3 million square feet - about the size of the Pentagon - and is surrounded by 112 acres of parking. It's on its way to 14 million square feet. (Downtown Memphis is 5 million square feet.) And that doesn't count the miles and miles of super-secure commercial office buildings housing the corporations in the NSA orbit. Finally we get more than rumors about why this is one of the richest counties in the U.S. We're talking a $20 billion payroll much of which doesn't show up in other data. In fact, most of the wealthiest counties in America turn out to have Top Secret Edge Cities. read more

Top Secret Edge Cities III -- The Map
Check out the interactive U.S. map of where the Top Secret Edge Cities are. Zoom around. These are the Edge Cities where "the extrovert is the one looking at somebody else's shoes." read more

Santa Fe-ing of the World, Part One
NewGeography published a two-part piece by Joel on his latest major update of Edge City, about how information technology is reshaping cities as thoroughly as did the automobile, and faster. This is Part One. read more

Santa Fe-ing of the World, Part Two
This is part two of the NewGeography piece, in which Joel discusses how information technology is also reshaping the non-affluent parts of the globe. read more

An Ocean in a Mall in the Desert
Joel has long predicted that as online sales grew, the malls that survived would be those that morphed into Las-Vegas-like entertainment centers, their attractions putting a premium on physical presence. This one, Arizona Mills mall in Tempe, Arizona, is pretty over the top. It's built an ocean with 5,000 sea creatures, including sharks, that you can walk around in, in glass tubes. Check out the pictures. read more

Edge City Contributing to Drop in Male Employment?
Mother Jones magazine asks the question. read more

Art in a Dying Mall
You know an idea has gone mainstream when Parade magazine gets to it. Herewith an article on how the Crestwood Court mall in the St. Louis area is handing space over to artists to generate traffic. read more

The Future of Real Estate 2020 and Beyond
Thought-provoking scenario work that drills down into important questions like -- what happens if real estate is no longer a go-go investment class? What if it's just a building? read more

Sweat Sniffers Replace Physical Buildings
More on how the networked computer is transforming the built environment faster and more thoroughly than did the automobile. Advanced ankle bracelets that sniff your sweat for alcohol consumption cost only $12 a day and allow states to close jails. read more

Scenarios for the Future of Infrastructure
All this talk about "shovel-ready" projects ignores the scenarios that show that the genetic, robotic, information and nano technologies are rapidly making many concrete-and steel projects as obsolete as land line telephones. Joel goes through the possibilities in this piece in the Wilson Quarterly. read more

Hank Stuever on Why He Loves Frisco
"I’m a weirdo about Frisco. To me it is the fullest expression of who we became in the 21st century, for good and bad, and what Americans most deeply value, counter to every aesthetic and environmental criticism of such places." read more

Enormous Plan Unveiled to Remake Tysons Corner
As we said back in the day: "If Edge City were a forest, then at maturity it might turn out to be quite splendid, in triple canopy. But who is to know if we are seeing only the first, scraggly growth? Who knows what these things look like when they grow up? These critters are likely only in their nymphal, if not larval, forms. We've probably never seen an adult one." read more

A New Defense Edge City
Around an Air Force Base in Dayton. Not the first and probably not the last, alas. Remember the Pentagon building was an Edge City archetype. read more

Recession? Not in Seattle Edge Cities
In the land of Microsoft, the boom goes on with more tower cranes than any place west of the Mississippi. It is centered not on the old downtown of the West Side, but on Bellevue, on the East Side. read more

More Santa-Fe-ing Evidence
A client for whom Joel recently constructed a Santa-Fe-ing scenario sent this New York Times piece in. More proof that the networked computer is transforming the landscape as much as did the automobile. Families with jobs that are "location neutral" are causing the rise of newly urbane, village-like agglomerations some of which are far beyond the traditional definition of urban. read more

The Coasts Are Full
Michael Barone, one of the nation's smartest analysts of history and demographics and how it shapes our politics, reports that our ridiculously high-priced coastal metropoli are losing their edge. The growth is in the inland metros that offer better value. read more

Where Will Boomer Retirees Go?
Are they "ruppies" -- retired urban professionals -- returning to the old downtowns? Not if they value safety, as older people overwhelmingly do. Instead, they either cash in their real estate chips and move farther out, or age in place in "NORCs" -- naturally occuring retirement communitites. read more

The New Center of Power and Money
New statistics show that the Edge Cities of Fairfax County, Virginia, have seen such spectacular growth in high-quality, private-enterprise, white-collar jobs that the Economic Development Authority president has taken to saying "we are the downtown and Washington is our suburb." read more

Vast Overhaul Of Tysons Underway
As we were saying: "If Edge City were a forest, then at maturity it might turn out to be quite splendid, in triple canopy. But who is to know if we are seeing only the first, scraggly growth? ... Who knows what these things look like when they grow up? These critters are likely only in their nymphal, of not larval, forms. We've probably never seen an adult one." (Page 9.) read more

Imperial Economy
Time magazine quotes Joel about Northern Virginia: "If you can force the rest of the country to send you money or go to jail, it does wonders for your economy." read more

The Santa-Fe-ing of the Rockies
New West picks up on the Santa-Fe-ing phenomenon Joel describes. read more

The Future of Sweden's Edge Cities
For those of you who speak Swedish, here's an interview with Joel in Sweden's largest newspaper. read more

Building a Vast Airport Edge City
Airports have always been major shapers of edge cities. In fact, Joel has long wondered when somebody was going to extend some airport's people movers right out into the surrounding commercial real estate. Now Thailand has decided to go all the way and build the edge city and the airport simultaneously. Gulp. read more

Boomer Retirement Communes
Evidence to support the premise that Boomers will continue to disrupt every institution they ever hit, including retirement. Sell your stock in Leisure World. Aging boomers are showing renewed interest in communes, the New York Times reports. Well, at least they will have learned not to share the refrigerator. read more

A British View of Jim Kunstler's 'The Long Emergency'
Hell scenarios can be valuable innoculants. Look at how "1984" helped us dodge many of the horrors Orwell foresaw. When, however, a book predicts that the ignoramuses who ignored its author in the past soon will be smitten by cosmic forces, the claimed arrangement of moon and stars can seem remarkably convenient. read more

A Soulman's Edge City Twilight
After the drugs and the diamonds, the rabble-rousing and the 1960s hit song "Mustang Sally," Wilson Pickett simply wanted what many people want: a quiet slice of suburbia, soaring ceilings and a nearby airport. This piece offers reasons for guarded optimism about the soul of Edge City on four or five different levels. read more

Los Angeles, America's Most Dense City
Los Angeles has become the most densely populated place in the United States, according to Census. Its density is 25 percent higher than that of New York, twice that of Washington and four times that of Atlanta, as measured by residents per square mile of urban land. Density is the rule, not an exception, in the wide-open spaces of the West. Salt Lake City is more tightly packed than Philadelphia. So is Las Vegas in comparison with Chicago, and Denver compared with Detroit. read more


Related Articles by Joel

How Small Dispersed Communities Are Beating Big Metros
More evidence that information technology is tranforming urban areas even faster than the automobile did. (Charts on second page may take a few seconds to load.) read more

Out of the Big Box Thinking
People who look out at the vast prairies of our big box stores and don't see future cathedrals, museums, and neighborhoods have no sense of history. Or imagination. Joel explains in The Washington Post. read more

Big Box Brainstorms
Joel puts together a small team of artists, architects, engineers and developers to come up with credible re-uses of our most common and underrated major structures -- big boxes. The result is everything from grow facilities to artists communities. read more

The Future of Infrastructure
This article by Joel in the Wilson Quarterly lays out the scenarios for the future of infrastructure in the United States. What happens if it is less about concrete and steel and more about biology and bandwidth? Could happen, and fast. read more

Amazing Santa-Fe-ing Data
The fastest appreciating metropolitian areas by far are those that technology has allowed to become urbane without being particularly urban, supporting the Santa-Fe-ing of America hypothesis. With commentary by Joel. read more

The Santa-Fe-ing of the Planet
Version 3.0 of Joel's thinking about how cities are being transformed. How the Web is changing the physical layout of urbanity. A chapter in an upcoming international compilation. read more

Urbane Without the Urban
How the Net is transforming cities faster and more profoundly than did the automobile. Joel's ground-breaking Washington Post piece on how Edge Cities are being challenged. He sees the future as dispersion into places that are not now remotely urban -- *and* concentration into villages. Think Monticello with broadband. read more

Why New Orleans Is Not Going to Be Rebuilt
The much reprinted and commented upon article published days after Katrina, sorrowfully identifying why the drivers for reconstruction do not seem to exist. read more

An On-Line Chat with Joel About the Future of NOLA
Following the reaction to Joel's prophetic Washington Post Outlook article, his lively on-line chat took place Monday, Sept. 12, 2005. read more

What It's About

Joel Garreau is the foremost chronicler of the biggest revolution in 150 years in how humans build the cities that are the cornerstones, capstones and, sometimes, millstones of their civilizations -- the places where most of our new wealth is being created.

This shift toward what Garreau christened "Edge Cities" – Information Age 21st-century nodes where the majority of Americans now live, work, play, pray, socialize, shop, grow up and grow old – shows what people genuinely value.

Garreau's work has been acclaimed by marketers, entrepreneurs and social analysts. He pioneered the Edge City Boundaries, which demonstrate there are now 171 new urban cores in the U.S. outside the old downtowns. These Edge Cities – such as Silicon Valley, Calif., The Route 128 Technology Corridor in Massachusetts, Tysons Corner, Va., Schaumburg, Ill., and Irvine, Calif. – are home to the headquarters of such world shapers as Microsoft, Motorola, McDonalds and The Greatest Show on Earth, The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Some of these Edge Cities are now larger than downtown Seattle or Minneapolis. They have become the places around which the majority of all Americans now live, work and vote. Edge Cities are not simply American creations. They have sprung up in urban areas as diverse as London, Paris, Toronto, Seoul, Peking and Jakarta. They are the great drivers of wealth and jobs, worldwide.

For his work on Edge City, Garreau was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize three times. He has been much in demand from all groups with a stake in these new places: Marketers of consumer products and political professionals, financiers (e.g. Prudential, CB Commercial, J.P. Morgan, pension funds and Japanese investors); stakeholders in particular Edge Cities (e.g. the Buckhead Coalition, Oregon Metro); and future-oriented professionals (e.g. the American Institute of Architects, Brown University, Michigan State University). Joel has appeared on over one thousand television and radio programs, including "Good Morning America," "Today," "The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather," "the NBC Nightly News," "ABC World News With Peter Jennings," National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," Cable News Network, The Jesse Jackson Show and The Larry King Show.

Joel Garreau is a senior writer for The Washington Post in Washington DC, president of his company, The Garreau Group, and a member of the scenario-planning consortium Global Business Network. He writes and consults from his Virginia home, which he shares with his wife and two daughters.


Introduction: Pioneers, Frontiers, and the Twenty-first Century
The controversial assumption undergirding this book is that Americans basically are pretty smart cookies who generally know what they're doing.

Lord knows, we have sorely tested that premise over the last four centuries. But it is further assumed that this good sense is especially evident when Americans cussedly march off in precisely the opposite directions from those toward which our elders and betters have been aiming us. At such times of apparently rampant perversity, this thinking goes, the correct response is not to throw up one's hands and decry Americans as fools. It is to echo Gandhi when he said, "There go my people; I must rush to catch up with them, for I am their leader." read more

Chapter 1: The Search for the Future Inside Ourselves – Life on the New Frontier
"But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory." —Huckleberry Finn, at the close of Mark Twain's novel, 1885 read more

Chapter 2: New Jersey – Tomorrowland
"For these are not as they might seem to be, the ruins of our civilization, but are the temporary encampments and outposts of the civilization that we—you and I—shall build." —John Cheever, 1978 read more

Chapter 3: Boston – Edge City Limits
"Form ever follows function." —Louis Sullivan, 1886 read more

Chapter 4: Detroit – The Automobile, Individualism, and Time
"Americans are in the habit of never walking if they can ride." —Louis Philippe, Duc d'Orleans, 1798 read more

Chapter 5: Atlanta – The Color of Money
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963 read more

Chapter 6: Phoenix – Shadow Government
"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want . . . and deserve to get it, good and bad." —H. L. Mencken read more

Chapter 7: Texas – Civilization
What happened to you living in England—what exactly did you see?
"I saw how much more in tune I am with a forceful society like our own, fueled by immigration, where the ambition is naked and the animus is undisguised and the energy is relentless and expended openly, without embarrassment or apology. I'm speaking of intellectual and literary intensity no less than the intensity behind all the American trash, the intensity that's generated by the American historical drama of movement and mas-sive displacement, of class overspreading class, region overtaking region, minority encroaching on minority, and the media cannibalizing the works. Try to imagine England inviting, on the scale that the U.S. does, the cultural and political clash." —Philip Roth, 1988 read more

Chapter 8: Southern California – Community
"Man is returning to the descendants of the wandering tribe--the adventurers, I hope." —Frank Lloyd Wright, 1958 read more

Chapter 9: The San Francisco Bay Area – Soul
"Until it has had a poet, a place is not a place." —Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety read more

Chapter 10: Washington – The Land
"The past is never dead. It's not even past." —William Faulkner read more

Chapter 11: The List – Edge Cities Coast to Coast
This is a select compilation of Edge Cities in North America.

Although this is one of the more thorough such lists at this writing (1991), the nature of the beast doubtless makes it incomplete. Edge Cities are a function of growth; they change. In a time and place of rapid expansion, as in the Washington region of the late 1980s, the number of Edge Cities swelled from thirteen to sixteen in two years. By the same token, while the area around Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport does not qualify as a mature Edge City in the early 1990s, that is probably not a permanent condition. read more

Chapter 12: The Words – Glossary of a New Frontier
The builders of Edge City—the developers and their cohorts—are the biggest gossips since federal prosecutors, and for the same reason: they are constantly trying to figure out what makes human beings tick. As professional gossips, they have evolved their own code. It includes: read more

Chapter 13: The Laws – How We Live
The North Star of moral certitudes, or at least prayerful assumptions, for developers is that human nature, and hence the marketplace, is rational. Hence, predictable. Therefore, they believe, all they have to do is figure out what the rules of human behavior are, and they will be rewarded greatly. There are two things they find most perplexing: read more

Acknowledgments
Any large-scale look at America ends up involving a legion of co-conspirators, I've discovered. Hundreds of people all over the country contributed interviews, information, candid advice, incisive readings, and lasting companionship to this effort. It quite simply could not have been done without them. I regret that I cannot either thank each of them here or cite them all adequately in the text. Any errors of fact, emphasis, or interpretation in this volume are entirely my own. However: read more

Suggested Reading
Edge City draws on the efforts of many thoughtful people. It is not possible to list all their works. So this, instead, is a cull of items that I think the general reader may find useful, enjoyable, and even startling. Many of these, in turn, have bibliographies and notes that lead off in yet more directions.

This is a personal list—hardly an attempt at a complete one. Nor is it a list of prime sources. Many of those were interviews, several were computer runs, and more than a few were too boring to inflict casually on other human beings. Readers with specific questions about resources and research opportunities are welcome to contact the author in care of The Edge City Group, Broad Run, VA 22014-9501. read more

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