How to Be Silicon Valley -- Part 2

More from Paul Graham: "Why Startups Condense in America"
So let's look at Silicon Valley the way you'd look at a product made by a competitor. What weaknesses could you exploit? How could you make something users would like better? The users in this case are those critical few thousand people you'd like to move to your silicon valley.

To start with, Silicon Valley is too far from San Francisco. Palo Alto, the original ground zero, is about thirty miles away, and the present center more like forty. So people who come to work in Silicon Valley face an unpleasant choice: either live in the boring sprawl of the valley proper, or live in San Francisco and endure an hour commute each way.

The best thing would be if the silicon valley were not merely closer to the interesting city, but interesting itself. And there is a lot of room for improvement here. Palo Alto is not so bad, but everything built since is the worst sort of strip development. You can measure how demoralizing it is by the number of people who will sacrifice two hours a day commuting rather than live there.

Another area in which you could easily surpass Silicon Valley is public transportation. There is a train running the length of it, and by American standards it's not bad. Which is to say that to Japanese or Europeans it would seem like something out of the third world.

The kind of people you want to attract to your silicon valley like to get around by train, bicyle, and on foot. So if you want to beat America, design a town that puts cars last. It will be a while before any American city can bring itself to do that.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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