Silicon Valley, California
OMA & OLIN
Health and environmental stewardship
Residential real estate presents complex challenges for developers in Silicon Valley. The region’s growing wealth disparities and the costs of construction make it difficult to provide affordable, high-quality, and healthy housing for underserved communities, and urban regeneration is fraught with tensions over gentrification. In the heart of Silicon Valley, a developer has assembled a 50-acre site in an area that suffers from overcrowding; lack of public amenities, transportation, and green spaces; and environmental degradation from highways and industry. The scale of the property allows for meaningful transformation of the built environment, to directly benefit the existing community: 6,000 residents in under 3,000 units, the large majority of which are rent-controlled. The international master planners OMA & OLIN appointed WOWA to determine what mix of uses and development approach will best serve the community and ensure the investment’s economic viability.
WOWA supported the master planning strategy, synthesizing the context of Silicon Valley to identify the site’s potential and key issues for the community, and outlining a development framework that unites urban context and design, phasing of work, and community health. Increased parkland and walking routes will extend green connectors, strengthen links with other neighborhoods, and act catalysts for community health. And barriers such as multi-lane highways and waterways, which once isolated the area, will be bridged and integrated into a landscape that provides essential ecosystem services and amenities. One of our central recommendations was that the interconnection of human health with the built and natural environments should be a touchstone for strategic decision-making. We brought the World Health Organization’s guidelines into dialogue with municipal and regional policies to establish standards and apply them in a commercial development context.
WOWA’s analysis informed a long-term strategy for investing in the well-being, connectivity, and resilience of this Silicon Valley community. It strikes a balance between positive change and continuity, taking an incremental approach and building local trust. Through our focus on health, we demonstrated how developers can learn from public-sector expertise to enhance the financial value of their assets. A mix of neighborhood retail, office space, and a new hotel in addition to improved and reconfigured housing will add residential units, underpin the community’s economic vibrancy, and ensure the investment’s profitability. Our analysis aligned the interests of the urban design team, developer, and community, showing how additional high-value uses can finance, sustain, and enhance affordable neighborhoods, while increased housing density frees up square footage for parks, and environmentally activated landscape design reduces risks to people and property from flooding and pollution.