O’Mara’s launching point is a question: why was Silicon Valley successful while other attempts to replicate its success have failed? She uses three intense case studies to examine the causes and factors that play into its success. Using Stanford University/Palo Alto, the University of Pennsylvania/Philadelphia, and Georgia Tech/Atlanta, she seeks to understand how these institutions succeeded or failed in their attempts to become “cities of knowledge.” What defines a city of knowledge includes a physical community, anchored by a research institution that can capitalize on relationships between the university (and its federal research grants) and innovative companies transforming their theoretical research into applied technologies. O’Mara finds that the relationships between the local economy, landscape, and demographics were primed to serve government-funded university research initiatives.

Each case study carefully examines the goals of university administrators, local governments, businesses, and high tech workers. The baseline case of Stanford (private and suburban) succeeds with its strengths in physics and engineering, entrepreneurial flexibility, abundant land for development, and racial homogeneity in the surrounding communities. These advantages are not shared in her other case studies of Penn and Georgia Tech; Penn faced resistance to urban renewal, Georgia Tech was constrained by the state higher education system, and both Penn and Georgia Tech faced resistance from African American neighbors or confronted the preference of city elites to develop for white suburbs.

The success of Silicon Valley shows how a combination of Cold War military research dollars, land-planning models, and access to property allowed cities of knowledge to prosper. By reconsidering the research park and postwar American suburbanization, O’Mara finds these cities are not simply cases of unrestricted suburban sprawl. Cities of knowledge brought together highly educated researchers and entrepreneurs who took advantage of new partnerships between universities and businesses. The research university forms the core of her narrative. These institutions served as leaders in the development of high-tech communities. Urban historians have examined the factor of metropolitan dispersal as part of Cold War planning, and O’Mara shows how defense procurements favored companies with suburban locations. Her work ties in with urban historians who have examined the story of central city decline, especially Lizabeth Cohen, Thomas Sugrue, Robert Self, and Becky Nicolaides.

O’Mara doesn’t examine Harvard University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both of which also benefited from Cold War defense imperatives due to ties to the Manhattan Project’s co-chairs, Harvard President James B. Conant and MIT Vice President Vannevar Bush. O’Mara could have discussed the unreachable standards of Boston’s Route 128 technology corridor, but rather she is interested in how Stanford became the gold standard for other institutions. Her work also begs for more research: how does Stanford’s private, suburban success stack up against a public, suburban university? Can a flagship state university sustain new tech capitals? Can high tech companies generate development of a city of knowledge without a major research university?1 Are biomedical complexes and health industries part of the “cities of knowledge”?

My main interest is in her first three chapters. Chapter 1 examines the Cold War politics, Chapter 2 looks at multiversities, cities, and suburbs, and Chapter 3 looks at Stanford University.


Cities of knowledge are “engines of scientific production, filled with high-tech industries, homes for scientific workers and their families, with research universities at their heart.” Cities of knowledge “made the metropolitan areas in which they were located more economically successful during the twentieth century, and they promise to continue to do so in the twenty-first.” (p. 1)

p. 1: Cities of knowledge are “the ultimate post-industrial city.”

To understand why high technology thrives in different regions, O’Mara suggests looking at the evolution spatially and historically. The cities are:

consciously planned communities that were physical manifestations of a particular political and cultural moment in history, and shaped by the relationship between the state and civil society in late twentieth-century America. The city of knowledge was a creation of the Cold War, whose policies and spending priorities transformed universities, created vibrant new scientific industries, and turned the research scientist into a space-age celebrity. And it was a product of the suburban age, when economic realignments, demographic changes, and public subsidiaries transformed patterns of living, working, and economic opportunity. (pp. 1-2)

Research universities were central to the process, serving as urban planner, economic development leader, and political actor. The government-university relationship not only transformed the internal – the internal workings and research priorities of universities – but transformed the external – land management and economic development in the communities where institutions were located. (p. 2)

p. 2: “intersections of policy and place, and the role of universities within this process”

High technology location choices also considered where workers wanted to live. Because of this, high tech clusters in the “most affluent, and economically homogenous, places in the country.” (pp. 2-4). The connection to wealth and high technology “explain the infrequent exceptions to the suburban trend at the end of the twentieth century, which occurred after cities began to regain some of the wealth and middle-class residents they had lost to the suburbs decades earlier.” (p. 4)

O’Mara is placing the history of high technology into a “larger history of postwar urban and industrial change, [and] we can trace the institutional and political origins of these fundamental – and inherently contradictory – geographic and socioeconomic characteristics and understand why they have been so economically important.” High tech growth was “a process of city building.” (p. 4)

O’Mara draws these conclusions:

  1. Cities of knowledge are products of Cold War spending patterns. (p. 3)
  2. Cities of knowledge are the product of university-centered economic development policies. (p. 6)
  3. Cities of knowledge are the product of local action. (p. 7)

Stanford set the model for university-driven high-tech development, although its success occurred within a set of extraordinary circumstances. Stanford, “blessed with a massive endowment of undeveloped and economically desirable land, entrepreneurial administrators, and location near key defense facilities and amid one of the nation’s more rapidly growing affluent suburban areas, Stanford built a research park adjacent to its campus that became, in the eyes of many government officials and university administrators, the gold standard.” (p. 8)

p. 9: “The choice of postwar policy makers to implement science policy through a loose and decentralized network of academic and industrial partners and interest groups, rather than through consolidated state power, was consistent with other aspects of U.S. welfare-state formation and economic policy – and a marked contrast to other industrialized nations.”

p. 10: The city of knowledge was a “quintessentially American form, and is one that developed because of – not in spite of – the federalized and privatized American political system.”

p. 10: The Cold War required a strong state, but American political culture demanded a weak one. The solution was to “empower universities and scientific industries to become agents and partners with the federal government.”

p. 11: “The case of the city of knowledge attests to how much the federal government did provide, and how these subsidies were disguised to such a degree that they often went unrecognized by their beneficiaries. These ‘strong-state-as-weak-state’ policy frameworks – from basic research policy to economic development incentives to tax and infrastructure subsidies – allowed local actors to shape policy and tailor public funds to meet their own ends.”

Quotes Daniel Bell, p. 12: “If the dominant figure of the past hundred years have been the entrepreneur, the businessman, and the industrial executive, the ‘new men’ are the scientists, the mathematicians, the economists, and the engineers of the new intellectual technology.”

p. 13: “The complex interactions between public and private created frameworks and incentives for high-technology production that moved the most rapidly growing sectors of the economy to the low-density, affluent fringe of the metropolis and redefined the American city for a post-industrial Information Age.”

Chapter 1

Cities of knowledge came to be because of Cold War opportunities presented to research universities, and cities of knowledge came to be located where they were because of Cold War strategic concerns intersecting with economic concerns, how power and money were distributed institutionally and geographically, and how the Cold War defense complex grew. (17)

Cold War R&D encompassed a wide array of government activity. The majority of the work was “applied” research “conducted for the purposes of developing technology with specific, relatively short-term military or commercial uses. The remainder was ‘basic’ research: scientific inquiry conducted for the sake of greater scientific understanding.” (18)

The Cold War R&D focus was a significant shift in university-government relations. During the 1920s and 1930s universities tended to be suspicious of federal government involvement and operated on the belief that “the less a scholarly project was influenced by nonacademic interests, the higher the quality of the scholarship.” (18)

Prior to the Cold War, private industry was “the center of the action when it came to the research and development of new technology.” But the outbreak of World War II required the rapid production of military technology, and government officials and university administrators flocked to federal research grants and contracts. The Roosevelt Administration established the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) to handle wartime research efforts, and over the course of the war funded hundreds of military projects. (19)

Quoting President Eisenhower in a postwar memorandum titled “Scientific and Technological Resources As Military Assets”: “Scientists and industrialists must be given the greatest possible freedom to carry out their research . . . [They] are more likely to make new and unsuspected contributions to the development of the Army if detailed directions are held to a minimum.” (quoted, 20)

p. 20: “As U.S.-Soviet tensions headed up over the course of the late 1940s, government officials recognized that research was fundamental to preparedness.”

Vannevar Bush was an important figure in securing government money for university research. In July 1945 he published Science, The Endless Frontier to argue that “scientific innovation would be essential to political and economic success in the postwar world, and recommended that the federal government establish a National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund scientific education and basic research in universities.” His choice of a foundation made clear his desire that the new entity not be another federal bureaucracy but “an independent body run by professional scientists rather than federal bureaucrats, whose mission centered on the promotion of basic research.” (21)

[Thought: I find the frontier language interesting here. Bush writes: “The pioneer spirit is still vigorous within this nation. Science offers a largely unexplored hinterland for the pioneer who has the tools for his task. The rewards of such exploration both for the Nation and the individual are great. Scientific progress is one essential key to our security as a nation, to our better health, to more jobs, to a higher standard of living, and to our national progress.”2]

Early government support for applied research highlighted a tenant of “hands-off” approach by the government: the government provided the funds, but let the scientists and industry retain control over the execution. Furthermore, however, these early government funding methods highlighted what O’Mara calls “institutional exclusivity.” She uses the examples of ENIAC and RAND to note that the conversations in Washington revolved around a small pool of scientists at top research universities (especially centering around Harvard and MIT). Congressional proposals were submitted to encourage a distribution of resources and improve institutional competitiveness, but most of these efforts remained stalled. Instead, high-ranked institutions became more aggressive and entrepreneurial in their lobbying efforts. Effective lobbying meant having a permanent office in Washington. One of the earliest universities to establish a permanent Washington office was Stanford (in 1945). (26-27)

Another significant factor in the selection of research universities for federal research initiatives was dispersion. O’Mara notes that “scientists, business leaders, city and regional planners, military tacticians, and national politicians alike seized upon the idea of urban decentralization as an important and crucial way to combat the threat of outside nuclear attack.” (29) Industrial dispersion received its first federal endorsement with the National Security Act of 1947, which created the National Security Resources Board (NSRB) which, among other security defense duties, was charged with “the strategic relocation of industries, services, government, and economic activities, the continuous operation of which is essential to the Nation’s security.” (quoted, 29)

Additionally, the idea of dispersion was consistent with a pro-growth and pro-decentralization approach to many local business coalitions. O’Mara quotes a San Francisco Bay Area Council director of city planning: “It is more than a great piece of good fortune for city planners that policies which best serve the nation’s security are also best for urban development. . . . We claim that this is good for our people and economical for our industry and business.” (quoted, 33)

Conversations about dispersal revealed two important political realities:

  1. “The Cold War effort turned the federal government into an immensely powerful customer of industry and gave it a vested interest in where its contractors located within a given metropolitan area.” (34)
  2. “Economic, social, and spatial changes in mid-twentieth-century American cities created a political context in which these efforts were welcomed and encouraged, and gave the effort crucial outside support and political momentum.” (34)

p. 35: “Dispersion arrived on the domestic policy agenda at a moment when political and business leaders were not only embracing decentralization as a sensible economic and social strategy, but were also turning their attention to the physical renewal and redevelopment of older urban centers.”

High-tech company contracts with the military: “By 1957 federal funds made up 61 percent of electronics industry R&D, 54 percent of communication industry R&D, and 30 percent of R&D dollars in the professional and scientific instrument industry. Manufacturers of specialized electronics equipment and other sophisticated technologies were in many cases kept afloat entirely because of military research and development grants.” (43)

p. 44: “Dispersion was, in effect, a politcal endorsement of the idea that defense-critical work – of which scientific research was a central element – was best conducted away from the urbanized commercial center.”

Federal spending on R&D: “Between 1950 and 1955, R&D expenditures more than tripled, reaching over $3.3 billion, or 3.3 percent of the entire U.S. budget.” (45)

Another perceived crisis encouraged more government-sponsored basic research. The launch of Sputnik in 1957 led American political leaders to conclude that American scientific education lagged behind the Soviets despite great investments in scientific research since World War II. In response, Congress and President Eisenhower increased overall funds for research and provided more support for educational and research activities. One of those proposed funding measures was increased funding for the NSF, whose budget nearly tripled in 1959 to $136 million. Other federal funding streams increased as well. In 1955, the government spent $286 million on basic research. By 1960 the sum had doubled to $693 million; by 1965 the figure was nearly $1.6 billion. Between 1955 and 1965, basic research had grown from 8 percent to 12 percent of the total R&D budget. (47)

In 1963, the Higher Education Facilities Act was passed which provided “generous federal grants and loans for facility construction at all kinds of colleges and universities. Administered by the states, the program paid one-third of the construction costs of science and engineering facilities and offered loans up to three-fourths of the cost of any kind of campus facility, for scientific purpose or not.” (49)

The increase of the federal largess was not distributed evenly institutionally. The majority of R&D money flowed to a small pool of contractors and a small and elite group of unviersities. Corporations and research institutions who won defense spending and contracts in the 1950s and 1960s remained relatively unchanged twenty years later. For research institutions, government spending followed established patterns where scientific capacity was capable of the research desired. In 1939 and 1965, the same group of twenty-five universities (fifteen private and ten public) was responsible for producing two-thirds of the nation’s Ph.D.s in science. (52)

Furthermore, R&D funds were not distributed evenly geographically. O’Mara notes there were “dramatic geographical inequities in the distribution of military installations, defense-production facilities, and R&D resources.” (53) The South and the West won the majority of defense contracts, reflecting the patterns of political power in Congress. Southern Democrats and Pacific West Congressional leaders controlled defense policy and appropriations processes, and steered the majority of federal money to their home districts. (53-54)

p. 54: “In this way, the pork-barrel politics of Cold War spending became a major driver of a massive shift of population and employment from the Northeast and Midwest – the Rustbelt – to the Sunbelt states of the South and West.”

Institutional favoritism and geographic favoritism concentrated in certain parts of the country:

By 1963 one official estimated that only one hundred of the nation’s two thousand institutions of higher education participated in federal research programs. Fifty percent of the nation’s scientists worked in only six states: California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The Western states had twice the density of engineers per million than the South, and 50 percent more than the Midwest. Of the $1.5 billion given in fiscal year 1963 to colleges and universities for scientific research, California institutions alone received 28.6 percent of the total. In contrast, the entire Midwest received only 13.9 percent. (54)

p. 57: “If a university had prestige and research capacity and was located in a defense-rich regional economy, it found itself particularly well positioned to take advantage of the rich financial opportunities created by the Cold War science complex, and to turn these opportunities into catalysts of local and regional economic growth.”

Chapter 2

O’Mara explores how universities became drivers of economic development. She notes that “large research universities were now institutions that, if they chose, could have a dramatic impact on the shape and composition of regional development.” (58)

Three tensions ran through the engagement of universities in economic development:

  1. Location. As America suburbanized, most prominent research institutions remained in cities. Urban universities became “economic saviors who might be able to stem the exodus of middle-class residents and white-collar jobs.”
  1. Spatial. The university turns its focus outward, engaged in politics, became charged with greater social and economic responsibilities, but remained an exclusive place whose mission in part was predicated on separation from the outside world.
  2. Definition. The “research university” was a term used to describe many types of institutions, which included top-ranked universities with a bulk of R&D contracts, and low- to middle-ranked schools attempting to break into the elite group. These schools were distributed in cities, suburbs, small towns, the Sunbelt and the Rustbelt. And the definition included private and public schools. “A university’s ability to act as a positive force for regional economic-development depended greatly on where it fell within this broad definition – a distinction that often was lost on the federal, state, and local leaders attempting to build industrial development strategies around these institutions.” (59)

Ideas about campus planning traditions extended beyond the academy, particularly in white-collar industrial laboratories. General Electric was among the first major American companies to develop a researck park when it built Nela Park outside Cleveland in 1913. Bell Laboratories suburban facility in New Jersey likewise served as a prewar example of the research park that drew upon the idyllic and pastoral architecture and design of campuses: low density architecture, extensive green space, and so on. (61-63)

p. 63: “After 1945, technological changes, economic realignments, and federal infrastructure and tax programs made the suburbs more desirable – and economically efficient – locations for households and firms. . . . The fastest-growing job centers were metropolitan areas that also happened to be suburbanizing the most rapidly; Los Angeles was highest in growth among the nation’s nine largest metropolitan areas, with an over 77 percent increase in manufacturing employment. The old industrial capitals had more sluggish growth – Philadelphia had roughly 3 percent, for example – or lost jobs, like Detroit, Boston, and Pittsburgh.”

The growth of industrial parks coincided with the low-rise and spatially deconcentrated facilities of U.S. industrial architecture. In 1940, the US had thirty-three industrial parks, which rose to 302 parks by 1957. As parks increased in number, they became less likely to locate within the political boundaries of cities. Around 75 percent of parks built after World War II were located in cities with populations between 25,000 and 500,000 people. Most parks were privately sponsored and developed by large consortia of landowners and real estate developers. (64)

As industry moved to the suburbs, land developers recognized the need for parks to adhere to higher design standards. Affluent suburbs especially needed sensible design; homeowners might welcome tax revenues from new industry, but were unwilling to live next to smokestacks. The Arthur D. Little, Inc., real estate consultantcy in New Hampshire noted in January 1958:

An industrial park is a planned or organized industrial district with a comprehensive plan which is designed to insure compatibility between the industrial operations therein and the existing activities and character of the community in which the park is located. The plan must provide for streets designed to facilitate truck and other traffic, proper setbacks, lot size minimums, land/use ratio minimums, architectural provisions, landscaping requirements, and specific use requirements, all for the purposes of promoting the degrees of openness and park-like character which are appropriate to harmonious integration into the neighborhood. The industrial park must be of sufficient size and must be suitably zoned to protect the areas surrounding it from being devoted to lower uses. (quoted, 65)

p. 66: “The principles of separation, isolation, and pastoralism that guided the physical shape and location of both the campus and the industrial park had important spatial ramifications for science-based economic development”

By the end of the 1950s new industrial parks were being drawn away from the city center to the suburbs. Businesses enjoyed new tax benefits, close proximity to a workforce, away from congestion, avoided aging infrastructure, and avoided union members in older industrial cities. Not all firms suburbanized: a 1957 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce noted the growth of office buildings in the city centers outpaced suburban development. There were also benefits for remaining in city centers, such as being close to services like banks and public transportation (66)

The emergence of research parks were distinctive from industrial parks primarily in their relationship with higher education institutions. (69)

O’Mara concludes with three points about institutional and geographic distinctions that influenced the kinds of economic development efforts could succeed:

  1. “The growth of scientific industry coincided with a giant suburban building boom, making it easier and much more economically attractive for scientific firms and workers to locate in suburbs rather than cities.” (92-93)
  2. “This type of economic development policy revolved around the American university, an institution that had grown – and thrived – around the idea that separation and isolation were crucial to intellectual innovation.” (93) These universities were historically elite, inward-looking, pastoral places.
  3. “All universities were not created equal. Some entered into the economic development game with vastly more resources and political power than others.”

Chapter 3

Federal policy choices affected the size, shape, and composition of university-centered communities. The most influential of these was Stanford University and the suburban communities of California’s San Francisco Peninsula. O’Mara seeks to understand the region’s influence on the “development of federal policy related to science-based economic development strategy, and on the development of other high-tech regions themselves.” (97)

Uniqueness of Stanford

Stanford was unique in its ability to become the capital of high tech industry; not only was Stanford successful in attracting federal monies for R&D but it was an important and influential land developer. The centerpiece of Stanford’s real estate development was its research park, whose architecture and design standards became a model for other industrial parks. Replicating the “miracle of Palo Alto” was nearly impossible because other urban environments had little in common with Stanford’s bucolic suburban landscape and advantage amid a booming economy. (98)

Stanford and the Bay Area provides a picture of how concurrent forces of suburbanization and the Cold War science complex together shaped the low-density, decentralized geography of high-tech production. (98)

Population figures in the Bay Area:

  • Between 1940 and 1947 the nine-county region became home to 676,000 more people, 330,000 more jobs, and $2.5 billion more in annual income. Per capital wealth became the highest in the nation; between 1940 and 1945 individual incomes increased by 66 percent. (103)

Quoting a Bay Area Council publication: “Close contacts between Federal and private business groups built up during the war should be continued and strengthened. . . . Government business – Federal, State, and local – is a big business in the Bay Area and is a vital factor in its economy.” (quoted, 105)

The Bay Area Council became pro-suburban in its outlook, recognizing the limits of possible development for San Francisco (“[the city] has reached its peak in residence and industrial sites”, p. 105), began thinking about the Peninsula as “an integrated economic unit . . . [the counties] not only interrelated but are interdependent.” (quoted, 105), all of which points to how suburban areas were becoming important for economic development. (104-105).

The Council also recognized the spatial needs of industry, especially in the age of automobiles. The Council became pro-suburban and promoted industrial development in outer areas of metropolitan areas. They likewise reflected the pro-dispersal and pro-decentralization characteristics of the Cold War. (105)

p. 106: “The leaders of the Bay Area Council also saw that California was going to find its economic niche not through replication of the industrial pattern of the Northeastern and Midwestern United States but in fostering the growth of ‘new’ industries whose employees would be attracted to a good climate, beautiful landscape, and cultural amenities.” The Council emphasizes the cultural and environmental amenities of the region.

In 1945, as the Council thought about these issues, Stanford was very much a regional institution. Despite the Bay Area being a central player in defense R&D, most projects of war occurred elsewhere in the area. Frederick Terman, who served as the first dean of engineering at Stanford, noted: “Stanford emerged from World War II as an underprivileged institution.” (quoted, 106)

Terman and other Stanford administrators set to change the mission of Stanford and reshape the surrounding suburb into a center for technological and scientific companies in their highly educated workforce. The University had several advantages:

  1. The University’s location amid a booming Cold War economy. The Bay Area had military spending, middle-class suburbanization, and private-sector wealth. Palo Alto and Menlo Park were home to upper-middle-class families. Menlo Park grew from just over 3,000 people to nearly 27,000 between 1940 and 1960; Palo Alto grew from under 17,000 to over 52,000 in the same period. But commercial activity occurred elsewhere on the Peninsula, and almost always took the form of retail and service firms. (107)
  2. The University capitalized on the presence of a few, small spin-off technology companies like Hewlett-Packard and Varian Associates. These advanced technology companies, ecological, infrastructural, and demographic conditions all served to create a new economic base that the research programs at Stanford sought to take advantage. (107)
  3. Stanford also had an advantageous political position, having close ties with local civic leaders and the political ascendancy of scientists in government affairs (e.g., Terman was a student of Vannevar Bush). Stanford leaders also were members of the San Francisco civic elite; university presidents were automatically invited to join the Bohemian Club, many city leaders were Stanford alumni, and Stanford administrators were attune to regional economic development. (108)

p. 108: “The business associonalism of the regional elite colored Univeristy leaders’ attitudes about government intervention, but like their allies in organizations like the Bay Area Council, the university was quick th recognize the central role of government spending in the local economy.”

By the end of the 1940s, Stanford was active in seeking federal grants

  • Over the course of the 1950s, Stanford’s income from federal grants rose steadily from less than $2 million in 1951 to $8.3 million in 1960. The majority of grants came from the Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission and largely were awarded to the School of Engineering. (109)
  • Terman and other administrators recognized that federal grants and contracts not only helped the national defense, but also aided the university in seeding money for industrial innovation. (109)
  • Stanford increased its reputation by also aggresively recruting faculty from Ivy League schools on the East Coast. So successful had Stanford been that Newsweek quoted a professor in 1961 saying he left Harvard to come to Stanford “because interesting things are happening . . . there’s excitement in the air.” (quoted, 109)

O’Mara quotes The Tall Tree, a journal sponsored in part by the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce in 1958:

The Palo Alto-Stanford research community has grown to become an integral part of the science community of the nation. . . . These United States resources of science are tapped by the armed services in continent-spanning teamwork for defense. . . . This brings Stanford research and the laboratories of industry here into sharp focus in their considerable dependence on the armed services and federal funds." (quoted, 110)

Stanford Residential Development

Part of Stanford’s success was in its ability to engage in land development. Wallace Sterling, the president of the University beginning in 1949, initiated land development campaigns. Under the leadership of the historian Sterling, Stanford became a science-based economic developer. (112)

Campus planning and development formed an example of the relationship between decentralizing planning and places for scientific production. Just as Leland Stanford had hired the preeminent designer of his day – Frederick Law Olmsted – Sterling hired the famous urbanist Lewis Mumford in 1947 to assess development options for Stanford and its surrounding lands. (112)

Leasing lands to high tech industrial development gave the University flexibility in determining residential development Industrial firms could be easily persuaded to sign 51-year or 99-year contracts. But Stanford administrators also wanted the University to “develop a community in which work, home, recreation, and cultural life are brought together with some degree of balance and integration.” (quoted, 115) Univeristy leaders responded to such demands by embarking on a building program in mid-1950s that included high-end housing, a large regional shopping center, and an industrial park made up of businesses and manufacturers who would benefit from close proximity to Stanford. (115)

In the 1950s, political tensions existed between town-and-gown. Outwardly, the town assumed cooperation with Stanford and Palo Alto agreed to incorporate land developments into the city. But civic leaders were distressed by some ideas, such as the large shopping mall that could siphon off revenue from downtown merchants. The political reality was “Stanford administrators had much more political clout than Palo Alto elected officials.” (117) (City leaders attempted to threaten Stanford by cutting off sewer service to oppose the shopping center, but apparently gave up on the plan – p. 117)

Residential development plans by Stanford began with single-family housing in Menlo Park, on the northern side of campus near the shopping center. The homes were designed to appeal to families already in the area, and many new residents were Stanford alumni. In 1957 Stanford invested more into residential development with “Stanford Hills,” a subdivision whose houses costs between $33,000 and $75,000 and whose lot sizes varied from one-quarter-acre up to five acres. The development was more upscale than other proposed developments in Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill plans. The tract was advertised in 1959: “Enjoy Peninsula Living at its Best . . . in the lovely, rolling ‘Stanford Hills,’ our largest and most beautiful development. All homes INDIVIDUALLY PLANNED for the most discriminating buyers. No stock plans . . . no repeats. . . . You, too, can now join our ‘Who’s Who.’” (quoted, 118)

In 1959, Stanford residential development continued with a development called Willow Creek Apartments, marketed to mobile, urbane professionals that wanted the proximity of the University and Shopping Center (or who might otherwise choose to live in San Francisco). Developer Howard J. White remarked that these “luxury apartments were the result of innumerable requests on the Peninsula for true apartment living in a country setting.” (quoted, 118) In all cases, University residential development was for individuals and families with a certain income level, far beyond the means of blue-collar workers and out of reach for most ordinary middle-class residents.

Stanford Industrial Development

Stanford Industrial Park was the University’s greatest achievement. The American campus design tradition of pastoral isolation, separation, and design were applied to the industrial real estate development in the research park. By 1960 Stanford had been so successful that a newspaper editorial remarked: “The research centers of the Midpeninsula, with their architectural buildings and landscaped lawns, look more like college structures than factories. In fact, I’ve seen many college buildings, and attended classes in a few, that resembled those factories of old more than do the industrial plants of today.” (quoted, 118)

[Thought: I like this quote a lot (“resembled those factories of old more than do the industrial plants of today”). I think this idea of “clean” or “green” industry is important to my story, so this is a good anecdote.]

p. 118: “The purpose of the Stanford Industrial Park was to strengthen Stanford’s position as a top national research university through the economic development of its surrounding region.”

Creating a hub of technology innovation would only be accomplished if Palo Alto could be persuaded industrial development was a benefit and that development was attractive to advanced scientific firms and professional employees. Thus, Stanford administrators set out to make the research park a model of suburban industrial planning. If the future was high tech industry, as Terman and others believed, they needed to model how this development could exist with affluent suburban communities. Research parks that looked different from other industrial parks could also highlight that scientific industry was different from other kinds of industrial production: white-collar, clean facilities especially were key. The only way to make the coexistence of suburban areas and high tech industry work would be for industrial development to be contained and blend in with the landscape of the suburban college town. (119)

Administrators designed the Park to placate nervous suburban neighbors, mirroring the Stanford campus with low-rise and architectually compatible buildings and open green spaces. They also tied into the belief that scientific creativity required a pastoral landscape to flourish. Stanford’s ownership of huge swaths of undeveloped land and the general support of local authorities, Stanford could translate these pastoral college campus ideas into a new planned industrial development. (119)

Stanford instituted strict architectural and planning guidelines and maintained close design control over every facility, including the type, size, location, and setbacks of buildings, roads, off-street parking and green areas, required ninety-foot buffers of green space between roads and buildings at the front of every lot, buildings needed to be low-rise structures, and all structures needed to include green space. Open land around buildings had to be 60 percent larger than the buildings constructed, making the park very low density. Companies had to place parking lots behind buildings rather than towards the street to maintain the illusion of green space. And all tenants had to gain University approval for alterations and maintain the cleanliness of their buildings and grounds. (119-120)

The design of the buildings were modernist and often mimicked the sandstone and red tile roofs of Stanford. The University also closely controlled the Park’s tenants. Many of the tenants relied on military contracts, but the Park (and Stanford) and its services served as a business incubator for high tech companies. (121-122)

The Industrial Park was smokeless, not dirty, and its workers were white-collar professionals and portrayed as people with exceptional creative abilities. Industry was very interested in coming to the Park. Alf Brandin noted to real estate developers in 1958 that Stanford was “as tough as we could be, and we couldn’t discourage them.” (quoted, 123) The normal rules of economic development didn’t apply to the Research Park. Companies attracted to the Park were drawn by the proximity of defense installations, the natural and community ammenities, and the concentration of scientific minds.

O’Mara quotes the San Francisco Chroncile article “Brains Are Bait”:

Certainly one of the greatest single attractions for the new – and highly desirable – smogless, light industries that make exostic products is brains. The electronics and missile industries as well as the less novel, more familiar varieties, must have a large pool of deep thinkers from which to draw new ideas, push ahead of competitors in the mad research scramble." (quoted, 124)

p. 124: “What the Stanford example demonstrated was the extremely positive effect of proximity to, and association with, a prominent research institution.”

By 1963, the Research Park was home to forty-two firms employing around twelve thousand workers. By 1969 the number of tenants jumped to sixty, and the number of employees to eighteen thousand. Between 1955 and 1968, the Industrial Park brought in over $13 million in net revenue, becoming Stanford’s most lucrative land development program. (127)

Observers of the Research Park and other Stanford land development programs found it to be “a model city” (in the words of a 1955 Saturday Evening Post) and the Los Angeles Times in 1956 noted that the “9,000-acre university landholdings are fast taking on the appearance of a fully integrated city. When completed its expected that 45,000 people will live in homes on the land and thousands will be working at light industry or in business offices and buying at a shopping center.” (quoted, 127) Stanford became a model example, attracting interests from other universities seeking to replicate its economic success.

p. 131: “By the mid-1960s the Stanford Industrial Park – a project developed under extraordinary conditions of university land ownership, massive regional economic growth, and location in an affluent suburb – had become the gold standard for science-based industrial development elsewhere in the country and the world.”

Community-Stanford Conflict

Community controversy, however, did follow some of Stanford’s real estate development plans. Over the course of the 1950s and 1960s residents voiced their resentment and concerns over Stanford programs. Elected leaders in Palo Alto and Menlo Park reaped the benefits of new tax revenue and economic visibility, but by the end of the decade local officials noted a growing discontent among their constituents. As early as 1953 Palo Alto downtown’s merchants decried the Stanford Shopping Center, and in 1956 residents of the unincorporated neighbhorhood Roble Range which bordered the Industrial Park protested to the Palo Alto city council that the ninety-foot green space buffer was not required outside the Park and brought the buildings close to their homes. (The city forced Park tenants to increase this buffer zone, in a rare victory for the city council.) (132-133)

One councilman complained that the University was “‘negligent’ in its treatment of the public, and was ‘selfishly developing its property from a dollars and cents angle.’” (quoted 133)

Stanford’s community relations approach didn’t help. Stanford leaders strongly felt that Palo Alto existed only because of Stanford’s benefits, and thought little of the city other than a college town whose economic and cultural center was at the University. This caused Stanford to be heavy-handed in its dealing with neighbors.

Community concerns were expressed during early plans for the Research Park. At a meeting with the community, Alf Brandin noted “it was evident that certain factions in attendance were attempting to put in the minds of those present the fact that industrial property, as such, holds little or no advantage for the City of Palo Alto. . . . I took the opportunity of presenting the point of view that industrial property, as we are planning and developing, has a great many more advantages to the City of Palo Alto than otherwise.” (quoted, 133) The University and local allies in city goverment attempted to assure Palo Alto residents that the Park would not bring the “noxious” by-products of air and noise pollution associated with the industrial park. Brandin later noted: “when it came to the industrial park, our problem was semantics. What were we producing out there? We tried to say it has got to be clean, no smoke, no heavy manufacturing. Light manufacturing that is clean and electronic.” (quoted, 133)

[The above paragraph is also key to my argument – these ideas about clean industry should form a core part of this.]

In 1962, Palo Alto residents petitioned President Sterling with complains about Varian Associates facility:

[T]hey use machines that make a high pitched whine. All last week we were awakened mornings – usually around 5:30. . . . And the noise and fumes from their stack continues unabated 24 hours a day. On certain days the acid odor is very strong and the acid fumes has [sic] damaged many of our trees and shrubs, our cars and much of our patio furniture. When we contact Varian directly we usually have a few days respite – then it all starts again. (quoted, 134)

Stanford attempted to stem concerns among residents and used its power as landlord to negate disturbances. When Hewlett-Packard’s nighttime lights created community relations problems, Stanford wrote that it “strongly recommend corrective measures be taken promptly to remedy this situation, particularly in view of the proposed Hewlett-Packard expansion in Industrial Park.” (quoted, 134)

A more disturbing form of pollution, one Stanford couldn’t control, was radiation. One resident who lived near Lockheed Martin wrote the Palo Alto Times in 1960 that “it is disconcerting . . . to have a federal agent pick leaves from our shrubs once a month, to test them for radioactivity.” (quoted, 134) The landscaping and architecture of the Park could not disguise the pollution created by the tenants. (134-135)

Battle of the Hills

Fears among Palo Alto residents came to a head in 1960, when University proposals to extend the Industrial Park toward the foothills near Stanford’s property was fiercely opposed by neighborhoods. This led to a referendum campaign that President Sterling called “the Battle of the Hills.”

Editorials poured in to the Palo Alto Times and Sterling receied around 400 letters of opposition and fifty of support. One telegram to Sterling summed up the general attitude of opposition: “Offocial request to annex Stanford foothill land to Palo Alto in advance of scheduled Board of Trustees meeting today shocking. Complete disregard to objective alumni and community public opinion evident. Irresponsible attitude clearly shown. Apparent moral deterioration and decay and abandonment of high Stanford University standards and principles is sickening.” (quoted, 135)

[O’Mara notes that the Battle of the Hills was fueled by nostalgia and environmentalism, but I don’t see much environmentalism coming through in her examples. I need to look at her evidence and see if that is indeed the case. The Battle of the Hills might be a good case study in environmental movements.]

Stanford often behaved arrogantly in the Battle of the Hills, pretending to understand community concerns publicly but privately disregarding public opinion. Donald Carlson, an associate of Sterling’s, responded to an alumna who wrote an angry note accusing Stanford of selfishness, replied dryly: “I am so impressed by your knowledge of the University and its land problems that I feel compelled to address you a personal acknowledgement. The consideration, logic, and unselfish interest you have demonstrated surely must have given inspiration to the Trustees.” (quoted, 136)

Stanford believed it had the public interest in mind with the expansion of the Industrial Park. The existing park had already intorduced tax benefits and enabled the University to raise its profile. But one resident responded: “[T]here has been growing concern over Stanford’s policy of presenting pre-packaged zoning requests. . . . They resemble closely the tactics of many a Land Developer asking for variances from planned uses.” (quoted, 136)

Sterling challenged these accusations, arguing that “Stanford has made a conscientious effort to keep the communities surrounding the campus informed of our plans, an effort which could easily be documented.” (quoted, 136)

The planned expansion became a referendum on the November 1960 ballot. A “yes” vote would allow the expansion to go as planned. Some of Stanford’s own allies, however, opposed the measure. Dorothy Varian, wife of Industrial park tenant Russell Varian, wrote the Palo Alto Times urging a “no” vote. (136-137)

But over the course of the year Stanford managed to gain support from alumni and members of the community. As the election neard, the Times spoke in favor of the development, reminding residents of the debt they owed Stanford for keeping the lands open: “Stanford’s 9,000 acres having constituted a free park for the people of Palo Alto and surrounding communities. If these broad acres had been owned by other private interests, they long ago would have been converted to the houses, business places and industries where so many of us live and work – including those who oppose Stanford’s industrial expansion.” (quoted, 137)

In the end, Stanford won the Battle of the Hills. The referendum passed easily in November, but the actions of the community had an impact. The University was more aware of community opposition, and signaled a changing power dynamic in Palo Alto. No longer could planning processes occurr behind closed doors. Plans had to win the approval of grassroots community groups, and Stanford needed to mobilize its support among the Peninsula. Stanford also scaled back building plans and hoped to diffuse concerns by giving the Park the new name “Stanford Research Park.” (An administrative memorandum in 1961 noted: “The term ‘Industrial Park’ serves as a real red flag.” O’Mara, quoted 137).

Stanford’s lessons served it a year later, when in 1961 Palo Alto officlas considered the expansion of Oregon Avenue, a main road running through some of the town’s most desirable residential land, into an expressway intended to accomodate industrial traffic to and from the Research Park. Residents opposed the plan and mobilized opposition, but no sooner had they done so when a community group calling themselves the Traffic Action Committee rose up to support the measure. The pro-expressway movement may have had grassroots support, but the TAC was not. Stanford development chief Alf Brandlin had a hand in creating the group, according to Donald Carlson. Carlson noted that “there is more politicking here than meets even my jaundiced eye,” but he noted the intervention might be good:

Because of our Industrial Park and all of the emotion the just-off Oregon Avenuers have stirred up about it, Stanford is a nasty word down in that area. We are not giong to suddenly turn on any lights, show the truth and make them love us. So I don’t see much harm in our taking a background role in the Traffic Action Committee. It could improve our relations with the Menlo people because the peripheral plan proposes to put a heck of a lot more truck traffic on proposed Willow Freeway. . . . there are at least a half dozen councilmen (including the mayor) who are anxious to get the thing turned around somehow and get some of that bond money applied to the city’s traffic problem where it hurts the most. So they are looking for public support. (quoted, 138)

The strategy worked; the community opponents to the Oregon Expressway won some points – managing to downsize the original plans and direct the route to less disruptive residential areas – university officials got the traffic artery the Park needed.

The controversies over the Oregon Expressway and expansion of the Research Park reflected “an early and important instance of resident activism against uncontrolled suburban growth.” (138) By 1960 residents felt surrounded by freeways, subdivisions, office buildings, and shopping centers. Concern about the “slurban” landscape resulting from rapid and decentralized urban growth. The political movement against excesses and environmental degredation from postwar suburbanization gained steam in the 1960s and 1970s and spurred open-space and preservation and growth-control efforts in the region. The Bay Area, in effect, became “home to some of the environmental movement’s most important early battles and precedent-setting land-use planning measures.” (139)

The Battle of the Hills was led by the sort of educated professionals the developments were designed to attract. (139)


Expenditures table

Expenditures table

  1. See, for example, Heike Mayer’s high tech studies of Portland and Seattle, and Gordon Dodds and Craig Wollner Silicon Forest: High Tech in the Portland Area, 1945-1986 (2000).

  2. Vannevar Bush, Science, The Endless Frontier.