Living in a place that used to think of itself as the bright future of America, it’s strange to me how people think that particular places will be the bright future.
After posting on possible futures for Upstate New York, a post from Tim O’Reilly pointed to Paul Graham telling companies to move to Silicon Valley. This combination got me wondering: how long will Silicon Valley remain a critical hub?
Some hubs do seem to last forever, at least in some form. Great cities are the classic case - Rome has done pretty well for the last few thousand years, if not as well as it did at its peak. On this side of the Atlantic, we’ve had less time for large cities, and less stability. Despite Wired magazine repeatedly declaring it “tired” in the 1990s, New York City has reinvented itself repeatedly since the Erie Canal launched it to greatness. While it isn’t as dominant as it once was, it shows few signs of dimming, yet. Detroit, on the other hand, did reasonably well for a hundred years, spectacularly well for about fifty years, and has since pretty well collapsed. Upstate New York did great for about 125 years, and then started a long fade.
So how long will Silicon Valley’s star last? Does it help or hurt that it’s not a city as cities are traditionally understood?
I don’t think that it will be falling any time soon - at least another twenty years, and maybe fifty years - but what change might come? The possible threats I see include:
Competition, of course - it’s hard to out-compete a hub, but new hubs certainly can emerge.
Decentralization - are hubs as important as they used to be? Do you need to actually be in the hub all the time, or just visit sometimes?
National shifts - does the decline in the US dollar or related economic issues damage Silicon Valley’s long-term importance?
Infrastructures - does Silicon Valley’s basically suburban environment lead to potential problems if energy costs climb drastically? (It’s interesting that a lot of alternative energy work is coming from Silicon Valley.)
There are also more apocalyptic visions to think about, but while they’re fun to talk about, I don’t think they add much to the conversation.
Any thoughts on the future of the place that sees itself creating the future?