With all the competition for Amazon's second headquarters (dubbed HQ2) and with Atlanta (home of Kinetix, the company I own part of) being in the mix, I thought I'd share one of my favorite books of all time and give you a Capitalist definition while we are at it.
Edge City is the term. I picked up the book by the same name over 20 years ago at a bookstore when heading to the beach for a vacation. The book became one of my all time favorites, and the definition changed how I viewed the business world forever. Here's a description of the term, as well as details about the concept. Take a look and we'll talk about Atlanta/Amazon after the jump.
"Edge city" is an American term for a concentration of business, shopping, and entertainment outside a traditional downtown (or central business district) in what had previously been a residential or rural area. The term was popularized by the 1991 book Edge City: Life on the New Frontier by Joel Garreau, who established its current meaning while working as a reporter for the Washington Post. Garreau argues that the edge city has become the standard form of urban growth worldwide, representing a 20th-century urban form unlike that of the 19th-century central downtown. Other terms for these areas include suburban activity centers, megacenters, and suburban business districts.
In 1991, Garreau established five rules for a place to be considered an edge city:
- Has five million or more square feet (465,000 m²) of leasable office space.
- Has 600,000 square feet (56,000 m²) or more of leasable retail space.
- Has more jobs than bedrooms.
- Is perceived by the population as one place.
- Was nothing like a "city" as recently as 30 years ago. Then it was just bedrooms, if not cow pastures."
Most edge cities develop at or near existing or planned freeway intersections, and are especially likely to develop near major airports. They rarely include heavy industry. They often are not separate legal entities but are governed as part of surrounding counties (this is more often the case in the East than in the Midwest, South, or West). They are numerous—almost 200 in the United States, compared to 45 downtowns of comparable size—and are large geographically because they are built at automobile scale.
The book is organized by chapters that dig into various Edge Cities in America, including Tyson's Corner, Houston's Galleria area and more. Because the book came out in 1991 - you can preview the whole book on Amazon (irony) without buying.
What's the big deal about Edge Cities for HR? The biggest impact they have is what I call "recruiting center of gravity" - my term, not in the book.
Commute preferences change in metro areas as Edge Cities come online and continue to grow. In Atlanta - home of Kinetix - Edge Cities like Buckhead, Perimeter and Galleria have pushed the employment center of gravity north, to the point where a study I did in 2009 showed that the location preferred by the greatest number of candidates across Atlanta was the Perimeter, located at 12 o'clock on I-285, the perimeter loop that surrounds downtown Atlanta.
But back to Amazon. You might expect that given the northbound trend of Edge Cities in Atlanta, Amazon would be looking for a location in the north suburbs. You'd be wrong, primarily because the airport is south of downtown. As a result, the patch of land proposed for Amazon is connected to downtown near the old Georgia Dome location in an area called The Gulch.
Edge Cities apply to everyone but Amazon - because 50,000 jobs has its own gravity that transcends the Edge City formula.
Quick math - if the average office space formula calls for 170 feet of office space per employee/worker, the HQ2 project would stand at 8.5 million feet of leasable/owned real estate to support 50,000 employees.
You know - the equivalent of 14 Edge Cities described by Garreau.
As they said in Jaws - we're going to need a bigger boat.