Where the Problem Started

 

The office park. The term conjures up images of cubicle farms, generic place-less buildings and a sea of cars. Quintessential suburbia. It’s an image and environment immortalized in such movies as Office Space and cartoons like Dilbert. While it might seem like these soulless abodes of white collar America have been around forever, they are actually newer than the transistor computer. So where did the office park come from? What dastardly fiend could have developed such a sinister idea? The answer is surprisingly (or not) local.

The Washington Post ran an article this past summer on the decline of the office park. Across much of America, the vacancy rate of office parks is on the rise. This is due to multiple factors, such as the development of telecommuting. But undeniably the rise of new urbanism is having a major affect upon office parks. Simply, many of these offices were built at the expense of urban office space as society abandoned the city for the suburbs. It’s not that we just stopped building urban city centers and instead once those spaces were filled switched to building suburban office parks to meet demand. Offices in city centers were abandoned in mass for new suburban office space. This ultimately meant that there was a lot more office space in America than demand. This was great for office parks so long as people did not want to work in the city but if that trend were to ever reverse and more people and companies started to move back to the city this would create a fundamental problem for suburban office space. This of course has happened and continues to happen, with the result being more and more empty office parks and no real way to fill all of them.

While reading through this article I found something fascinating, if not terribly surprising. The first office park was actually developed right here in Birmingham! I will give you 3 guesses (two more than you need) for where this office park is located? Yep, Mountain Brook. “The first office park opened in Mountain Brook, Ala., an upper-class white suburb of Birmingham, in the early 1950s as commuters became uneasy with simmering racial tension in city centers.” It was developed in 1955 by Ervin Jackson & Newman H Waters. I then searched for more information and one of the first articles to pop up was actually a piece on AL.com detailing a planned historical marker for the office park.

I had to find this plaque and so this past weekend took a drive over the mountain in search of America’s first office park. It was easy to find, just leave Mountain Brook Village going south on Cahaba Road and it will be on the right. The street is aptly named Office Park Cir. It’s a very standard office park and looks its age. The plaque is on the right where the road splits, you can’t miss it. Check out some pictures I took below.

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If only they had left it at just one.

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