I have seen the future (of urban life) – and I like it

February 1, 2017

I recently had the pleasure of reconnecting with an old (not old – just long-time) friend and colleague – Teri Flynn, the founder and principal/design guru at Flynn Architecture, based in Oakland, California.

Teri and I first met back in the mid-00’s, when I was studying and writing about what I then called “business community centers” but which have since become widely known as “coworking” facilities.

She was the architect behind the Berkeley and San Francisco coworking centers known as The Impact Hub (both are thriving, and they’ve been joined by Teri’s third Impact Hub design, at The Hive, located on Broadway in the Uptown part of Oakland, and right next door to her own studio).

Teri and I met for lunch in The Hive neighborhood, at a delightful restaurant and brew pub (Drake’s Brewery) with an outdoor garden seating area that was enclosed by a delightful old brick wall but open to the sky on a mild January day (that’s not an oxymoron, we do live in California!).

Now, please don’t dismiss this note because it sounds like a silly Facebook post or tweet about having lunch with a friend. There is a serious message and lesson about to appear.

The fact is that Teri’s firm has been the principal architect for most of the neighborhood now known as The Hive. It’s a wonderful example of how a visionary property developer collaborating with a creative architect can design a future that is very, very different from the past.

I’ve just become aware of The Hive, but from what Teri told me, it’s a complete turnaround for the neighborhood. What used to be a dying city street dominated by failing auto dealerships, filled with run-down and often-closed retail shops, and populated by low-income and homeless residents, has become a hotbed of entrepreneurship, social life, and new, exciting retail outlets.

Images courtesy of Teri Flynn, Flynn Architecture

How did that happen? Here’s what I know now. This is an admittedly short version of the whole story, filled more with questions than with facts (I intend to learn more by returning and experiencing the community up close and personal).

The entire area was acquired by Signature Development Group (SDG) in 2011. SDG’s founder and President, Michael Ghielmetti, clearly had a vision of what was possible. In 2017 the community (for it truly has become one) includes over 100,000 square feet of retail space, 104 residential apartments, and many commercial offices.

Image courtesy of Teri Flynn, Flynn Architecture

The retail operations include the aforementioned Impact Hub, which provides shared workspaces and meeting rooms for hundreds of entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, free agents, and small businesses. But there also several restaurants and cafés, a brew pub, a bakery with both wholesale and retail operations (Firebrand Artisan Breads), Numi Organic Tea, and a holistic fitness center (Truve).

There is even a barbershop (People’s Barber and Shop) that opens out onto the open gathering space next to a large parking lot (which I believe is often used for outdoor events, so it’s more than “just” a parking lot).

And both SDG’s corporate office and Teri Flynn’s architecture studio are located right in the center of The Hive (which calls itself “The place to bee”). So they’ve put themselves right at the heart of the very community they’ve designed.

Most importantly, The Hive isn’t just a nice mixed-use development; it has become a true community. One of the defining characteristics of The Impact Hub and other successful coworking operations is that they are much more than just workplaces. They are gathering places, markeplaces, and crossroads where ideas, people, and funding intersect. They are busy hubs (in the generic sense) where people gather for both formal and informal activities (workshops, networking events, social get-togethers, entertainment).

Why is The Hive so successful, and so intriguing? I can think of at least four reasons, though I am sure there are many more:

  1. It combines old and new – some older buildings that have been renovated, and some newer styles and materials.
  2. It was built on an integrated vision, not just of work and not just of living units, but of both. From beginning the developer and the architect were designing a neighborhood and a community, not just workplaces and living places.
  3. The mixed-use aspects of the area meet all kinds of needs – for work, for friends, for food, for social activities, for exercise and for being part of something special.
  4. The Hive is designed for people, and for life – in the best and biggest sense of that concept.

Those are some of the reasons we originally referred to coworking operations as business community centers. They were – and are – about business. But they are centers of activity, and of community. And they sit in the center of larger communities that they are deeply engaged with.

So, what am I missing? What does your experience tell you about how to create exciting urban neighborhoods? I’d love to have you enrich my understanding. The more we know about urban communities and what makes them buzz, the more of them we can bring to life.


Call me today (+1 510.558.1434) for a free exploratory conversation about how you can enable your organization or community to take charge of its future. I’d love to explore with you how to achieve breakthrough results.

Don’t face the future alone. Jim Ware is a workplace futurist, author, and consultant who has invested his entire career equipping organizations to thrive in a rapidly changing world. Contact Jim today to learn how his workshops, keynote presentations, and advisory insights can put the future to work for you.

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