Is it unrealistic for a car company to build a walkable, transit-accessible and environmentally sustainable corporate headquarters? The answer is a resounding “no.”
The plan for Subaru’s new North American headquarters in Camden, New Jersey is wholly car-oriented and inconsistent with the city’s sustainability goals. But the car company’s international headquarters in Tokyo proves that needn’t be the case.
Last month, the City of Camden’s Planning Board unanimously approved site plans for the company’s new headquarters. Subaru will be the first new anchor tenant of the “Gateway District,” 13 acres of unused land owned by Campbell’s Soup. The designs include 1,031 parking spaces to accommodate only half as many employees. It also lacks any green features, such as bioswales, rain gardens or green roofs, to help compensate for the massive asphalt lots. Although future phases of development aim to improve sidewalks and bike lanes and potentially expand nearby trails, Subaru’s new headquarters presently fails to accommodate Camden’s large carless population.
Built in 2014, Subaru’s Tokyo headquarters houses 521 employees–roughly the same number planned to work at the Camden branch–but the facilities are notably dissimilar. The Tokyo office is well integrated into the city’s transportation network, located three blocks away from a major transit hub served by three commuter lines and a subway line. Similar to plans for its North American counterpart, the international headquarters also has a car showroom on its first floor.
Each building, however, exists in different contexts. Tokyo is much more densely developed and boasts the world’s most used metro system. Camden is home to efficient rail travel to Philadelphia, Trenton and many surrounding suburban communities. Moreover, the number of people who walk to work is two-and-a-half times the national average.
Local residents and New Jersey taxpayers–who are funding Subaru’s move from Cherry Hill to Camden with $118 million in tax credits–deserve better. Instead of excusing the site plans’ shortcomings because “it’s a car company,” Camden city leaders and Subaru of America should take note of the company’s success in Japan, which makes it clear that a car company can build a functional space that balances business concerns and employees’ needs without surrounding itself with excessive parking lots or ignoring a significant carless population.