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A viral TikTok is igniting a debate over data centers taking over Virginia's countryside

A data center is under construction in Ashburn in Loudon County, Virginia, on July 16, 2023.
Data centers have come to dominate Northern Virginia.Ted Shaffrey/AP
  • Data centers have taken over Northern Virginia.

  • But a viral TikTok says the centers are at odds with nature and historic sites in the region.

  • AI and other tech has increased the demand for data centers.

The data center boom is here. But a viral TikTok shows that some people aren't happy about what the giant structures are replacing in Northern Virginia.

User @claireecowles posted a video on Saturday showing horse pastures, the Shenandoah Valley, restaurants in small towns, and other clips that appear to be taken in the counties west of Washington, DC. The video has 1.1 million views as of midday Monday.

Then, at the end of the 19-second video, there are shots of construction sites where large, warehouse-like buildings appear to be going up.

The caption refers to Northern Virginia as the "data center capital of the US" and warns that building more data centers poses a threat to historical sites, farms, and other landmarks in the area.

Some comments under the video agreed with the video's poster. One commenter said their town in Virginia "used to have a lot of forests and fields."

These days, they said, "everything is either a data center or an expensive suburban neighborhood."

"I'm from southeastern Virginia and every time I drive up to NoVa, it feels like there's a new big, huge white building on the way to DC," wrote another commenter, using regional shorthand for "Northern Virginia."

Others pointed out the irony of posting about the issue on a social media platform powered by data centers.

"Data centers like that make apps like this run," another comment reads.

"Data centers need to exist," the video's poster responded, acknowledging that Virginia's central location on the East Coast makes it an attractive place to build them. "Just wish forests and history didn't have to suffer from the hasty expansion."

The poster did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request to discuss the video.

Data centers are popping up thanks to billions of dollars of investment and the AI boom. However, the centers often present challenges for the communities where they are built.

For one thing, there's the impact on the land where they're built. The centers and related facilities can take up hundreds or thousands of acres. They also demand lots of electricity, water, and other resources, which can strain local infrastructure, especially when they're built in rural areas.

For another, people who live in communities near data centers are worried about how they might change the character of where they live. One data center in Virginia is being planned for land next to the Manassas National Battlefield Park, the site of one of some of the most significant fighting that happened during the US Civil War. Residents near the proposed site have pushed back, citing threats to historic sites in the area as well as threats to their quality of life.

In Loudon County, roughly a 45-minute drive from DC, some residents say they can hear a constant hum from all the data centers in the area. The area has earned the nickname "Data Center Alley" thanks to the buildings' presence there.

The centers brought in about 10,000 construction jobs and more than 5,500 operational jobs in 2021, as well as contributions to state and local tax revenue, according to the Northern Virginia Technology Council's 2022 economic impact report. Still, the centers' employment benefits appear to be less direct than in other industries, such as manufacturing.

Do you live or work in Northern Virginia or another part of the US where data centers have altered life? Reach out to this reporter at abitter@insider.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider