San Jose: Tale of Two Cities

We San Joseans are a schizophrenic bunch. We’re all for economic development, but we consistently complain about noise generated by the airplanes, traffic, and sporting events that come with it. We’re pro-environment, but we’ll drive our Hummers to shop in Campbell or Milpitas, so we can have plastic bags to pick up our dog droppings. We’re pro-innovation, but we do very little to attract the startups and R&D projects that form the backbone of our region, and we add insult to injury by embracing the misnomer “Capital of Silicon Valley.”

We’re reluctant to spend public dollars supporting local CBOs and nonprofits that provide for the public health, but we’re also averse to providing adequate pay and benefits for our public — and private — employees to keep them out of the Emergency Room at Valley Med — which we subsidize with our tax dollars.

Most tragically (at least to a communications guy): We spend oodles of money every year advertising the benefits of San Jose to the rest of the country, but mere peanuts promoting our City to its own residents.

I’m reminded of the seminal line from Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel, A Clockwork Orange: “What’s it going to be then, eh?”

Transposed to our dilemma: “Are we going to embrace the role of urban metropolis, or will we forever be known as a bedroom community?”

Simplified even further: “In which Century do you spend most of your time?”

Let’s face it, San José, we’ve reached a crossroads in our history. Over the next decade, we’re going to learn a lot about who we are and where we want to live.

Will we have the will to follow the thoughtful and sensible development outlined by the Envision 2040 General Plan Update and become a true 21st Century city? Or will we abandon its worthy ideals at the first sign of a new shopping center or additional flights at the airport or — god forbid — a downtown baseball stadium?

It’s very likely that this battle will fall along generational lines. If so, it’s those of us in our 30s and 40s who will be the final arbiters of our City’s future. Our youthful exuberance tempered by aging bodies gives us a unique perspective. We can see the struggle from both sides.

I’m a second-generation San José native. The “Biggest Small Town in America” has grown up right alongside me. I feel tied to its future, like Spock to the planet Genesis in Star Trek III. And I’m ready to forge the City we all deserve out of the remnants of the town some of us seemingly can’t leave behind.

Peter Allen is an independent communications consultant and a proud native of San José — Willow Glen to be exact.

6 Comments

  1. San Jose can’t grow right!  It tries or appears to try to revitalize its downtown, while at the same time, back stabs its downtown by approving more suburban malls, strip malls and apartments/condos on city fringes.  Forinstance, they just approved cottle Road retail complex with housing, retail shopping on Almaden, massive number of apartments in North San Jo, and a midrise hotel in the airport area.  They’re working with Apple to build a campus off highway 101.  How hypocritical is that?  Nothing’s happenining downtown!  you can’t have a decent city without a thriving downtown, and it affects the whole Silicon Valley.

  2. The most interesting thing about this posting is its reliance on generational “we” rhetoric.  It claims that “we” believe this, yet “we” do that.  Perhaps the poster ate the 1859 novel for which this posting is named, and is determined to force such a series of dichotomies on good-natured, growing, neighborly, friendly San Jose.

    The problem with using “we” twelve times in the first two or three paragraphs is that we end up with a series of generalizations that really don’t point in any bold direction at all.

    This kind of “we” writing is, in fact, typical of the generation the poster grants the future to, the folks in their 30s and 40s.  But that’s the people who were graduated from high school in the seventies or eighties which were, by common agreement among the elder generations, the lowest point in public school education.  The poster’s assumption that folks in their 30s and 40s are particularly qualified to decide urban fates is just a little feckless.

    Anyway, enough of the liberal (oops, progressive) “we” which distributes praise and blame uniformly, seeming to lack intellectual tools for discerning true quality of life issues, and instead chasing after bustling sidewalks, downtown high-density dormitory living, subsidized start-ups, and city plans as mushy and ill-shaped as Envision 2040.

    By the way, age and guile can defeat youth and agility in every contest.  Why do you think young people go off to fight old folks’ wars?

  3. It has always been interesting when attending public meetings to hear “we” want to become a strong urban area while protecting “our” neighborhoods, “we” want healthy communities and transit infrastructure and yet when decisions are being made to implement the process “we” protest the very things that would get us to these goals…or we blame “them” for making bad decisions.  One thing we do need is more of those in their 20s, 30s and 40s to be at the table during this process; it will affect you far longer that us.  But, please don’t speak of the aging bodies of 30 and 40 year olds…talk to me about that in another 20 or 30 years wink

  4. > This kind of “we” writing is, in fact, typical of the generation the poster grants the future to, the folks in their 30s and 40s.  But that’s the people who were graduated from high school in the seventies or eighties which were, by common agreement among the elder generations, the lowest point in public school education.  The poster’s assumption that folks in their 30s and 40s are particularly qualified to decide urban fates is just a little feckless.

    Back in the last century, when the bizarre practice of assigning names to generations apparently began, I believe the generation of today’s 30/40 year olds was dubbed “The Me Generation”.

    This was in reference to that cohort’s characteristic self-referential, narcissistic attitudes.

    Maybe there IS some logic in generational naming after all.

  5. One idea would be good for San Jose.  A central identity.  Something that people from Willow Glen to Seventrees can agree with.

    Ps, if you drive to shop in Milpitas, you will find some recall petition gatherers hosted by a guy named Dan Mannassau, who refuses to discuss his own petition; Ed Riffle, a candy salesman who is trying to get Wal Mart there on the backs of council members, though the petition is filled with factual erros, some guy named Windisch who got two votes when he ran for city council, and neither was from his family.

    San Jose, at its core, is still a honest place to do business, it just needs to have a every part of it agree with its overall sense of place.

  6. The author assumes that, in terms of its identity, San Jose controls its own destiny. I say the historical record shows it doesn’t.

    San Jose didn’t arise as a bedroom community. For more than a century, what San Jose was was defined by where it was: the center of the Valley of the Heart’s Delight. It’s people and its agricultural economy were isolated and independent. San Joseans lived where they worked.

    What turned this city into a “bedroom community” was its leaderships’ decision to define San Jose by what it was next to: the budding electronics industry. Rather than holding fast and drawing industry down to the only place where there was room to house its workers, San Jose grabbed at the fast bucks of the housing/mall developers and, through its own greed and ignorance, all but screwed itself out of the richest delights of Silicon Valley.

    Silicon Valley is outside of San Jose because our city leaders offered to bunk as many tech workers as our neighbors up the peninsula could put to work. It’s a done deal. Just as was our tax base, our destiny was sold out from under us long ago.