Monday, March 17, 2003

Big City, Small Town

I’m in San Jose, California, for work this week, and I’m struck again by the “personality” of the city.  (I now live in Seattle, but I used to live in the Bay Area, including a year in San Jose.)  San Jose is a big city by accident and has little hope of ever growing past that.  Twenty -plus years ago, San Jose was a small city, more orchards than high tech.  Its population has grown significantly since then, but San Jose will probably never be a world-class city.
  • San Jose is probably in the top 20 cities in terms of population (it is third in the state of California), but it is undoubtedly also in the top 20 in terms of surface area.  Sprawl says it all.  Miles and miles.
  • The only major league sports team based here is hockey (the San Jose Sharks).
  • The tallest building is less than 20 stories.  (Now go drive down Lakeshore in Chicago and count the buildings under 20 stories.)  This is largely caused by the flight path for the airport going right over downtown: buildings simply can’t be any taller.  Without skyscrapers, San Jose simply doesn’t look like a real city downtown.
  • There are no fantastic views.  No snow-capped mountains.  No great rivers or sea vistas (unless you count when the Guadalupe River floods each winter).  And as mentioned, little in the way of towering architecture.
  • The old song says “Do you know the way to San Jose?”  Being only an hour from San Francisco raises the response “Why bother to go there?”.  Many people who work in San Jose live in San Francisco, simply because it’s close enough that they can.  The San Jose airport (SJC) couldn’t make it as an airline hub; people tended to still fly into San Francisco (SFO) instead.  And then there was the Good Morning America “Good Morning from…” from a few years back: “Good Morning from San Francisco, the heart of Silicon Valley!”  (Oh, the shame.)

Updated on June 28, 2010
Small revisions and a link to the song.

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