The Silicon City – Reimagining San Jose

by Jason on April 25, 2012

While driving back home from field analysis for my Land Use Planning course, I rode the 87 freeway and was able to bask in the San Jose skyline. It is certainly a different skyline than say Los Angeles or San Francisco, not as tall or dense; but there is something monumental in its humbleness.

There are two stages of a painting where it is approached with great awe and care, when the painting is finished, and when the canvas is pure. It is the latter that I see San Jose. It has grown significantly, like a teenager going through puberty, not fully able to comprehend his new size. Yet San Jose is old and historic, into 150 years now. This dichotomy is interesting, as like in puberty, San Jose is working through an identity crisis, trying to be like everyone else in the bay area, and not fully grasping his own stride yet. (I gave San Jose a masculine surname based off the name Jose. Just wanted to clarify.)

I went on a mad scientist (or mad planner) stream of consciousness tirade on my utopian scheme for the City of San Jose. Not the angry kind of mad, but a sort of crazy. In the curriculum, we are asked what are the strengths of San Jose, or any city we study, and how can that municipality capitalize on it and make it their arresting comparative advantage? In theory, every city is able to do something better than any other. What is San Jose good at that it needs to no longer try and be any other city. The 2040 General Plan calls for a city of neighborhoods, and it is easier to digest a city as large as San Jose into smaller, more manageable chunks. However, this neighborhood aspect has been achieved by San Francisco to a great degree. What can San Jose do to step into his own shoes?

Well, San Jose is the Center of Silicon Valley, with a university and job environment that attracts young tech-savvy professionals. What if San Jose, instead of vying with other cities for the crown of Silicon Valley, truly became a Silicon City.

  • Imagine the city where you have the possibility of being plugged into the city. The streets of downtown are laced with transparent panels that provide live information of the city, where crowds are, how traffic is, where human energy is generated.
  • Imagine being able to adapt the colors and patterns of a city based on the collective agreement and input of its residents and visitors. This would bring in a whole new wave of techno-tourism unseen in any other city and provide instance city interaction with its people.
  • Imagine being able to put your cell phone near one of the silicon panels and view and interact with it on a larger platform.
  • Imagine being able to walk around the city with your own customized background, or interact with others on location tenure.
  • Imagine bringing the option of location-based social media to a more tangible and interactive forum, seeing increased light and activity when certain venues draw in more check-ins. You no longer just need to follow the crowds as you see it, but can find the crowds across the city and see what everyone is talking about.
  • Imagine being able to visualize and manifest the outcomes of crowd-sourcing immediately.
  • Imagine everyone feeling the ability to leave their mark on the city. Digital graffiti welcomed and participated by all.
  • Imagine breaking down the realm of the physical and the digital, providing the environment of translation on a giant scale and merging the two worlds closer.
  • Imagine finding a niche that would pave the way for San Jose to become a global city in its own right.

San Jose has the capital, the innovative culture, and the companies and communities able to manifest this change. This is a bit of a stretch, but what if this trend of looking back and preserving the neighborhood feel has actually been more of an excuse to try new things, a cop out on innovation because of a fear of challenges and risks?

I hate to use the same Daniel Burnham quote, but it does have its applications, even in its saturation.
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood…. Make big plans… aim high in hope and work.”

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