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October 25-31, 2006

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Where Are We?

By Gary Singh

FOR WHATEVER reasons, people at home and abroad have been asking me for a billion years why I haven't finally left San Jose. Why I haven't once and for all high-tailed it out of this suburban sprawl and moved on to another splotch of terra firma? With comforting intentions, they always say stuff like, "There's nothing left here for you," or, "You're too attached to this city, you should go live somewhere else." What I believe they're trying to convey is that I just can't grow up and make a decision and finally bail, which may or may not be true.

This dialogue emerges whenever I'm in ultraregression mode after returning from a city much more happening than San Jose, you know, like Kyoto, Thessaloniki, Hong Kong, Stockholm or Santa Cruz. For example, I was in Boston a few months ago and I learned of their Fort Point Arts Community, where they converted a vintage industrial building into over 80 artist live/work units. That's right, they didn't raze the place and erect hideous cookie-cutter condos like San Jose would have done. They had the artists in mind. You had property owners who actually cared about the role of the arts in the future of their city. And as on my last few trips to Vancouver, where similar redevelopment scenarios occurred on a grander scale, I came back screaming to myself, "Why the hell can't we do this here?"

But I guess that's a fruitless attitude because even though San Jose has gargantuan potential for blossoming into a serious world-class city, the majority of folks who live within its limits couldn't care less and would rather it remain a one-horse town forever.

Of course, whenever anyone rails about this, the old-timers always respond exactly the same way: "Stop trying to compare San Jose to somewhere else. You should instead be proud of San Jose for what it is."

"But what is that?" I always ask.

And I never get an answer except for: Well, the first capital of California, the 10th largest city in the United States, close to the beach, great weather, diversity, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.

You see, this is how I'm starting to perceive the generation gap in San Jose: You have seniors who remember the place for what it once was, and then you have younger folks who are bored with everything that it currently is. Not that those are the only opinions, but in some screwed-up way, I can identify with both of those sentiments.

In any event, what's glaringly obvious is that San Jose is a constantly changing locale with many disparate elements, which would normally be a good thing in any real city with real leadership, but no one currently running for any political office in this town knows what to do with this place, as a whole. No one has a vision to unite all of San Jose. No one.

Here's a small cross-section of the multiplicity: You've got East Side neighborhoods that are entirely run by gangs. You've got the North San Jose "high-tech" sector. We have probably the largest and most interesting Vietnamese community anywhere outside Vietnam—a community that no one else in San Jose knows anything about. In Willow Glen, you'll meet clods who think their neighborhood should be the "downtown" of San Jose, although they're mostly yuppie transplants who were never part of the original Willow Glen to begin with. And, if you're like me, you can remember what used to be a thriving counterculture bohemian live-music scene downtown circa 1992, which was decimated by malicious property owners. Lastly, there exist folks who've lived in San Jose for decades, but know and care absolutely nothing about what I just said in this paragraph.

I don't claim to know the answers myself—I'm just a desperado gadfly who wants his hometown to have some sort of persona it can call its own. I guess the only cornball excuse I can manufacture is that I'm a product of my environment: a suburban wasteland forever in search of a city.

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