For decades San Jose has tried to find its identity through an iconic landmark. The latest quest is an art installation called Breeze of Innovation, culled from nearly 1,000 international submissions.
The 500 flexible, 200-foot rods are designed to sway in the wind and light up the sky at night. In renderings the idea looks like a marvel, but when you consider the cost, location and purpose the idea doesn’t sound marvelous at all.
Let’s start with cost. Organizers initially said the project would cost an eye-popping $100 million, but won’t say how much a current scaled-down version will be. Urban Confluence Silicon Valley, the philanthropic nonprofit leading the effort, has raised just over $3 million. This can be a tough sell in a city with a host of post-pandemic problems. Imagine if those same dollars went toward need instead of vanity.
San Jose is a city with thousands of homeless residents and families barely getting by. What if Destination: Home and its coalition of partners had additional funds to distribute through the Silicon Valley Guaranteed Income Project, which provides $1,000 per month to 150 struggling families for two years to lift them out of poverty? Or how about trying to reduce the city’s food insecurity? Hunger remains a top issue in San Jose and Santa Clara County, with one in three children at risk of facing food insecurity, according to Second Harvest Silicon Valley. Couple these problems with cost-of-living woes and fundraising for a multi-million-dollar art installation sounds downright frivolous.
Then there’s the question of location. The original plan was to anchor the art at Arena Green in downtown San Jose near the Guadalupe River and Los Gatos Creek. Environmentalists were adamant the idea would negatively impact local species along the creek corridor with nighttime light pollution. They questioned why it would be placed on public parkland.
So Urban Confluence pitched a slimmer version, with a presumably lower cost, and moved it to Plaza de Cesar Chavez—which is still public parkland. Environmentalists have yet to weigh in.
The decision to move the project is even more puzzling. The only open space in the plaza is already spoken for by the beloved fountains. Is the city going to tear those out? Will the trees that encircle the plaza be removed? And how would this be integrated so it doesn’t interfere with Music in the Park or Christmas in the Park, the only real longstanding traditions in downtown San Jose?
Lastly, there is the question of purpose and whether this installation really captures the culture and essence of San Jose—particularly its rich diversity. It wasn’t designed by anyone local and doesn’t incorporate San Jose’s robust cultural history and communities of color. How can anything designed by an architecture studio, with offices in Australia and Spain, have a clue about what might attract people to San Jose?
So once more, those in search of that iconic landmark have ignored the local artists and heritage of one of the most diverse cities in the nation. Even if locals help bring this installation to life, it would be on their backs, not through their minds.
None of this makes sense because the hard truth is this: San Jose is a business town. People come here for conferences and conventions, to discover how to grow successful companies in incubators or pitch their ideas to tech giants and venture capitalists. San Jose hasn’t traditionally been a sightseeing city. A “landmark” designed from across the world that ignores local artists and culture isn’t going to change that.
The city can do the most good solving its humanitarian problems—and maybe that will attract more people to our city.