Staedler: Just be yourself, San Jose
A view of San Jose City Hall (courtesy of Andy Nguyen)

“Doesn’t San Jose want to be San Francisco?”

That’s the question I’ve been asked repeatedly over the last 20 years from people outside of the Bay Area. This is usually asked in a well meaning and earnest manner. Most people have little knowledge of the area and think of San Francisco as the shining example of the Bay Area.

My answer has always been: San Jose should focus on being the best San Jose it can be. It reminds me of a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “Comparison is the Thief of Joy.” I think this is most evident when it comes to the way that cities look at themselves.

It’s this unattainable goal that causes cities to lose focus on their core services and spend time trying to recreate another city’s vitality and unique qualities. When I make that statement, the person that I’m talking to nods their head but seems confused. An overused cliché is that people should build their brand by being authentic. The same is true for cities.

When a city tries to be something it’s not, it does not resonate and fails to convey the city’s goals and values. It seems like common sense but cities across the country are competing for economic development opportunities to boost their tax base.

That type of competition creates an environment where cities will do whatever it takes to attract companies or investors. Just look at the extreme hoops cities jumped through for Amazon’s second headquarters. As many pundits have opined, it created an unproductive and wasteful bidding war for a company that does not need any tax breaks to grow their business. The marketing gimmicks and publicity stunts did not reflect well on those cities.

San Jose, as most City Hall employees and elected officials will tell you, is the nation’s 10th largest city and the Capital of Silicon Valley. It’s a point of pride and our identity is shared with the rest of the country and the world.

As a city with more than a million residents, San Jose has become an environmental leader in terms of the Paris Climate Accord and is a very diverse and inclusive community. We have a lot to be proud of: San Jose’s history as the Valley of the Heart’s Delight, Cesar Chavez’s Si se Puede movement, San Jose State’s Speed City with Tommie Smith and John Carlos and the evolution of San Jose’s economic base into Silicon Valley.

As downtown San Jose attracts an avalanche of jobs with a proposed Google campus that includes 16 million square feet of office space, San Jose will stabilize its economic future.

Google, along with high speed rail and BART’s expansion into Diridon Station, will turn the area into one of the busiest transit hubs on the west coast. The growth of our overall economic base will allow for San Jose to stay out of petty fights and to deliver the much-needed services residents deserve.

It will be exciting to see San Jose maintain its positive path toward economic prosperity while not turning its back on its history and diversity. I hope we can put the question about being like San Francisco to bed and continue to strive to transform San Jose into its best self.

San José Spotlight columnist Bob Staedler is a principal at Silicon Valley Synergy, a San Jose-based land use and development consulting firm. His columns appear every first Monday of the month. Contact Bob at bob@svsynergy.com or follow @BobStaedler on Twitter.

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