When Clint Eastwood as the Man With No Name would ride into town, he had no history. He would be right at home in San Jose. San Jose has become a city that may as well have no history because we continually forget what we have and, as they say, those who forget history are bound to repeat it.
This is a great irony because we are the oldest civil settlement in California and the seat of the first California Legislature. Yet, I think we are adrift without any real sense of direction or remembrance. I’m pleased that Leonard McKay refreshed our memories about all the creameries that we used to enjoy “downtown”—places we could all go to share the common experience of a community.
Maybe it’s the nature of things that there is birth, death and rebirth. Maybe it’s normal that downtowns live and die, but where is the rebirth of our downtown? Where is the feeling of belonging to something that is bigger than us and, at the same time, small enough to create a sense of permanence and continuity? Where is the remembrance? Maybe some of us are simply living in the past and the future has passed us by. Maybe the future is supposed to have no past.
Dutch Hamann built more parks than any city manager before or since, and what do we remember him for but sprawl and the creation of Valley Fair in the late 1950s that drove the first stake through downtown’s heart. Planners, mayors, managers and council members ever since, with a few notable exceptions, have tried to reinvent downtown, but all we have gotten is art, mostly modern, Quetzalcoatl, a few new architecturally boring buildings, a $500 million nouveau gauche City Hall, an empty Sobrato building and a place where Single Gal cannot get a real date. Boy, guys are sure different from when I was young and single!
At the same time, we can’t seem to resurrect our statue of Fallon because it’s not PC. We keep repeating the mistakes of the past as we divert more resources into projects such as Santana Row. We chase the pipe dream of having a major league baseball team. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see MLB in San Jose, but we’re still bumbling it as we’ve been doing for 20 years. Furthermore, if we’re not very, very careful, Coyote Valley will drive another stake through downtown and it’ll take us decades to recover from that. Why? You may ask what harm it would be to move the center of community 30 miles south. The answer is simple: sprawl, congestion, and dissipation. Those are the same things we did with Valley Fair, Santana Row and all the commercial strips that we have built over the years.
The Man With No Name would feel right at home!