Perhaps you’ve seen the advertisements that have appeared in the newspapers inviting San Jose residents to attend the “Community Open House” at the “new” Mineta San Jose Airport. If you have seen the ads, perhaps you noticed that several words and letters were highlighted in the text of the headline to spell out the words, “NEW ICON.” Is the new airport really an icon?
At the top of the first page of a special 16 page advertising supplement found in last Sunday’s Mercury News, the headline read, “The New Airport In Silicon Valley.” The letters in the word “NEW” were printed in gold color, as were the letters “I-C-O-N” in the word “SILICON.” The rest of the letters that appeared in the text of the headline were in black print. The gold printed letters spelled out , “NEW ICON.”
What’s an “icon” anyway? The first two dictionaries that I consulted both offered the definition of “icon” as, “a religious image printed on a small wood panel.” I kept searching, and found the more appropriate definition for icon as, “an object of uncritical devotion.” But, in the case of the airport, there’s much to be critical about, and the place offers little to warrant our civic devotion.
“Now Arriving,” the ad proclaims, “The Most Convenient, Passenger Friendly Airport In The U.S.” Let’s hope so, and it better be…the project costs a fortune. The airport’s “improvement program” costs $1.3 billion. In August 2007, the city sold $725 million in bonds, the largest bond issue ever done by the City of San Jose. The airport will begin paying debt service on the borrowed funds “for the next 30 to 40 years.”
The airport has a huge deficit. Last year, workers were laid off, and this year, the city is looking to outsource airport janitorial services. The city’s biggest construction project ever is being completed just in time to meet a depressed demand in passenger traffic. Well…at least it looks nice.
San Jose is a place where ceremony is placed before substance, and policy over purpose. Here, we actually spend more on the frame than we do on the picture. In the end, maybe “icon” is exactly the right word to describe the new airport. Perhaps it really is something that we should admire without questioning, and we should all make it, as the dictionary describes, “an object of uncritical devotion.” We have to think this way, otherwise our minds will wander to the realization that we’ve just completed San Jose’s second billion dollar pyramid.