When it comes to major American cities, San Jose, Calif., has long had an inferiority complex.
The 10th largest city in the U.S., with more than a million residents, San Jose lives in the perennial shadow of San Francisco, its smaller, but far more famous neighbour located an hour to the north.
San Francisco has iconic parks, cable cars, world-famous architecture and an array of Michelin-starred restaurants that have drawn waves of young workers and the headquarters of firms like Uber, Twitter, AirBnb and Slack. It so dominates the region’s psyche that Bay Area locals simply refer to it as “The City.”
San Jose, meanwhile, is where shuttle buses drop workers at the suburban campuses of well-established computer giants like Cisco and Adobe. It has dubbed itself the Capital of Silicon Valley, though the municipality is better known as a place where families go for good schools, single-family homes with large backyards and ample parking at shopping malls.
But the pandemic has upended conventional wisdom about the benefits of living in densely packed, transit-oriented cities. Throngs of San Francisco’s work-from-anywhere tech employees have fled their cramped apartments for vacation destinations like Lake Tahoe and Hawaii. Rents for studio apartments in the city have plunged roughly 30 per cent since the start of the pandemic, according to online real estate firm Zillow.
The aftermath of COVID-19 may turn out to be San Jose’s moment to shine. Earlier this year, Moody’s Corp. ranked it among the 10 American cities best positioned to weather the pandemic. The list took into account the city’s educated workforce, its concentration of high-tech employment and the allure of its car-centric neighbourhoods and relatively low population density.
San Jose joined other post-pandemic superstars on Moody’s ranking including Salt Lake City, Utah and Boise, Idaho. Those locations are rarely thought of as global tourist destinations, but cities like New York, Miami and Los Angeles – whose economies rely more heavily on hospitality, tourism and small businesses – fared poorly in the analysis.
In a vote of confidence for the future of urban living, last month Alphabet Inc.'s Google unveiled designs for a sprawling complex in San Jose’s downtown. The urban village, adjacent to the city’s main transit hub, is expected to include 4,000 homes, 10 parks, shopping and hotels, and office space for roughly 25,000 employees, all fueled by an on-site, solar-powered microgrid. The project is part of a massive construction boom that is expected to transform roughly 100 hectares of San Jose’s sleepy city centre.
Civic leaders wasted no time in celebrating the city’s success. This fall, they unveiled the finalists in a competition to design the world’s next iconic landmark. The project’s organizers said the winning sculpture, destined for a downtown San Jose park, would celebrate Silicon Valley’s innovation while combining “the spirit of the Eiffel Tower with the breathtaking gift of the Statue of Liberty.”
Not everyone is happy with San Jose’s coming of age. The San Jose Sharks NHL team, whose arena sits in the middle of the planned downtown construction, threatened to relocate this month, citing concerns that included a lack of parking.
San Jose’s Mayor Sam Liccardo suggested that professional sports teams – which have been hard hit by the pandemic-related shutdowns – should be so lucky to face a future where even more local residents will live within walking distance of their games. “In any dynamic, revitalizing downtown on this planet, the universal mantra applies,” he told The San Jose Mercury News this week: “Pardon the dust.”
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