A proposal to modify the Gateway Tower development project in order to preserve the buildings on South First Street while establishing a center that celebrates and continues a city legacy.
This is our city
It’s okay for a city to grow. In fact, the city we know today wouldn’t be here if we didn’t accept the natural tendency for a city to do just that. However, as citizens of San Jose, we’ve also become jaded after seeing so much of our city torn down while feeling powerless to stop it or to even be heard. Our viewpoint has shifted slowly, and we have fallen into a paralyzed mindset that could be vocalized as: “Developers come in with loads of financial backing, so who are we to question them? They’re important: They build big, tall buildings. They have lots of money. They have lots of power.”
But that isn't accurate. This is our city. This is not the council’s playground or the developer’s monopoly gameboard. It’s our town and we are powerful because we are the city.
Downtown is ours to protect, and we can share with outside developers when we need to, but there is no pressing need to remove this block -- there is nothing wrong with it -- and we are lucky to have it.
We can't continually remove what makes this city San Jose in order to make room for people to be here, because if we do that over and over again, what we're left with is a bunch of people living in a place that is no longer San Jose. At that point, we've simply created a bunch of tall boxes and filled them with people, but that is ultimately nothing more than artifical growth, and does not represent success.
Ask yourself this: What will the people do once they're local? Each time we remove a piece of the city's unique fabric, we remove one more reason to be here.
The other side of the story
Whenever there are local efforts to save a city treasure from outside developers, we often hear several familiar refrains. Here they are, along with responses to each:
These aren’t that old. In Europe it is commonplace to see buildings that are hundreds of years old.
Buildings become hundreds of years old when they are kept, not when they are knocked down. If we keep tearing buildings down simply because they aren’t that old, then we really won’t have anything to show down the road. Compared to what does exist in the city today, these buildings are quite old.
If local preservationists want to save the buildings, they should pony up the cash.
Are we expected to be wealthy in order to defend our town? Do we as citizens of the town ultimately have no right to decide what we keep unless we are rich?
There’s nothing special about these buildings.
Of course they aren’t special to someone who didn’t grow up here, or doesn't care about the city to begin with. That’s not the point. Or perhaps that is exactly the point. As long as we let outsiders with no connection to our city make the decisions, then we can’t really be surprised when we lose everything that we hold dear.
San Joseans should not have to scramble and beg in order to keep a block intact, especially when there’s nothing wrong there to begin with. Here we have a row of beautifully intact, quaint gems from our city’s past. Let’s not break what doesn’t need fixing. These buildings have a history of frequent and successful use that requires no interruption.
Responsible planning considers the consequences
While a limited set of people will absolutely benefit from building at this location, the residents of the city who frequent these streets day and night would obviously prefer the current buildings be occupied with unique and interesting businesses, art galleries, and music spaces that are owned and run by locals. Such spaces would offer an experience that is unique to the street, specific to San Jose, and something that it ours, and not theirs.
City Planners express the need for more people downtown, and strategize to locate new housing centrally so that the residents have easy access to work, play, and transportation. That makes sense. What does not make sense is to permanently remove a significant piece of the city's cultural and technological history in order to create something that it not -- in the long run -- contributing any sort of advancement in the same fashion.
If we ask a developer to help with our general plan, that’s fine. In fact, we should have a plan. We should also make an important distinction here: There is an enormous difference between planning a city versus planning around one that already exists. We are not creating and laying a new city in the middle of the wilderness here, and yet so often it feels that such is the case. And yet all the while we've never been in a situation where we're plotting on a piece of paper -- where the sky is the limit and there are no holds barred. In fact, all along we've been planning around a city that has been here for hundreds of years. Just because other cities demolish their historic resources on a regular basis doesn’t make it okay and doesn’t make it something that we want. That isn’t San Jose.
Just because other cities are hot to put up a hundred condo towers and bring in the tax revenue and claim to be another big city, doesn’t make it okay and doesn’t make it something that we want. That isn’t San Jose.
Look outside... that’s San Jose! The city we know and love!
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