Most of the world sees San José, Calif. as the capital of Silicon Valley, a creative tech hub drawing extraordinary talent to some of the world’s largest media companies like Google, Facebook and more.
Yet the country’s 10th largest city faces significant challenges, including gaping economic disparity and a significant digital divide. Richard Florida, a leading intellectual on economic competitiveness, writes that wage inequality in San José, Calif. is the second largest in the country.
We recently asked several of the community’s leaders from philanthropy, government and the arts what they see as their city’s greatest assets and biggest challenges.
Here’s what they had to say:
E.W.: San José and Silicon Valley are rich in diversity – its residents represent an incredible range of cultural traditions and languages, and we enjoy an environment that encompasses beautiful open spaces, farmland and vibrant urban neighborhoods. The innovations generated by our universities and businesses – from global corporations to one-person startups – often make Silicon Valley residents feel as if the solutions to the world’s toughest problems must surely be within reach.
And yet there are still enormous issues that divide us. Serious and growing economic disparity between rich and poor, unequal access to digital technology and education, lack of affordable housing and inadequate transportation systems are among them. Striving to narrow the gap between those who have and those in need is what makes our work at the community foundation rewarding.
Connie Martinez, managing director and CEO of 1stACT Silicon Valley (which seeks to make downtown San José a more viable, fun and friendly place to live) and Executive Director of the Arts Council of Silicon Valley:
C.M.: Silicon Valley is among one of the most international, best educated and wealthiest regions in the world with arts and culture that is innovative, diverse, participatory and accessible. Our biggest unmet opportunity is connecting our unique and distributed cultural ecosystem with our next generation of tech “cube dwellers” and students from Stanford, San José State and Santa Clara University.
J.A.: A home-grown network of neighborhood activists is building on the legacy of United Farm Worker founder César Chávez here. In the Mayfair neighborhood, 75 Promotores (peer mentors) are taking matters into their own hands to unite the community in a campaign to make sure our children can read by the end of third grade. Right now, only 30% of our kids are reading at grade level and if something isn’t done to change that, historical data tells us that 50% of them will drop out of school before completing high school.
Everyday Somos Mayfair’s team of Promotores fans out to coach their neighbors to read with their children at least 20 minutes per day. Together we’re building a neighborhood culture that values reading as the foundation for our children’s’ success in school and beyond. In leading this campaign, our Promotores are reliving the experience of Chávez, whose first experience in community organizing was in the Mayfair neighborhood fighting for sidewalks, street lights and the right to vote. In his honor, we’ve named our campaign In Our Hands and like César we aren’t waiting for others to lead. Join us or step aside for into our own hands we take the responsibility of giving our kids the best chance for success.
Kip Harkness, assistant to the city manager of San José:
K.H.: During these times of fiscal austerity, local governments have been acting a bit like a beggar sitting on an old chest on the side of the road asking for help from passers by. Increased taxes please? Service cuts please?… But when the beggar for the first time takes a minute to look inside the old chest, he finds it is filled with treasure. That treasure, in the case of the City of San José, is the creative, smart, and hard working people of Silicon Valley.
Imagine if we could focus just 2 percent of the innovation and ingenuity of the employees of the established tech giants and Valley startups on solving problems right in their own backyard. What if we could awaken the proven capacity of our residents to disrupt archaic and arcane bureaucratic approaches to service delivery with innovative new models?
Joel Slayton, the executive director of Zero 1, a biennial festival featuring the work of diverse contemporary artists that seeks to transform Silicon Valley into a place for innovative art production:
J.S.: Silicon Valley, a highly distributed and networked region with the City of San José as its urban center, is the largest and most influential high-tech center in the world. It is an important portal on the Eastern edge of the Pacific region, which shares deep historical and cultural connections that range from Latin America, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia to Asia. It’s a great place to live and work.
The old model of city just doesn’t cut it here. Expectations are huge. Speed, scaling and global are baseline values while creativity and innovation are the core capacity. Experimentation in art, science, architecture, engineering, design, literature, theater and music is emerging new forms of cultural production and experience unique to the region. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are among the most dedicated art collectors and generous supporters of Bay Area nonprofit arts institutions. Many of the pioneering and most important contemporary art/tech artists live and work here, including Jim Campbell, Camille Utterback, Alan Rath, Paul De Marinis, Lynn Hershman Leeson and Ken Goldberg. It is only fitting that ZERO1 be centered in San José. We believe that the innovations emerging from contemporary artistic practice can not only expand our notions of the boundaries of art, but also illuminate how to become more socially and culturally responsible.
By Elizabeth R. Miller, communications associate at Knight Foundation
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