Today I spent a day in Vallejo, talking to people. So far I have talked to people at the Chamber of Commerce, the Community College, the Historical Museum, Tourist office, journalists, citizens groups, city workers, and many small business owners, and several citizens and people from the Bay Area. I have also talked to police officers and firefighters, although not very formally yet. Besides that, I have had been over a lot of historical material at Berkeley, Vallejo and the internet. Basically I’m trying to understand what has happened there. How Vallejo, with such a fascinating history is now is such a bad situation.

Now I was searching for videos in youtube about the city, and I have found these two, from 2008, right before the city filed for bankruptcy. It’s important to acknowledged that so far is the biggest bankrupt city in California. Hopefully by next year they can solve the situation.


This video is from Glen Beck (for non-Americans reading this, they should know that he’s probably the most influential anti-Obama_government person) This was when the city was about to bankrupt. The video is from Fox News.


In this video the city had already bankrupt, and the Mayor is talking. Is from CNBC.

This third video is from KRON4, a TV covering the San Francisco Bay Area (Vallejo is in its north periphery). They point out the problem being the local police and firefighters. It was 80% of the local budget at that time, I attended to the last City Council and they said it was 74% now. I guess it’s because of the negotiations that the have had.

Today I visited the fire station. The firefighters were kind of skeptical to talk to me. I understand they can be tired to talk to any journalist or researcher nosing around. But the truth of the matter, is that if they don’t openly talk to the people, nobody will know their version. Anyways I think next week they will talk to me.

The purpose of my research is to learn “do and don’t s” we might avoid back in Denmark. I’m also working with another PhD student on the issue, and receive help from my advisor here in Berkeley.

Yesterday I was watching TV and they had a special on music of the 60’s. There were some groups, but then they showed this song from Petula Clark, according to the documentary she was part of the British invasion. The song was an international hit – #1 in the US – early in 1965. I have never put in this blog a video, and although this one is quite cheesy I think is interesting. It also helps me imagine the kind of downtown that the citizens of Vallejo, CA had in their mind when they decided to rebuild the Downtown in 1959 and early 60’s.

Bellow I paste the lyrics. The reason why I’m putting this is because is a relic of the American urban culture. With the exception of a few cities, nobody goes out anymore to Downtown. In Europe it’s not the same as in the past, but the Downtown feeling has survived better because of lesser use of the car. Anyways, in Europe and USA, in the late 1960’s the big urban sprawl was on its way, and at that time still people went out to the center of the city. Some say that there is a revival of the downtown in the U.S., let’s see what happens.

Downtown

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go – downtown
When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know – downtown
Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?

The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go downtown, things’ll be great when you’re
Downtown – no finer place, for sure
Downtown – everything’s waiting for you

Don’t hang around and let your problems surround you
There are movie shows – downtown
Maybe you know some little places to go to
Where they never close – downtown
Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossa nova
You’ll be dancing with him too before the night is over
Happy again

The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go downtown, where all the lights are bright
Downtown – waiting for you tonight
Downtown – you’re gonna be all right now

[Instrumental break]

And you may find somebody kind to help and understand you
Someone who is just like you and needs a gentle hand to
Guide them along

So maybe I’ll see you there
We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares
So go downtown, things’ll be great when you’re
Downtown – don’t wait a minute for more
Downtown – everything’s waiting for you

Downtown, downtown, downtown, downtown …

Before I start some qualitative research in the area I have to study the background. I always like to pay special attention to history. In the outstanding libraries here I have found some very interesting material, some of them quite old. I have a pearl to share.

This is from “The prospects of Vallejo; or, Evidences that Vallejo will become a great city. A re-publication of a series of articles first printed in the Vallejo evening chronicle, from March to July 1871.”  It came with a nice map, and when they gave it to me, the librarian told me: “careful, the map is falling apart”.

To put in context, the leaders of Vallejo at the time, were explaining the reasons why Vallejo was going to become a big metropolis, probably among the top 3 cities in California (being at that time the city of San Francisco their main competitor, which even though it had the 25% of the State population and the 50% of its wealth, it seemed to show some weaknesses related to economic geography issues). The articles are actually really good. In such a fashion that I think anyone could be convinced. The main reason they argue was that the train arrived to the city (direct connection from East Coast to West Coast), and that their harbour was starting to take off. During the various articles they mix the best skills of real estate, politicians, academics and marketing fellows.  Their main point was to attract capital for their harbour. Probably these guys had all the investments in their life there.

The interesting thing is the different language. Something that now would not look politically correct. Their thesis all across the articles is: 1) “the intelligent men” look for the most profitable places for their enterprises, 2) They go where they are, and 3) That’s what creates economic development (me paraphrasing).

In the following snippet, (that I think I’m the first to transcribe on the internet) they quote the magnate Horace Greeley, and then they present a rebuttal:

Horace Greeley on San Francisco

At a dinner given in New York on the 13th of October, 1869, to an excursion party of the California Pioneers, Horace Greeley having been called on to respond to the toast of “New York and California,” in the course of his remarks said:

When we speak of the present or the expected greatness of these two remarkable cities, New York and San Francisco, I bet that it will ever be remembered that great cities are the expression of great ideas that they grow out of genius men. Alexander gave his name to the city he formed, and that city bears his name and is memorable to this day. Rome is mighty because of the Senate and people that made her high and proud position – made her the Eternal City; eternal because the genius that created her still lingers over her hills, still is reflected in the sunshine that gleams on her palaces; and thus the shadows of ancient greatness recall to our minds memories and associations that make us nobler that we otherwise would be [Applause.]   If these two cities are to be great, they will be great because of the men who have still the genius to preserve and extend the advantages they have won. Had there been no De Witt Clinton, and had there been no Erie Canal, in vain would have been the central position and commercial advantages of this city. She was not the first city of America until her great men gave artificial extension and development to those advantages, and thereby fixed on her, I think, for centuries, certainly for the present age, the honored advantages of being the emporium of the Western World. If she is to maintain this position, she will do it because she will do it because she will have great men continually able to keep her in advance. As she has seized the canal, telegraph and railroad, and pressed them into her service, so she must be ready, as new inventions are presented, to seize them and turn them to her advantage. As it is with New York so will it be with San Francisco. Les us not believe that because this city has quadrupled in population in the last half century that it is in the order of things and must continue. She will maintain her position, for her great men have the power to plan new enterprises, and her great financiers shall second those efforts, and continue to keep her at the head of the commercial world. So with San Francisco. The great railroad recently achieved would never have been if there had not been men in that city who saw capacities and perceived opportunities and possibilities which the multitude did not see.

Mr. Greeley is wrong in supposing that the construction of the railroad is due to San Francisco; he is wrong in supposing that the danger to which that city is exposed (he refers to it, evidently, though he does not mention it,) could be averted by the genius of the business men; and he is wrong again in assuming that genius makes cities. It is the good site that attracts and rewards genius, and stimulates enterprise.

I’m looking at these two cities areas. Frederishavn is a small city of roughly 25,000 inhabitants in North Denmark, with some dependent towns around. Vallejo it’s a city in California 4 times bigger than the Danish one.

For several reasons that I will lay out, I think Frederikshavn has some interesting lessons to learn from Vallejo. Perhaps, it can also be the other way around.

I’m not really doing a comparative study. However I’m going to say some of the differences and similarities between these two places. (See a map of the two)

Differences

  1. Vallejo is considered by some, part of the San Francisco Bay Area. So it’s geographically close to a population of 7 million people.
  2. It’s in the United States, and it’s regulated with its Federal (national) and State (California) laws.
  3. American socieconomic characteristics.
  4. Historical traits of U.S. western city (with booms and busts).
  5. Very diverse population. Frederikshavn has a less than 5% of its population non-white, Vallejo has only 1/3 of its population white, the rest is quite mixed (1/4 Asian,  1/4 African-American, and the rest from different races. Hispanic are 15% aprox.)
  6. Vallejo has a very nice weather :)

Similarities that Vallejo has with Frederikshavn:

  1. Blue-collar town (with all that this implies)
  2. Train got there at the same time (1869 in Vallejo and 1871 Frh.) by the end of railways boom.
  3. Its coast and train arrival are the two most important factor to explain the existence and development of both.
  4. Industrial oriented during all 20th century
  5. Shipyards highest employer during mid 20th century (In Vallejo were mostly military)
  6. Shipyards closed in the 90’s
  7. Traditionally military “Navy town” (Base closed in 1996 in Vallejo)
  8. It can be considered in the “periphery” of innovative regions, supplying people there
  9. ‘Little brother syndrome’ compared to relatively close bigger cities
  10. Even though they’re not a rich town, they have a decent living standard on average
  11. Important recent political changes (political tension).
  12. Recent change of Mayor (2008-09)
  13. Strong emphasis in ‘experience economy’ (recreation, tourism, culture, etc.)
  14. Town in the middle on the way of bigger city-regions (“strategic” geographical position)
  15. Strong focus on fostering entrepreneurship, with partial success
  16. Powerful unions
  17. Regarded as a lesser city by the bigger cities
  18. Education scores are lower than average
  19. A high number of young people leave
  20. Relative violent reputation
  21. There is a small marina
  22. There is a ferry service
  23. Crucial building projects have not started because of lack of funds
  24. Current higher unemployment than average
  25. Recent serious economic troubles
  26. A few groups of very active citizens
  27. They are the poorest rich (The Bay Areas as well as Denmark are very rich places compared to the rest of the world).

I have been updating this post. The more I have studied Vallejo, the more I found similarities.

Frederikshavn vs. Vallejo

February 5, 2010

My plan here is diverse, and I have to admit that I have not fully planned. But I’m going to specially look at the city of Vallejo, as you can see in my description (Local development and the socioeconomic factors of Vallejo, CA). This city has many differences with the city I do research for (Frederikshavn, Denmark) but that also has many similarities. Stay tuned for more details.

Here I put two maps of the area that I’m interested in. Note that in both maps, south of the black square is where I have my offices (Aalborg and Berkeley). Maps are on the same scale courtesy of Bing Maps.

Municipality of Frederikshavn (North Denmark)

City of Vallejo (California, USA)

This is an update: (see Differences and Similarities between Frederikshavn and Vallejo)