Yesterday there was an article about Vallejo in the Financial Times. It says:

For an image of the future that is guaranteed to chill US civic leaders and bondholders alike, there is no better place to look than among the potholed streets and boarded-up houses that litter the Californian city of Vallejo.

It made me feel good that last year I went to the city to make a case study about it. I stated at Univ. of California, Berkeley during the whole Spring semester 2010. A few days ago I finished writing a paper called “VALLEJO, CALIFORNIA. FROM THE FRINGES OF THE CITY, A CASE FOR THE ‘CITY REGION SYSTEM OF SURVIVAL’. I wrote it to present it at the DIME-DRUID ACADEMY Winter Conference 2011, this week.

This paper is very heterodox, and is a paper on progress. The main purpose of it was to make a summary of theories I learned about Local Economic Development at the Berkeley libraries. I then tried to connect the case of this city (or district) of the San Francisco Bay Area, and its significance to entrepreneurship and innovation policy. Innovation from a broad sense, for the ones that now what I’m talking about.

I got much help from the locals of Vallejo, and one of them, the editor of the popular Vallejo Independent Bulletin, asked me to send him a copy of the article when I would finished it. Keeping my word I sent it to him, and he has published it online.

My article at the Vallejo Independent Bulletin

I am grateful he did it, because I got a few comments from the citizens. This made me realize that my ideas are still quite confusing. So I wrote a comment. It seems it has an anti-spam feature, I told the editor. For now I’ll put it here.

Since I read the comments of Ab and SomeoneElse on my paper about Vallejo and the Bay Area, I have been thinking a lot.

I am grateful for the comments. In particular, because I have realized that I have not made a good job to express my ideas. This is hard, as English is not my native language. But also because of the internal fight I have had. I am a PhD student specializing in local economic development, but it is the case of Vallejo that has made me changed many of my preconceptions. Now I would like to comment on the comments.

Ab says: -“the last line is spont on”- and then quotes me: -“Vallejo … end up like many cities in third world countries, where a few (police and firefighters?) live in affluence while the vast majority of citizens live and die in misery”- [police and firefighters added by Ab].

There are two things. First it should be understood that even though Vallejo has been a city, since the 19th century, I refer in the paper as a “district” of the city-region of the Bay Area. I know this may sound weird for any local (of the Bay Area), but coming from abroad I can clearly see that the Bay Area is a large metropolitan area, highly connected in its economic geography.

The second thing is that I don’t necessarily say that police and firefighters are the few, or the elite of Vallejo, nor of course the elite of the city-region. True, they are an interest group, and as I referenced in the paper they have a well known “symbiotic relationship” with the political power of the city. But going back to my first point, one has to look beyond the city limits of Vallejo. Making $150,000 as a safety employee it’s certainly high, but what about the bankers and real estate leaders who make 10 times or more, in the different districts of the Bay Area?. This is probably a stupid comparison, but what about the profits of a company of the city region, like Apple making 100,000 times more. But still, what is their responsibility towards their neighbors?

“Someone Else” points out we need to think outside the box. I’ll try to do it. There is so much anger against the public safety employees, and probably with a reason. But this is not going to solve the problem of Vallejo. Thinking outside the box… What about a Bay Area police? After all, the criminals operate in all the Bay Area, not only in one particular city. I am NOT an expert in safety, but I see that the New York City Police Department, covers 8 million people, more than the 7 million of the Bay Area. The Bay Area has already the BART police, that would fall inside the Bay Area Police. The 9 counties police departments (sheriffs), a heritage from a bygone era could also be reduced. I repeat, I have no idea about this field. But as an economist I would think that cities (and their tax payers) would avoid the “competition” among them. And that is the idea: work more towards collaboration, than competition.

Of course, safety should not be the only thing. In fact should be the least. The most important things would be towards, education. I had the chance to be in UC Berkeley, one of the most amazing universities in the world. Also visited friends in Stanford. Great places. I know all these ideas have been said many times before, even from the former Governor (I still can’t believe people voted for an European actor). But there should be more mechanisms to get more funding for the rest of more ordinary higher education. However, what I think is of really concern, is the high inequality in the school districts across the Bay Area. In Europe we have many problems, don’t get me wrong! but with the exception of a few countries (like UK), every child has the same amount of money allocated for education, regardless in which neighborhood was born. There is an urgent need for a more cohesive education across the Bay Area.

More cohesiveness should be as well for access to justice, healthcare, transportation, innovation and entrepreneurship policy, etc in the Bay Area. That’s what I am trying to say in the paper. Because the different parts of the city region are so interdependent.

The same goes to having X or Y Mayor. Sure, many question if Davis should be the Mayor. But I think it does not matter if X or Y, or Z would be Mayors. Neither if Vallejo hires the best consultants, or the best City Manager. My hypothesis is that it does not matter who is in the leadership of Vallejo. The city will not survive.

Unless, they realize that: 1) Vallejo is dependent of the city-region. (This does not mean surrender). 2) There is need of active coordination, at local (Vallejo) and city-region level. That is stop fighting at local and inter-local level, and start collaborating.

If not, and now I clarify, the city region of San Francisco, will become more and more as third world country, “where a few live in affluence while the vast majority of citizens live and die in misery.”. Many in the elite, as the mentioned Andy Grove in the paper, have noticed it.

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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.