Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


san-jose-overhead

Overhead of downtown San Jose. (PHOTO: XATSUKEX/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Rust Belt of Silicon Valley: San Jose Is Dying

• September 10, 2013 • 7:47 AM

Overhead of downtown San Jose. (PHOTO: XATSUKEX/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

As Silicon Valley’s focus shifts from hardware to software, its center is moving north, leaving behind a trail of decay.

From Silicon Prairie to Silicon Roundabout, contenders for the next Silicon Valley abound. What about the next Rust Belt? Look no further than Silicon Valley itself. Venture capitalist Danny Rimer: “The closer you get to San Jose, the more of a Rust Belt it has become.

Unwittingly, Rimer makes a contribution to urban economic geography. Touting the shift in gravity from San Jose to San Francisco won’t surprise anyone. However, he notes the dramatic change as most striking after spending the last few years toiling in Europe. Back in the States, we frogs slowly brought to a boil have failed to appreciate the decline. The tilt in innovation now favors software and services, modes of production well-suited for the city. The old horse of Silicon Valley, hardware, is a manufacturing process and requires more land. Its raison d’être migrating to cheaper locations, San Jose is dying.

What’s so remarkable about that? Rimer describes San Francisco as a producer city, not a consumer city. Edward Glaeser defines the abstraction:

Increasingly, urbanists draw a distinction between producer cities and consumer cities. Producer cities grow because of the desire of firms to locate in a particular place where economic returns are higher, while consumer cities thrive because people want to live there. Over the past 50 years, consumer cities have enjoyed increasing success, largely at the expense of producer cities.

The overriding logic of gentrification in San Francisco is one of production, not consumption. The pattern of real estate appreciation looks like transit oriented development (TOD) facilitating the journey to work. Those damn Google commuter buses:

Ground zero for this growing array of grievances is the Mission District, a historically working-class Latino neighborhood where Victorian flats and newer lofts have been overrun by techies.

Heated bidding wars — especially in a half-mile radius of shuttle bus stops — have broken out, causing rents to soar, even double in some cases. Along shuttle routes, trendy new restaurants that serve high-end food and spirits have taken the place of corner stores and mom-and-pop businesses.

Anti-Google graffiti has turned up here, and activists recently held a small anti-gentrification rally at which they smashed a Google bus piñata. Last year, a Google bus driver was caught on video threatening a bystander for photographing a shuttle blocking city buses and bicyclists.

Emphasis added. Production in the suburbs and exurbs is driving residential location decisions in the city. Rimer really didn’t talk about this relationship. He’s onto the next big trend in San Francisco, software and service production agglomerating in the urban core. As more jobs become available in the city proper, more workers can ditch the commuter bus for a brisk walk to the office. What’s to become of the dense office parks at the other end of Silicon Valley? Take a tour of another valley, carved out by the Monongahela River in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

More From Jim Russell

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 30 • 10:09 AM

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be To Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.


September 30 • 8:00 AM

The Psychology of Penmanship

Graphology: It’s all (probably) bunk.



September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


September 26 • 2:00 PM

Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It

The disease model is convenient to liberals because it spares them having to say negative things about poor communities. But this conception of addiction harms the very people we wish to help.


September 26 • 1:21 PM

Race, Trust, and Split-Second Judgments


September 26 • 9:47 AM

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what’s new and different more attractive.


September 26 • 8:00 AM

A Letter Becomes a Book Becomes a Play

Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth: A Play in Letters From Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and Back Again takes 900 pages of correspondence between the two poets and turns them into an on-stage performance.


September 26 • 7:00 AM

Sonic Hedgehog, DICER, and the Problem With Naming Genes

Wait, why is there a Pokemon gene?


September 26 • 6:00 AM

Sounds Like the Blues

At a music-licensing firm, any situation can become nostalgic, romantic, or adventurous, given the right background sounds.


September 26 • 5:00 AM

The Dark Side of Empathy

New research finds the much-lauded feeling of identification with another person’s emotions can lead to unwarranted aggressive behavior.



September 25 • 4:00 PM

Forging a New Path: Working to Build the Perfect Wildlife Corridor

When it comes to designing wildlife corridors, our most brilliant analytical minds are still no match for Mother Nature. But we’re getting there.


September 25 • 2:00 PM

Fashion as a Inescapable Institution

Like it or not, fashion is an institution because we can no longer feasibly make our own clothes.


September 25 • 12:00 PM

The Fake Birth Mothers Who Bilk Couples Out of Their Cash by Promising Future Babies

Another group that’s especially vulnerable to scams and fraud is that made up of those who are desperate to adopt a child.


September 25 • 10:03 AM

The Way We QuickType


September 25 • 10:00 AM

There’s a Name for Why You Feel Obligated to Upgrade All of Your Furniture to Match

And it’s called the Diderot effect.


Follow us


Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be To Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

How a Second Language Trains Your Brain for Math

Second languages strengthen the brain's executive control circuits, with benefits beyond words.

Would You Rather Go Blind or Lose Your Mind?

Americans consistently fear blindness, but how they compare it to other ailments varies across racial lines.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.