According to a recent report by the United States Census Bureau, the pecking order of the most populous U.S. cities has changed. The report, issued June 30, shows in 2004 San Jose, with an estimated population of 904,522 is the nation’s 10th-largest city, overtaking Detroit with its smaller population of 900,198.
The U.S. Census traditionally releases population figures for the year previous to the date the figures are made public.
‘Capital of Silicon Valley’ still an unknown among Americans
According to a report in the San Jose Mercury News, Mayor Ron Gonzales is saying the new ranking may help people across the U.S. be more interested in San Jose and think of it as a world-class city. “It puts us in a very distinguished class,” he told the paper.
But for many, northern California’s largest city, the self-proclaimed “Capital of Silicon Valley” remains an enigma. In a country not noted for its geographical knowledge prowess, many Americans have no idea where San Jose actually is. Culturally, the city may be best known as the title location of a Dionne Warwick hit song with the ironic title, Do You Know the Way to San Jose?
Many locals claim the city suffers from a self esteem problem stretching back to 1852 when San Jose lost the honor of being the California state capital to Sacramento. Additionally, for most of its existence, San Jose has been overshadowed by its smaller and more glamorous neighbor to the north, San Francisco.
“San Francisco has been in the limelight since 1849, and it was the capital of everything west of the Mississippi – it was a huge presence in the psyche of the world, and we can never replace that,” David Vossbrink, San Jose city spokesman told the San Francisco Chronicle.
It doesn’t stop with San Francisco, San Jose is routinely outshined by other Bay Area cities such as Oakland, California, which is one-third its size. Additionally, the city’s own Silicon Valley suburbs, including Palo Alto and Cupertino, regularly steal the national spotlight from San Jose.
As far as the workkforce is concerned, San Jose continues to reel from the dot-com meltdown of the early 2000’s. With an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent, it has a higher jobless rate than the national average of 5.1 percent. For a couple of years after the 2000 tech crash, San Jose lost population as thousands of unemployed fled to look for work elsewhere.
But the city is on the mend and does have some legitimate bragging rights aside from sheer size. Despite the unemployment, San Jose is America’s wealthiest big city with an average household annual income of $70,000. It consistently ranks as “The Safest Big City in America,” according to FBI crime statistics as having the lowest violent crime rate for any U.S. city with a population over 500,000. The local public university, San Jose State is the largest within the California State University system.
Economically, an increasing number of large companies also are opting to call San Jose home, including Cisco Systems, Knight Ridder, eBay and Adobe Systems.
Slowdown in ‘Motown’ a long time coming
For many media outlets covering San Jose’s ascendence into the ranks of the United States’ Top 10 cities, the real story has been the decline of Detroit and its symbol as a Midwestern industrial giant.
For decades, Detroit, the self-styled “Motor City,” rested its fortunes with the American automobile industry. Each of the Big Three automobile manufacturers, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, maintained headquarters there.
But with the shift of the U.S. economy away from heavy industry to services and technology, cities like Detroit suffered, while cities like San Jose prospered.
Detroit’s decline in population is not a new phenomenon. In the 1950s, the city had a population of about 1.8 million, ranking as the fourth-largest U.S. city. But its fortunes started changing in the 1970s with the OPEC oil embargo and the rise of Japan as an automobile-producing powerhouse. As the city’s fortunes waned, many residents fled Detroit for the suburbs or opted to leave Michigan altogether.
“It’s part of a pattern for the heavily industrialized cities, but I think Detroit is a specific case. There’s been an ongoing dynamic here of people, middle-class people in Detroit, fleeing the city looking for better schools, better lifestyles, better services. So it has been a particularly hard fall,” Dana Johnson, chief economist at Comerica Bank in Detroit said in an interview with the New York Times.
Detroit has also been taking its knocks in recent statistics. Unlike San Jose’s reputation for being a safe place to live, Detroit tops the list of most violent U.S. big cities. In the past year, Time magazine named Detroit Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick among the worst mayors in the U.S.
Along with the exodus of people and 7.8 percent unemployment rate, Detroit harbors a sight unseen in San Jose, blocks of vacant housing. For years these vacant buildings have been the targets of arsonists on the so-called Devil’s Night, where blocks of homes have been set ablaze in Detroit.
Additionally, unlike San Jose, which is in the process of moving 1,800 employees into a new $388 million city hall and faces shortage of police officers, shrinking Detroit faces a $300 million budget deficit and the prospect of laying off 700 police and fire-fighting personnel in the next few months.