I caught the tail-end of an interview on the radio this evening between the BBC's Peter Day and Stanford economist Paul Romer at the London Economic Summit. Mr . Romer was talking about the power of the city as a cohesive, functional civic unit. Mr. Day asked Mr. Romer which city he calls home, to which he replied, "San Francisco." Unsatisfied, Mr. Day pressed as to whether he lived in the City proper or in Palo Alto or "one of those delightful little fruit towns that dot the railway line." It turns out that, though he often visits and and works in the City, he indeed lives in Palo Alto. Big surprise for a Stanford professor.
There were two things that I adored in this brief interaction. First was this wonderfully arcane notion of the Peninsula held by the British newsman. How wonderful that this rosy nostalgia is still alive in at least one mental landscape on the other side of the world, decades after the bulldozers pushed south and streets were laid bearing the names of the fruits once grown there (my grandparents moved from the City, by way of San Mateo, to Sunnyvale where they bought their one and only home on Elderberry Drive; "Once it was a cherry orchard, Our De Anza School, Now it is a place for learning By the golden rule.") I plan on thinking about this sentiment the next time I take Caltrain, tracing my way between the delightful little fruit towns. Despite the endlessly-blossoming housing tracts and the notion that a constant flux of newcomers can destroy a community's impression of itself, this area was indeed built with fruit crates and integrated circuits.
The other part that I found fascinating was the idea that the Bay Area, as opposed to cozy, cosmopolitan San Francisco, didn't fit the city-state model being brandied about. We all love the City, to be sure; but, to dismiss the rest of the Bay as somehow being un-civic seemed most ignorant of what a community actually looks like. It's a question of mental perception of place. It would seem, to me, that the Bay Area as a region is just as powerful a unifying civic theme than many of the region's individual municipalities. Indeed, throughout the Bay, the city lines seem to be drawn haphazardly and with little community meaning. My godparents' home in Campbell backs up to the city line and I remember being enthralled by the idea, as a younger lad, that if I stuck my hand through the fence I'd be, in part, in San Jose. The homes look just about the same on either side of that fence.
I love the Hyphy movement (perhaps "loved' is more appropriate here given the waning feeling of the style) because it seems to really latch onto at least one notion of public geography. Hyphy, to my mostly outsider eyes and ears, is self consciously from "the Bay" (we fresh). One's place is often defined by what it is not. In my mind we are more often not L.A., not Fresno or not Sacramento (though it's often phrased "not Stockton") than we are not Hayward, not San Rafael or not Burlingame. In short, we all are from "the Bay."
In short, I feel that it does our notion of community, and thus our community, some degree of damage when we deprive ourselves the recognition of our Bay regionalism, when we deprive the "metropolitan area" of its place-ness. The same goes for the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area and the San Diego Metropolitan Area (Tijuana included). San Diego-Tijuana in particular. Take a look at the photo below. After a quick glance you tell me where the edges of the city are and my guess is that the borders, civic or national, won't immediately jump out at you. These "metropolitan areas," in my mind, are some of the largest urban place-markers and, as such, much closer to the city-state idea that Mr. Day and Romer were so casually inferring (though, to their credit, it was a brief anecdote to a much more in-depth conversation.)