December 5, 2017 > Editorial: Janus
As we near the end of 2017 and reflect on significant changes in our area, it might be appropriate to consider historical myth and religion, specifically the Roman god Janus. The namesake of the first month of the Gregorian calendar, Janus is the personification of beginnings and transitions. He is shown with two faces looking in opposite directions simultaneously Ð to the past and future. As first among gods, his presence was invoked before regular liturgies requesting divine influence.
Janus would see two significant images when viewing the Greater Tri-City area Ð past and present. Even the recent past would provide a much different landscape as rural has given way to suburban and now, what the City of Fremont calls smart growth defined by vibrant, sustainable, safe and innovative urbanization. The clarion call has been answered by a host of developers and big business including the latest announcement that Facebook has leased two large office buildings in the Ardenwood area of Fremont with space for a reported 950 employees. The strategic location of the southeast Bay Area combined with available space has become irresistible and, in response, our cities are actively wooing more and more industrial growth.
A trip to the peninsula cities just across the Bay is instructive as a lesson that Janus might tell. Just as his presence as closed or open gates indicated whether the Roman Empire was at war (open) or peace (closed), so too can a we reflect on whether the Janus gates to our communities are open or closed. Urbanization is a double-edged sword that can bring economic prosperity but with it, the perils of overgrowth, traffic, environmental damage and social problems. As we hurtle toward a future of promises made by big business, we also can see its effects on the other side of the Bay. Tranquility is reserved for the wealthy who live within suburban or ersatz rural enclaves while traffic, overcrowding and commute woes are left for others. Smart growth would not allow unfettered transformation, yet the lure of economic growth, not necessarily smart, is filled with the promise of Òmore.Ó The question is, more of what and is it better?
Economists and planners at many levels of government appear to agree that the Bay Area will continue to attract industrial expansion and its concomitant demand for employees and resources. Its effect is already taking a toll on our infrastructure and social fabric and will continue to do so. Do we, as a community of neighborhoods, have the ability and will to carefully consider both the past and future, and rationally decide whether our gates should be open or closed? Growth and change by themselves are not negative factors but moderation is usually preferable to unrestrained adherence to economics. It is worrisome that while large companies are attracted to this area due to location and available real estate, the tradeoff for residents could be crowded and unhealthy living conditions.
Our cities have formed boards, commissions and committees to help guide us through the future with, hopefully an eye on our past as well. Do they communicate with each other? For instance, in Fremont, listed boards and commissions include: Art Review Board, Citizens Advisory Committee, East Bay Regional Park District Liaison Committee, Economic Development Advisory Commission, Environmental Sustainability Commission, George W. Patterson House Advisory Board, Historical Architectural Review Board, Human Relations Commission, Library Advisory Commission, Mobility Task Force, Planning Commission, Recreation Commission, Rent Review Board, Senior Citizens Commission and Youth Advisory Commission. Are these residents and the staff members assigned to assist actually giving advice and consent? Are they aware of the actions of other boards and commissions facing similar and allied issues? Has Janus become a single-faced entity, only facing the future?
Each board and commission should be involved in a common citizen review of the state our communities. Although we hear elected officials report through an annual statement, is this done in consultation with these involved citizens or simply through the conduit of staff reports? Could a Janus Work Group be tasked with creating a comprehensive report reflecting the work of all boards and commissions? This might lead to significant insights into a multi-faced review of where we have been and where we are going. Why not?