By Gary Singh
A BRAND new downtown San Jose beautification adventure called Groundwerx debuted last week. Two different teams, the Ambassadors and the Clean Team, will soon hit the streets to sanctify the downtown experience. The Ambassadors, wearing uniforms and green hats, will hit the streets either on foot, bicycles or Segways and will serve as roaming concierges of sorts. They will tell you where to catch the right bus, direct you to restaurants, monitor the panhandlers, report graffiti and also serve as extra eyeballs for the police. The Clean Team, decked out in uniforms and orange hats, will power-wash the sidewalks, eradicate graffiti, monitor refuse receptacles, remove gum from the benches and basically empty the trash more frequently than before. They will utilize eco-friendly motorized street sweepers that basically look like lime-green Zambonis with sirens attached. So look out litterbugs—they're coming to getcha!
"Our goal is to make this look like Disneyland," said Groundwerx honcho Chick Hammers at the press conference. He then said that if someone tosses his or her Starbucks cup onto the ground, we can be sure that the Clean Team will be right there to pick it up. I was probably the only one in the crowd who rolled his eyes upon hearing this, as for 15 years now I've been verbally attacking the dignity of San Jose powers-that-be for trying to convert downtown into a manufactured Disneyland-like false paradise instead of letting it grow organically. But now Mr. Hammers finally came out and invoked ol' Walt's nom de plume for everyone to hear. There you have it. Of course, I realize he meant "Disneyland" in the sense that they're merely shooting for ultra spic-and-span sidewalks to make the environment more user-friendly, but I sure am tempted to summon the grand old philosopher Jean Baudrillard and quote his Simulacra and Simulation on Disneyland being a hyperreality—that is, people think it actually is the reality it's supposed to be simulating. And seeing these guys in the orange hats with the green Zambonis on the streets of downtown—yeah, it pretty much evokes a theme park state of mind. You're just waiting for the calliope music to kick in.
But to be fair, the city, the Downtown Association and the Redevelopment Agency have been laboring over this Roving Concierge/Team-Street-Maid combo idea for a long time now, and we'll just have to see if it works. Other cities have apparently achieved success with similar programs, so cross your fingers. We could have a squeaky-clean Disneyland downtown before you know it. And no public tax dollars are being tapped. Downtown property owners voted to basically assess themselves up to 7.5 cents a square foot to fund the whole thing. Support exists from across the board.
That said, it doesn't take a Ph.D. in semiotics to have some fun with this. I went and looked up a bunch of quotes from Walt Disney himself and all you have to do is basically substitute the word "downtown" for "Disneyland" and it completely works. Here we go:
• "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world."
• "I first saw the site for Disneyland back in 1953, In those days it was all flat land—no rivers, no mountains, no castles or rocket ships—just orange groves, and a few acres of walnut trees."
• "We did it [Disneyland], in the knowledge that most of the people I talked to thought it would be a financial disaster—closed and forgotten within the first year."
• "Disneyland is a work of love. We didn't go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money."
• "I don't want the public to see the world they live in while they're in the Park (Disneyland). I want to feel they're in another world."