Collaborating to reimagine downtown San Jose

communities / Article

January 20, 2015 by Tim Ritchie

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Tim Ritchie is president of The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, one of 26 Knight Foundation communities.

San Jose has worked for decades to establish its downtown as a vibrant, active center for the Silicon Valley. The Tech Museum of Innovation, in the heart of this downtown, is now embarking on a new project with its partners to build on recent momentum and catalyze new efforts towards this goal.

Maryanna Rogers, The Tech’s director of innovation, and Gehl Studio, the renowned global firm focusing on people-centered urban design, are working to reimagine City Hall Plaza — how it can engage and inspire residents and employees, bring communities together, and infuse innovation into San Jose government. With Knight Foundation’s support, we hope to use this project as a springboard to create a stronger sense of place all over San Jose.

The work is already underway. The team at The Tech is conducting research and interviews to understand how residents and workers think about San Jose and its spaces, as well as their hopes, dreams and aspirations for their city. This research will complement Gehl’s Public Space Public Life Survey, a quantitative look at who uses San Jose’s public spaces and how, and its Favorite Places Workshop, which will invite community members to contribute their ideas.

Once they finish this research, the team will build quick and rough prototype designs for the space that meet community goals. These designs might include new seating, surfaces, shade structures or communication tools — solutions that change the way people use and perceive the space. After more observation, the project will culminate at the end of February with a set of recommendations to the city about how to create vibrant public spaces. These recommendations should catalyze public-private partnerships to help make San Jose as appealing as possible to workers, business owners and residents.

This project is designed to help infuse innovation into the City Hall culture, too. The building, opened in 2005, lacks a central gathering place for employees where spontaneous conversations can generate new ideas — nor is there available space to create one indoors. The prototypes in the plaza will be designed to encourage interaction among different departments, prompting deeper collaboration.

This effort is the first step in a wider effort The Tech is exploring to foster civic innovation in San Jose. (We also were named a finalist recently in the Knight Cities Challenge for our Civic One initiative, which invites the public to imagine and test solutions to one significant city issue each year.) This is all a natural fit with our mission: to inspire the innovator in everyone. We are thrilled to be part of Knight Foundation’s effort to help San Jose transform rapidly into the urban center of the South Bay.

The Tech wouldn’t exist without the support of San Jose residents, elected officials and taxpayers. It’s our privilege to work with our hometown to imagine and invent a new future together.

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