A vision for San Jose, Calif.

communities / Article

Photo: View of San Jose with a view toward the airport. Credit: Mike Boening on Flickr.

San Jose finds itself in a unique moment in time. The Bay Area has a tremendous pull. It continues to grow and attract talented graduates from across the country and the world. Santa Clara County alone is projected to grow more than 23 percent in the next 25 years, and San Jose will add more new residents than San Francisco and Oakland combined.

However, where these new residents go, and what form the growth takes are critical to the long-term success of San Jose. If done right, San Jose has the chance to establish itself as the largest and most significant hub of activity in the South Bay.

To make the most of the opportunity downtown San Jose needs to become the cultural, retail, and employment nexus of the South Bay. Downtown is already home to the greatest concentration of cultural institutions in Silicon Valley, is at the center of a significant network of public transit links and offers the most multi-tenant office space south in the Bay Area. It is also home to the global headquarters of numerous firms, such as Adobe and Oracle.

Yet, San Jose needs to do more to capitalize on this opportunity. The city of San Jose’s Envision 2040 plan lays out a vision that would bring jobs and retail back downtown, but the city needs support to make the vision a reality. A recent SPUR report, “The Future of Downtown,” serves as a blueprint for the steps needed to get there. Knight Foundation is providing SPUR with $183,700 in funding to facilitate the civic conversation and support the city of San Jose in the execution of this long-term vision.

Downtown has an active, vibrant cultural life and fills with people during major events. But for many event producers the barriers to producing an event in downtown San Jose are too high. Opaque and inflexible permitting procedures mean that many fall at the first hurdle and fail to get the approvals necessary. Knight Foundation is supporting the San Jose Downtown Association with a $150,000 grant to hire and  support an activation manager who will work alongside event producers help them obtain the permits required to hold events and activate downtown.

In addition, the grant includes funding for a streetlife plan manager who will facilitate partnerships and shepherd the 29 discrete projects presented in the Downtown Association’s Streetlife Plan through implementation.

Despite the progress in downtown, much of San Jose is still made up of isolated suburban-style neighborhoods and office parks. Envision 2040 calls for new development to take the form of “urban villages” clustered around transit nodes. This is crucial as we see a demographic shift and increased appetite for living in close-in, walkable, urban neighborhoods. It’s just as important that this new development becomes home to the type of economically integrated neighborhoods that produce better outcomes for all.

To this end Knight Foundation is supporting TransFormCA with a $100,000 grant to extend its innovative GreenTRIP certification program. GreenTRIP allows developers to experiment with trip-reduction strategies such as unbundling parking and offering free transit passes. By reducing the space used for parking and the reliance on vehicles GreenTRIP developments become more affordable and attract a broader mix of families with varying incomes while producing the dense, walkable environment that attracts and retains talent.

These grants are just the start, and there is much more to do. The opportunity is clear. Now it’s time for San Jose to seize the moment.

George Abbott is special assistant to the vice president of community and national initiatives and interim San Jose program director at Knight Foundation.

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