City of Santa Clara Engages Public in Expansive Placemaking Initiative

SiliconSage Builders, Santa Clara, Silicon Valley, Newport Beach, The Irvine Co., South Bay Area, Sunnyvale, Fremont, San Jose

By Jacob Bourne

Beginning in March, residents of Santa Clara were invited by the City’s Community Development Department to engage in a design and development envisioning process to guide the future. The initiative, Reimagine and Reinvent Public Spaces in Santa Clara, is in partnership with the Project for Public Spaces, and aims to give members of the community a greater role in planning Santa Clara’s public and private spaces. So far six meetings have been held in the past months including a special City Council study session on March 28 to review the General Plan. A panel discussion was held in late April at the Triton Museum of Art featuring artists and placemaking practitioners, who discussed utilizing art within the development process. The most recent workshop entitled, Placemaking with Retail, was held on May 4, where representatives from Related Companies, Hunter Properties, Cushman & Wakefield and the City of Morgan Hill, explored retail redevelopment along El Camino Real.

As the General Plan was adopted in 2010, the City is seeking guidance from the community regarding possible updates based on the visioning process and where economic and social realities currently stand compared to where they were when the plan was adopted. The Housing Element is one area of the General Plan about which City planners want to engage with community members, particularly in terms of how much housing should be built.

“Silicon Valley is adding jobs much faster than houses, particularly in the last year or two there was a drop in housing production and job growth has remained strong,” said Andrew Crabtree, director of community development. “Many people throughout the region say that there’s a critical housing shortage and that’s driving up housing costs and has increased traffic as people go further and further out to find housing that’s affordable or available. That results in more need to drive to the jobs, which remain centralized. Within the Bay Area our county is suffering the most under this disparity.”

Crabtree explained that there are currently 2.5 jobs for every home in the City of Santa Clara. Given regional policy initiatives, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Plan Bay Area, that advocate for increasing density and reducing reliance on personal vehicles, City planners are hoping to garner public input about how to respond to the anticipated changes across the region.

Another element of community engagement pertains to the potential El Camino Real Specific Plan. The City recently received a $900,000 grant from MTC for an initial plan study. The El Camino Real corridor has been identified as a priority development area and workshops are expected to solicit input from the public regarding how to proceed.

Placemaking discussions are another integral aspect of the visioning process. The overarching goal is to design and develop spaces where people can gather, collaborate and be creative. Kerry Adams Hapner, City of San Jose’s director of cultural affairs who presented at one of the April workshops, spoke about placemaking as the creation of spaces where cross sector partners come together and help transform neighborhoods, both socially and physically, and put the arts at the heart of those strategies.

“Having the public in public art is really important and you do this by selecting an artist with the public in mind and engaging the public with the artist selection process,” explained Adams Hapner. “Having a good site is really key, where people are able to see and experience, and is also very accessible. It’s really about having a strong support system internally for artists to best do their work, so that they have a platform in which they’re supported. That can either be in the form of a good budget, a good project manager or good public policy.”

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