By Jacob Bourne
A panel of 15 urban planning experts from all over the country met at San Jose’s City Hall on February 16 for a forum on strategies to make North San Jose a vibrant, mixed-use area that prioritizes people who live, work, shop and visit the city. The Rose Center for Public Leadership, operated by the National League of Cities and Urban Land Institute, has made San Jose part of its Daniel Rose Fellowship program along with Anchorage, Grand Rapids and Washington, D.C. The forum was the culmination of extensive tours and study sessions conducted by the panelists who then compiled their findings into recommendations for San Jose’s Planning Department and Mayor Sam Liccardo. San Jose was chosen for the fellowship in part because of unique challenges it faces largely serving as a bedroom community for Silicon Valley with a major traffic congestion problem and lack of cohesive civic identity.
Those on the panel used their backgrounds as community developers, architects, asset managers and engineers to lend an outsider’s perspective on how San Jose’s strengths — many of which are the envy of other cities — can be harnessed to reach rewarding goals. Having a long history in innovation, both in its agricultural past and tech beginnings, has lent San Jose a business-friendly attitude attracting large corporations and the associated talent, as well as a high degree of multicultural diversity and natural beauty with the Guadalupe River, Coyote Creek Trail and San Francisco Bay in close proximity.
However, good connectivity between different parts of the city is lacking, impeding San Jose from becoming a bustling regional destination in its own right. Panelists advocated the formation of “betahoods” as a means to address this issue. These districts would be synergetic, dense, mixed-use areas that create a strong sense of place with a people-oriented, intimate feel utilizing amenities that speak to the city’s character. Furthermore, through bike share programs and stakeholder initiates such as business improvement districts and transportation management associations, a natural bridge between the east and west ends of San Jose would produce a more connected city.[contextly_sidebar id=”UWalXzr2kwlwU8jiNFNwfrBsxES742cM”]“I think that those ideas around Placemaking to create a sense of identity and get people excited about the location will really help us in the long term,” said Rosalynn Hughey, assistant planning director, San Jose. “I want to make an immediate move around Placemaking and focusing on an area that becomes attractive to workers and existing residents. It will get more people into and participating in the North San Jose area.”
Anthony Chang, vice president of asset management at Washington REIT, spoke about the layout of North San Jose as being a barrier to retail development. The district’s spread out nature with freeways on the periphery isn’t conducive to foot or vehicle traffic for retail, he said. Keeping with the “betahood” theme, he advocated for creating walkable, amenity-based, niche neighborhoods as a solution.
“The struggle with retail is really the environment, where cars in California are king, and being close to the freeway is critical for your big retail projects like Santana Row, malls and other successful retail,” said Chang. “The companies we’ve been talking to haven’t been asking for another Santana Row, they’ve been asking for very basic requirements. They need the cool, hip location. They don’t even need a Walgreens, they just need a pharmacy, a Walgreens lite.”
“In order to be competitive you’re going to have to find a way to be authentic and unique — to go beyond merely attracting the Monday through Friday crowd,” he added.