3rd 01SJ Biennial September 2010

A global festival of art on the edge

San Jose Mercury News: How to capitalize on San Jose’s considerable charms

It’s quite a show to watch San Jose’s downtown buzz with life – that thrill of finding something new each time you visit. In recent years, business have spring up sans generous subsides, and nearly a dozen residential towers are planned. The time is right to think as big about the rest of the city. Here are three thoughts to energize the discussion:

Promote the waterlink.

Cities built along waterways are more resilient and feel more connected to the wider world. San Jose is not Chicago Dublin, but its potentially charming Alviso district does lie at the southern tip of the bay.

For me, Alviso always has been a secret spot to watch the sunset from a neighborhood lost in time, blessed with rusting boats, a half-sunk abandoned ghost town and a peaceful silence rare in other parts of Silicon Valley. This is worth sharing and preserving.

Alviso deserves reinvestment to make it a more coherent neighborhood. More local services and improved access from First Street light rail would make it a better place to live and more enticing to explore. Proud locals rightly want to preserve its rich history, but that shouldn’t prevent light development in sync with the landscape, such as a cafe overlooking the bay.

Integrate Sanata Row with adjacent neighborhoods.

While many of American’s faddish lifestyle centers seem to be just urban facades, Santana Row conjures up a fairly strong city feel. Even the most ardent downtown fan cannot deny that it has been a resounding hit. Like a neighborhood’s first coffeehouse – think Starbucks at Park and Naglee – Santana Row has on a larger scale acted as a town square and shown residents and visitors alike that San Jose sports its own cool jet set.

We should capitalize on this success by enhancing the mall’s connection to the downtown core. There are two obvious ways to do this.

First, drive infill developments on West San Carlos with denser and taller mixed-use residential and retail, similar to The Alameda neighborhood. These neighborhoods, near downtown, are meant to be urban. West San Carlos could become an impressive West End gateway to the urban center.

Second, and more long-range, the city should consider building light rail along San Carlos Street from downtown. These combined efforts will expand what people think of as the city center. Ironically, given the early oppositions to Santana Row, it could work for the downtown core rather than against it.

Better leverage our high-tech edge.

This is a founding purpose of the grass-roots organization 1stACT, which is trying to combine arts and technology to give Silicon Valley a sense of place. It deserves increased support. It’s outrageous that visitor have to search for Silicon Valley in a rented car driving though North San Jose or Cupertino. The Tech Museum, Adobe’s experiemental Semaphore and the ZeroOne Art Festival are pioneering starts, but San Jose should shout innovation from the second visitors step into the airport.

One techie Web site was understandably shocked at the absence of “geek” hotels in our city. What about a weekly gadget market like Tokyo’s Akihabara electronic district? Finally, are media, politicians and civic leaders should play a more active role in positioning San Jose as a world-class city reminding us of our local color.

“South Bay” is out; “San Jose metropolitan area” is in. Live shots of the San Francisco Bay Bridge on television news are out; city-focused newspaper columns are in. San Jose’s master plan is being updated at an opportune time. Civic leaders are cautious but have not lost their appetites for bold moves. Let’s explore steps that will boost the city’s overall charm as well as the livability of its neighborhoods.

TODD HORVITZ (todd_05130@yahoo.com) writes about neighborhood and redevelopment issues and works in financial services. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.