An empty light rail station in downtown San Jose. Photo: Don DeBold/Flickr
An empty light rail station in downtown San Jose. Photo: Don DeBold/Flickr

Downtown San Jose has struggled for years to find its place in the regional landscape. Now, with BART promising to extend service to two new downtown San Jose stations and interest in pedestrian-friendly downtown areas at a high, it may finally be the right time to create a vibrant city center–at least according to a report released by SPUR this week.

The report, which can be read below, looks at the unique challenges for downtown San Jose and lays out five main plans for turning around the area. These include:

  • Welcome all kinds of uses into downtown — but hold out for and encourage jobs near regional transit.
  • Adhere to key urban design principles, like requiring active uses on the ground floors of public streets.
  • Promote a larger area of central San Jose, with downtown at its core.
  • Make it easier to and around downtown without a car.
  • Retrofit downtown to be more pedestrian-oriented.

All of these are aimed at encouraging more people to live, work, and recreate in downtown. According to the report, one of the major problems the area faces is its lack of jobs when compared with other nearby city centers. Downtown San Jose has about 39,000 jobs, while downtown Oakland is home to 83,000 jobs and downtown San Francisco has 317,000 jobs. The report also cited the other major challenge for downtown as a lack of easy public transit. When people walk around pedestrian-friendly corridors, it creates a sense of community and keeps small shops and restaurants busy with foot traffic.

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KQED’s Forum discussed the San Jose SPUR plan on its show this morning, with Egon Terplan, regional planning director of SPUR, Joe Horwedel, deputy city manager of San Jose, and Kim Walesh, director of economic development for San Jose. But, what will really shape the future of the downtown were the dozens of comments that came pouring in from listeners, who emphasized that the empty streets lead to people feeling unsafe.

“I actually worry about the crime rate climbing and the lack of support the police get to address it. I’m more comfortable in DT Oakland these days, but I think SJ will rise again,” said one person on Facebook.

Others pointed out that because of concern about crime, the police tend to be out in force–particularly outside night clubs and music venues–creating a sense that the area is dangerous and scaring away regular residents.

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But, just as many commenters on the show and on social media channels argued that there are hidden gems in downtown San Jose, like San Pedro Square, and that the area is on the up. Multiple residents pointed to Santana Row as being a popular dining and shopping spot, and a possible model for the future of downtown San Jose.

What do you think can be done to create a more vibrant downtown San Jose? Do you think the proposals in the SPUR plan should be followed?


What Does Downtown San Jose Need? 25 March,2014Kelly O'Mara

  • Matt Spergel

    1) Water features – There aren’t any.
    2) More creative events and better promotion of them.
    3) More places for activities like tennis courts or a children’s playground.
    4) More residential (it’s happening).
    5) Better zoning to support retail.
    6) Interactive kiosks.
    7) Security guards instead of police?
    8) Free public transportation within the downtown area.
    9) A cafe in plaza de cesar chavez.
    10) Inspirational art.

    • Shawn

      I got you on 3,4 and 8.

      I’d also say:
      -Better Nightlife! It’s not really the crowd you wanna be around, crazy drunk dudes, not a good range of options. Kinda spread out too.
      -Develop Diridon: Great place for Businesses and the A’s (fingers crossed)
      -Develop SJSU. More student housing! I heard students pay 1G for housing. Drop prices and bring more students in the area.

  • kavalkid

    This is the top end supporting the top end. There is nothing wrong with that, but it has to make sense. It has to add up.

    Where is the economic analysis? Where is the demographic analysis?

    Who are you trying to attract? Where are they? How will they succeed?

    What would convince families to relocate?

    Where will you house and support the low income downtown labor force required for this service economy scenario? If you intend to exploit student and other pre-career labor which includes outside financial support, then the model is inherently unstable.

    I don’t see equilibrium in your projection that doesn’t include illegal income. What will you expect people to do when two to three jobs don’t pay the rent?


Kelly O'Mara

Kelly O’Mara is a writer and reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes about food, health, sports, travel, business and California news. Her work has appeared on KQED, online for Outside Magazine, epsnW, VICE and in Competitor Magazine, among others. Follow Kelly on Twitter @kellydomara.

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