The city of San Jose has been investing in its downtown for decades, but according to a recent report, the city has been unable to attract one important element: people. The urban planning group SPUR has released a plan with suggestions for how the city can bring in more jobs, activities and pedestrians. We take up the report and the potential for making the downtown of the Bay Area’s largest city a destination in its own right.

Images from the SPUR Report

The Geography of Downtown San Jose

SPUR defines downtown San Jose as the 800-plus-acre area that stretches east from Diridon Station to City Hall and San Jose State University, and south from Coleman Avenue to Highway 280. It is larger than downtown Oakland?s 750 acres and larger than San Francisco?s 620-acre downtown commercial district.

Future Transit Investments Will Benefit Downtown San Jose

Downtown San Jose is already the center of the transit network in the South Bay. Investments over the next few decades will bring bus rapid transit, improvements to light rail speed, the electrification of Caltrain, the extension of BART and eventually the arrival of high-speed rail.

Available Development Sites Near Regional Transit

Downtown has a number of large unbuilt sites within a half mile of Caltrain and future BART stations. The majority of the area around Diridon Station is available for development. There are also several key parcels available along Santa Clara and San Fernando streets, including the site known as the Mitchell Block, between Market and 1st streets; Fountain Alley along 2nd Street; the south side of San Fernando Street between 1st and 2nd streets; and the south side of the housing development The 88, between 2nd and 3rd streets. SPUR recommends minimum density requirements within a half mile of regional transit stations and reserving sites for jobs within a quarter mile.

All images and captions reposted with permission from SPUR. Read the full report here.

Egon Terplan, regional planning director of SPUR
Kim Walesh, director of economic development and chief strategist for the City of San Jose
Joe Horwedel, deputy city manager of San Jose and former director of planning, building and code enforcement

  • Guest

    Downtowns and main streets are competing with television. The planners and business owners don’t seem to comprehend this. TV is in the home, which is comfortable and welcoming. Downtown businesses are often not welcoming nor comfortable, and the new electronic parking machines infesting downtowns are creepy. As bad as TV may be, it is close at hand and it entertains. 95% of businesses in my local downtown area do nothing to entertain. If businesses and cities make no effort to compete with their real competitor, they will always comically fail, without prospects and without a clue.

    • Matt Spergel

      Events are key …

      • Guest

        True, but in my area events are usually dumbed-down and aimed at families and couples, so single people and thinking people need not apply.

  • otomis

    To my mind there are two things that great cities always seem to have, a waterfront and bridges. San Jose has neither. I thought they could develop the Guadalupe Riverfront to create a San Antonio type river-walk but that ain’t gonna happen. There are beavers living there now too, last I heard.

    • Another Mike

      The Guadalupe is a creek, with only seasonal water flows.

      • otomis

        True but it would still make for a nice tree lined walk. I grew up next to a creek and I loved it water or no water. I feel it is a resource that is not being utilized.

    • Matt Spergel

      We could have some other type of water features; Like fountains sprinkled around downtown. Right now there aren’t any.

  • Michelle Moyer

    It’s really beginning to happen. We need more density, which is coming, and more high-quality retail.

  • Bob Fry

    “The city of San Jose has been investing in its downtown for decades, but
    according to a recent report, the city has been unable to attract one
    important element: people.”

    Sounds exactly like Sacramento. The people who dream up schemes never understand that having middle-class people actually living downtown will do more than all the trendy restaurants and billion-dollar NBA arenas.

  • sstanley

    If only Santana Row could have been built downtown……but developer money always trumps the good of the community.

    • Another Mike

      Neither Valley Fair nor Santana Row could have been built downtown. There was a downtown vision that did not include malls.

      • Troy Curtis

        Not true. There was a Mall in Downtown SJ and it was all but gutted in the 90’s. It’s now a gym and a Starbucks. They could have put Santana Row smack dab in the middle of downtown between Cesar Chavez and the San Jose Rep. As it has been mentioned, money talks. I for one am glad they built SR on the west side. San Jose is better off with
        all those culture vultures as far away from SJ world class art community as possible.

  • abikecommuter

    It’s been flooded recently, the city needs to take those massive foreboding parking lots and then them into an alluvial park that can dampen the storm surges. And like SF they need to get rid of those freeways downtown, it stratifies and sickens the place.

    • Another Mike

      The Guadalupe Parkway was jammed from the moment it was opened, despite having light rail run down the median.

  • Guest

    I’m working towards building a community events website for downtown San Jose. People don’t really know what’s going on downtown from my research. I believe it’ll go a long way towards making downtown much more appealing to the county. Here is the IndieGoGo campaign page:

  • Sanfordia113

    Caltrain electrification is an obvious upgrade, but without putting the tracks below grade, its impact will be relatively meaningless. A better use of resources would be to underground key intersections/regions, and either sell rights to develop the land above and/or convert the ground-level right-of-way to a bike lane. Also, why on earth has BART not take over the Caltrain ROW and replaced it?

    • Another Mike

      Because when BART was being planned, a half-century ago, Santa Clara County was not interested. San Mateo County was interested briefly, then opted out. South Bay and the Peninsula wanted to build themselves up as employment centers, not just as bedroom communities for SF. Now, fifty years later, SF is becoming a bedroom community for the Peninsula and South Bay.

      Further, by 1977, there was so little ridership on Caltrain that thought was given to abandoning it completely.

      • eetrebor

        Santa Clara County was initially included in BART, but they ended up opting out and building out the county-wide expressway system.

        • Another Mike

          Not sure what you mean by “initially included.” When the Legislature formed the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District, in 1957, it included only the five counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo.

    • Shirley LeGitte

      Isn’t the plan is to run the HSR up the Caltrain corridor?

      • Another Mike

        Unless the Athertonians push back.

  • Julia Casto

    What about the Mexican Heritage Plaza? It has many wonderful programs and is just now opening a direct bus line. Are more redevelopment projects coming there? The shopping area just across the street seems to be constantly under construction, is that going to get finished any time soon?

    • otomis

      The Mexican Heritage Plaza is inside out. It is more of a compound than a community center. The perimeter of the place should have been small retail, books, convenience, cafes, etc. But no … it’s a cinder block. I am for it but it could have been so much more.

  • John E Snyder

    My wife and I moved to the bay area 4 years ago. We have been renting in Santa Clara and are now looking for a home. Downtown San Jose is appealing at first glance. However, you can be in a charming neighborhood and walk another block and suddenly not feel safe as you encounter urban blight, in what my realtor describes as “kind of gangster”. What is San Jose doing to attract home buyers like myself into downtown? We are not afraid of remodeling/upgrading or leading revitalization. But how do we know what where?

    • Peter Haas

      Not sure what you mean…actual single-family detached homes?? The ones that are in or very near downtown San Jose are already ridiculously expensive. The ones a bit farther out are indeed probably in more sketchy areas. Most new entry-level housing is now high-density condos or apartments.

      • Another Mike

        I wonder if he means Japantown, or the eastwards stretch of Santa Clara past the Mi Pueblo food mart.

    • Michelle Moyer

      Check out Japantown and the Vrndome neighborhood.

  • jp

    People just don’t know about downtown San Jose. My family moved here last summer from SF and LOVE downtown, San Pedro square the family friendly South first Fridays. We are shocked to meet people from here in the valley over and over who have this perception that there’s nowhere to park downtown or that its expensive to park and we feel like we are telling everyone where free parking is validated. I suppose after living in the city where you pay a premium to visit downtown its just frustrating to hear over and over again that peoe don’t like downtown n willingly miss out on amazing cultural events and food because of parking as a singular issue. (BTW most city lots validate for 2 hours free)

  • Another Mike

    SJC is the biggest obstacle to high rise development in downtown SJ. I’m sure that airline pilots don’t want us to create another Kaitak or San Diego here.

    • Sanfordia113

      The former Hong Kong airport required something like a 45° ascent/descent and narrowly feed between two rows of buildings. SAN is nothing by comparison. San Jose has plenty of room to grow.

      • willjammer

        but the policies don’t let builders go above a certain height downtown.

  • Heidi S

    All of the resources that would guide people to downtown seem to be more regional based, and not focused on San Jose. We live in great regions: NorCal, Silicon Valley, SF Bay Area, but we need good marketing to pull people to our city. We need San Jose Magazine, Best of San Jose, San Jose Restaurant Week…

    • Matt Spergel

      Hi Heidi,

      You may be interested in a campaign for DTSJ.INFO, a downtown San Jose community events website. Here’s the link:

    • Another Mike
    • Michelle Moyer

      Agree, we need better marketing. A lot of folks come downtown and never even find San Pedro Square.

  • jon

    I live and work downtown and it’s just ragged. The cops are out in full force, which puts everyone on high alert. At night, the only thing to do short of a Sharks game is to go out to eat or drink. There’s way too many bars in a small footprint and the cycle of drunks, thugs and cops happens right outside my front door every freaking weekend. It’s really tiring. Everyone is quick to moan about a lack of cops, but they are often literally lined up in the downtown core poised with billy clubs and an anti-downtown attitude.

    It’s frustrating, because I’m doing all the things the city wants… living and walking to work in the downtown core, spending money right here in my community. And it’s sad, because the city has so much potential, but there’s a lack of city leadership on important quality of life issues. I’ve lived here five years and have never once seen the mayor out to dinner or even walking down the sidewalk.

    Palo Alto is looking pretty good.

  • Brad

    In my opinion San Jose has the same problem as Sacramento: it’s a city of suburbanites who aren’t willing to sacrifice the convenience of parking lots and strip malls for a downtown with very little to offer. San Jose on the whole is too barren for me to even want to visit; there are any number of other downtowns in the Bay Area with more to offer.

    • Another Mike

      But Sacramento has a mall downtown, as does Walnut Creek.

      • Brad

        Have you ever been to the Downtown Plaza? It is depressing at best, which is why it’s being torn down to build the new stadium. In either case, I don’t find downtowns entirely comprised of shopping centers to be very compelling; it needs to be more dynamic, gritty, and and unexpected to catch my attention.

  • Shirley LeGitte

    The current problem with San Jose, is that there are too many thugs on the street, day and night.

    San Jose seems to want to discourage live music venues, also…used to be, if you went to a show downtown, when you stepped out, you would always find a very aggressive police presence busy dispersing anything that resembled a crowd…if you stood in one place, for even a minute, a cop would tell you to move along, and if you tried to explain that you were waiting for your friend to come out of the club you just left or whatever, you would get arrested…no joke. That is why I don’t go downtown.

    • Another Mike

      Yes, the lineup of cop cars along the bar strip at 1:30 every morning is intimidating, not reassuring.

    • willjammer

      you have to be kidding me. san jose is tame compared to any other 1 million plus city.

  • jamiebronson

    Why doesn’t KQED spend an hour talking about the changes in Oakland?

    • Another Mike

      Forum |

      Mar 18, 2014 – 9:00 AM

      Mayor Jean Quan and City Administrator Fred Blackwell Discuss Oakland’s Changes and Challenges

      • jamiebronson

        Yes, but let’s hear some other voices. Jean Quan is out.

    • halberst

      If Oakland could get its crime problem under control (like San Jose) it would be the coolest place in the Bay Area. I live a few minutes away but avoid Oakland because of its huge crime problem. Oakland may have beautiful architecture, great culture, but if the stats I saw are right the murder rate is 10x higher than SJ. I find it strange that so many complaints in this discussion are about SJ’s “sketchy neighborhoods.”

      • jamiebronson

        The same is said for Oakland when discussing SF. According to FBI crime stats violent crime in Oakland is 1.3x worse than SF yet you don’t ever hear people talk about the bad crime in SF. It’s all relative. Violent crime concerns me more than murders. In most all cases it’s gang members killing each other.

  • Sanfordia113

    I know 2 families with young kids who live in SJ. They are both moving to Cupertino in the coming year, because of schools. Too many public employees and public school bureaucrats focus on the “achievement gap”, but WhoGivesAF about getting SJ score into the top 50%? Focus on the top 30-50% of students, not the bottom 10%.

  • lombadesign

    A few years ago I was painting murals in Malibu, and there was a shopping area called Cross Creek Center where there were cafe’s, restaurants, clothing stores, dance studios, etc. What struck me as working really well, and I’ve never seen since, was an awesome playground in the middle, so moms could visit with friends at the cafe while their children played, etc. It was a good idea and encouraged excellent pedestrian traffic. I bet the businesses were more successful as a result, too.

  • lombadesign

    I made a comment below about an effective little shopping center in Malibu with a playground in the middle that vicariously encouraged people to linger longer and spend more. It’s called the Malibu Country Mart, not the Cross Creek Center. Here is directory, with a map including the playground—

  • Another Mike

    One interesting feature of how San Jose has grown is that it is served by (by my count) 17 school districts. The one that covers downtown San Jose: San Jose Unified, is not the world’s greatest.

  • Peter Haas

    I’ve lived downtown for nearly 30 years and, over the long haul, it’s gotten immeasurably better. My visiting friends and relatives from other parts of the country always love it. I have never felt unsafe walking the streets, although as in any city, you have to be a little aware of your surroundings. The crime problem is drastically overblown in the media (any crime that happens within 2 miles is called a “downtown” event, e.g.). There are lots of new residences and businesses coming online in the coming few years.

  • John

    Please take back some of your techies!

  • kcwest

    San Jose had a heyday in the early 90’s but has lost it’s interest since. The streets were crowded and it was the place to be. Art and music are not encouraged in San Jose so it’s generally pretty boring downtown. Except for the knife fights.

  • Lee

    We just moved to Naglee Park and love the neighborhood… so of course we really want to see downtown improve. We love walking everywhere and support local businesses (huge shout outs to Caffe Frascati, the Garage, and many others)… please stay in business! It’s so sad to go for a walk downtown on the weekends and see more vagrants than residents or visitors and tons of trash and homeless encampments. We don’t have kids yet, but we’ve already decided that when we do we’ll have to move because of the schools. Every week on the community listserv there’s a report of robbery, vandalism, arson, drug dealing… sigh. How can we help? What are the best ways for citizens to get involved?

    Not building Santana Row downtown was a colossal mistake. Seriously, whoever lined their pocket on that deal should be chased out of town.

  • Melbourne and Hobart in Australia had similar problems, both largely cured by developing their waterfronts, Docklands in Melbourne, Salamanca and Sullivans Cove in Hobart. Encouraging use of bicycles/bikes helped also, especially in Melbourne, not as hilly as Hobart. Both cities got Jan Gehl from Denmark to advise them, as he’d advised Manhatten and Copenhagen. Hobart got its University to move from suburban Sandy Bay into the city center also, a move currently under way and very successful, more successful than the bike move. Art, artists are of course a universal colonizer of derelict areas of cities (e g Greenwich Village in NY), and this is how Salamanca first got turned around, from hosting roughest pubs to most upmarket place to be.

  • Kt

    I feel like the city of San Jose hardly put any money into downtown…downtown has so much potential…new San Pedro square is the best attraction but when u past Santa Clara at it becomes ghetto that’s why no one goes to dt. It’s deem unsafe unless u go to the nicer areas of dt such as Japan town, San Pedro square and the fairmont area. I would try to make all if 1st , second, and third dt stretching from Santa Clara st and San Salvador a shopping, restaurant center!

  • San Jose has an inertial, legacy problem, a real challenge ! ! ! San Jose was chosen as THE best place to become the place to site a dreamed about Silicon Valley because of its suitability, as now proved. Extensive, in the Bay Area halfway between Palo Alto and Oakland and so on, AND also THE POOREST of all such suitable places. Lowest land prices ! I recall seeing desperately poor farm folk close to IBM’s groundscraper complex in S San Jose in 1969, as well as downtown. Silicon Valley developments thus started surrounded by poverty. In a capitalist society, money tends to go wherever people think they can make it grow. No surprise then that Silicon Valley developments CONTINUED to be surrounded by relative poverty. Social rationality is the only way to solve this serious legacy problem. Start by spending tax money on world’s best town planning advice as we did here in Melbourne and Hobart, Australia. See my post of a day ago.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor