Unsprawling San Jose: Knight Foundation helps reconnect & revitalize neighborhoods

On December 20, 2017, in San Jose, California—where I (Storm) went to high school—the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced that it was giving over $1 million in new funding to 11 projects driven by resident engagement.

All are aimed at making San Jose a more vibrant place to live and work. The funding forms one part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to support the urbanization of a traditionally-sprawling city. As with hundreds of other cities around the country, most of the revitalizing work of the 21st Century in San Jose focuses on undoing the urban planning (or lack thereof) of the 20th Century; or at least on mitigating and healing its unintended consequences.

Knight’s strategy focuses on reconnecting and revitalizing central San Jose, and improving quality of life to that the city’s core can attract and retain talent, expand opportunity and build a culture of civic engagement.

Led by a wide range of nonprofit and urban development organizations, several of the projects focus on transforming San Jose’s public spaces into active hubs that serve to reconnect the community and improve civic life.

From building a network of protected bicycling lanes, to offering learning opportunities to help civic officials design more vibrant public spaces, to programs that empower residents to get more involved in shaping their community’s future, the projects aim to create a more vibrant and engaged San Jose built for and by people.

They also tackle some of the city’s most pressing problems, working to create more affordable housing, foster understanding of local government and increase traffic safety.

At the root of these projects is the idea that San Jose, like all cities, must be built for people – encompassing public spaces that connect and energize, streets that make walking and biking irresistible and pathways that open access to local decision-making for all residents,” said Danny Harris, Knight Foundation program director for San Jose.

The organizations receiving support include:

  • Gehl Studio, Inc. ($249,600) – Providing public life training and capacity building for San Jose’s city and civic leaders to help them better advance, design and measure efforts to make the city’s public realm more vibrant and people friendly. Gehl will also produce two San Jose-specific reference handbooks containing guidelines and resources for integrating public life into civic projects and work with the community on a vision document to advance this goal.
  • National Association of City Transportation Officials ($198,000) – Improving neighborhood life by designing an all ages and all abilities bicycling network across central San Jose and sharing lessons learned with a national audience. The organization will work with the City of San Jose to expedite the process of designing, constructing and maintaining protected bike lane projects with a specific focus on central San Jose.
  • California Walks ($150,000) – Creating a safer and more walkable San Jose by supporting the launch of Walk San Jose, the city’s first pedestrian advocacy program. Through the program, the organization will work with city officials and community members to advance initiatives that support walkability, organize events that encourage people to explore San Jose on foot, and act as a convener for citizens, community organizations and civic leaders interested in making the city more pedestrian-friendly.
  • iCivics, Inc. ($75,000) – Encouraging middle and high school students and their parents to get more involved in local government by developing a customized version of the iCivics educational video game, “Counties Work” focused on Santa Clara County. The game teaches players about local government by challenging them to complete activities such as building public spaces, finding the right department to address their concerns, or managing resources.
  • Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California ($75,000) – Creating more affordable housing in San Jose by piloting new engagement and outreach tools that will open opportunities for residents to learn about, participate in and lead solution-building and other initiatives.
  • SFMade, Inc. ($75,000) – Increasing work opportunities for people in underserved communities through the creation of Manufacture San Jose, a program that will deliver educational and hiring support to local manufacturers looking for local talent. Through the program, SFMade will also increase outreach to low-income high school students to educate them about careers in manufacturing and place students in paid “makerships” – positions that encourage innovation and entrepreneurship – with local manufacturers.
  • SV@Home ($75,000) – Supporting housing-ready communities in Santa Clara County through public education, policy and communication efforts that aim to ensure the success of Measure A, a $950 million bond measure for affordable housing approved by voters in November 2016.
  • San Jose Taiko ($45,000) – Connecting the city’s diverse residents by launching “Yokoso!” – a project to promote and preserve the unique neighborhood feel of Japantown by welcoming newcomers to the community and actively promoting their inclusion.
  • SOMOS Mayfair ($30,000) – Advancing civic engagement by expanding the organization’s efforts to engage residents in creating positive change in their communities through programs that educate people on local systems, connect neighbors, advance leadership development and encourage people to voice their concerns.
  • YWCA Silicon Valley ($30,000) – Building grassroots women’s leadership capacity in San Jose and Santa Clara County by engaging underrepresented communities, especially young women of color, to shape the priorities and implementation framework of a “Women’s Bill of Rights” ordinance for San Jose.
  • Catalyze SV ($28,837) – Supporting the launch of a grassroots group aimed at increasing community engagement and support for urban, mixed-use and people-friendly projects across Santa Clara County.

Since 2008, Knight Foundation has invested over $24 million in San Jose.

Many thanks to Knight Foundation for taking care of my old “home town” (one of many: we moved around a lot).

Photo of downtown San Jose via Adobe Stock.

See John S. and James L. Knight Foundation website.

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