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Getting to Great Places

Posted by Content Coordinator on Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association)

Photo by Aya BrackettExecutive Summary

Silicon Valley, the most dynamic and innovative economic engine in the world, is not creating great urban places. Having grown around the automobile, the valley consists largely of low-slung office parks, surface parking and suburban tract homes. But tastes and values are rapidly moving away from strictly suburban lifestyles. Today’s top firms and top talent are increasingly demanding engaging places, diverse experiences and convenient amenities. Simply put, they are demanding urbanism.

The city of San Jose is critical to the future of the Bay Area. The Association of Bay Area Governments projects that San Jose will add more new residents in the coming decades than any other city in the region — more than San Francisco and Oakland combined. The shape of that growth is critically important to the sustainability, livability and economic vitality of the region. San Jose faces a particular set of challenges — shared by many American cities — around how to retool environments built for the automobile for a future that better supports walking, cycling and transit.

In 2011, the City of San Jose adopted Envision San Jose 2040, an ambitious new General Plan intended to guide the city’s growth in the coming decades. It calls for the addition of 470,000 jobs and 120,000 housing units by 2040, with most new development concentrated in designated “Urban Villages” and other growth areas. It also imagines a dramatic shift to mixed, walkable “complete neighborhoods” that provide basic services and amenities close to homes, workplaces and transit.

Achieving this transformation is a daunting challenge — much more so than is immediately apparent. To be successful will require changes in culture, public policy, professional and technical practices, infrastructure, markets and norms. San Jose’s real estate market has been relatively soft. The city government faces fiscal challenges that limit its capacity for ambitious investment. Many aspects of this transformation are out of the control of policymakers, and many contradictory imperatives drive decisions within city government.

While the General Plan does an excellent job of sketching a transformational vision, and includes an impressive level of detail in defining the location and density of growth, its successful implementation is far from assured. The physical form of new development at the human scale will determine whether the benefits of denser land use patterns actually translate into livable, walkable, less car-oriented places or simply to denser sprawl — placeless apartment complexes and office parks hemmed in by worsening congestion.

San Jose brings tremendous assets to this challenge. The broad-based enthusiasm for a more urban future — coupled with the city’s spectacular weather and natural setting, diverse communities, and legendary capacity for innovation — presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to retool for a more sustainable and competitive future.

Major Project Goals

The recommendations in this report are intended to help San Jose accomplish the following:

Improve the Development Process

1. Increase the speed, certainty and quality of development

2. Provide support to decision-makers and city staff in upholding policies and implementing the General Plan vision

3. Build urban design knowledge, capacity and enthusiasm

4. Support General Plan implementation and Urban Village planning

Make San Jose More Livable and Attractive

5. Attract development that increases long-term economic value

6. Cultivate a better quality of life and sense of place

7. Attract top firms and top talent to San Jose

Build Long-Term Sustainability

8. Support a shift to walking, cycling and transit

9. Create flexible places that can change over time

10. Align city resources and practices to realize efficiencies and support great places

Figure 1. Residential Density, Auto Use and Carbon Emissions

Download full version (PDF): Getting to Great Places

About SPUR
“Through research, education and advocacy, SPUR promotes good planning and good government in the San Francisco Bay Area. A member-supported nonprofit organization, we play the crucial role of uniting citizens to jointly craft solutions to the biggest problems our cities face.”

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