Enlivening a Dead Block in San Jose
By Kathleen Carey
Every time a Gensler team volunteers its time in communities around the world, we have an eye on the big picture of Shaping the Future of Cities. At the same time, we’re well aware that any effort to make big structural change must start at the local level and with the individuals who live, work, and play in urban communities.
One example of this is a longstanding partnership between our San Jose, California office and the City of San Jose. Through the San Jose Downtown Association (SJDA), our colleagues have used their design expertise to bring energy and vibrancy back to the streets of their city.
MOMENT at San Pedro Squared did just that. The first block of North San Pedro Street was an otherwise active center of town, save for an uninviting 3-story parking garage that created an unavoidable dead zone on the northeast side. In support of the SJDA’s initiative, Gensler helped repurpose the ground floor of the parking structure to accommodate micro-retail spaces for local business owners, enliven the community, and encourage a renewed pedestrian experience. The renovation and subsequent flow of local businesses in the micro-retail stores benefitted the local job market and MOMENT flourishes during the weekly farmers’ market while driving revenue for local businesses and community members.
In all our work, Gensler’s key focus is on the human experience of the space. As such, a community’s needs, expectations, and desires are an important part of the design process. Through another pro bono project between Gensler and the SJDA, Gensler invited the community to raise its voice directly.
Through an initiative titled, “I Wish San Jose Had…”, inspired by Candy Chang’s “I Wish This Was” project in New Orleans, residents and community members in San Jose were encouraged to share their “wishes” for making the city’s downtown area more vibrant, attractive, and livable. Individuals wrote down their thoughts on stickers that were pasted to a structure in the center of the city’s farmers’ market.
An online platform expanded the project’s reach and allowed participants to share their thoughts virtually. While the project sparked hope and positivity, it also revealed key issues within the community — such as a lack of police presence, accessible mental health services for the homeless, and others.
These grassroots efforts in San Jose are examples of ways in which design invites conversation and leads to greater change. Civic infrastructure, designed with the unique community in mind, is at the core of a lively, safe, and flourishing city.