Placing people at the center of San Jose

As one travels across San Jose’s sprawling 180-square-mile landscape, it’s hard to believe this is America’s tenth most populous city. The low-rise suburban city hosts seemingly endless single-family homes, strip malls, freeways and suburban office parks, but too few vibrant and well-used public spaces that welcome and celebrate our one million residents. 

In San Jose, Knight seeks to change that by creating one of the nation’s most engaged cities driven by a focus on public life — drawing people out of their cars and homes and into the community. In doing so, we aim to place people at the center of the city’s present and future. By helping to build a San Jose for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities, we aim to create a vibrant and welcoming city that makes being out and in public irresistible and celebrates the collision of diverse people and ideas. 

To reinvent itself as a city built for people, San Jose must overcome decades of automobile-focused policies that have spread residents across a disconnected geography, made the car the preferred transit mode for most, and contributed to one of the nation’s worst housing crises. These things are, in part, to blame for only 29 percent of residents feeling “attached” to San Jose, according to Knight’s 2010 Soul of the Community report. 

Now is a key time to address these problems. San Jose is expected to grow 23 percent by 2040. In the short term, the city is deciding the future of Diridon Station, expected to be the largest transit hub on the West Coast and which may include a potential 20,000+ person Google office. Both of these developments present vexing questions about where these people will live, how they move around, and what will bind them to San Jose.

We can’t solve San Jose’s long-term challenges, but we can work with the people of San Jose to shape how those challenges could be addressed — and new opportunities seized. That’s why our focus is on people — how they can engage in their community though its public spaces and by enlivening public life. 

Since 2008, Knight has committed $25+ million to San Jose with a renewed focus on the following themes:

  • Building walkable, bikeable and transit-oriented neighborhoods;
  • Creating new public spaces and reimagining existing ones to bring together a range of people, while offering an outlet to learn and share ideas;
  • Helping San Joseans forge deeper connections with their city with events, things and places that define San Jose.

Our investments include but are not limited to: constructing North America’s most ambitious Better Bikeways Networks; expanding SPUR, one of the nation’s leading urban policy think-and-do-tanks, to San Jose; hiring the City of San Jose’s first principal city designer; launching and scaling VIvaCalleSJ, our Open Streets program, to 130,000 people; and identifying and supporting thousands of emerging leaders across the city. Across all of our efforts, we seek to amplify community voices, respond to community demands and support the next generation of urban problem solvers. 

As San Jose steps into the future, Knight will remain a committed partner — supporting ideas, people, and organizations that put people-first — to create an ever more informed and engaged city. 

Daniel Harris is Director/San Jose at Knight Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @dyuliharris.