Saying yes to civic innovation in San Jose, Calif.

Photo of San Jose, Calif. by Flickr user Daniel Hoherd.

While San Jose promotes itself as the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” the city is and can be so much more.

Since arriving in November to assume the role of program director, I have been listening and learning – meeting thousands of residents, walking scores of neighborhoods and gaining proficiency in San Josean.

While some conversations focus on the challenges – a widening income gap, lack of affordable housing and merciless traffic, most celebrate our shared opportunities. Multigenerational families from Japantown to Little Saigon boast San Jose as the “Capital of Diversity.” New immigrants in Mayfair celebrate San Jose as the “Capital of Opportunity.” Established art galleries in SoFa assert San Jose as the “Capital of Arts and Culture.” Urbanists see San Jose as the “Capital of Transportation.” And the list goes on …  

In support of these vibrant and varied opportunities, Knight Foundation is expanding our work in San Jose with 13 new investments totaling $620,000. This funding seeks to collect, curate and grow these varied “capitals” within the core of the city, making Central San Jose a well-connected, transit-friendly hub for culture, diversity and innovation in the South Bay. 

True to our nature in Silicon Valley, these 13 projects tap into the region’s creative energy and disruptive history. From the Exhibition District, which aims to cover 40,000 square feet of downtown San Jose’s empty wall space with murals to City ID, a world-renowned design firm supporting better wayfinding across Central San Jose, these diverse projects celebrate what makes the city unique today and will continue to differentiate it well into the future.

Most importantly, our funding aims to support a “culture of yes” in San Jose that empowers budding civic innovators. For too long, these pathways to leadership and action have been blocked or hidden. At the same time, we are giving existing institutions more tools and reason to support new ideas, projects and leadership.

While these projects are an important step towards San Jose’s ability to attract and retain talent, expand opportunity and build a culture of civic engagement, they are a continued step in an ongoing journey. Knight is deeply rooted in San Jose, and since 2008 has invested $19 million in support of a more livable and lovable city.

And, just as the city grows and learns over time, so do we. I now return to meeting more residents, walking new neighborhoods and exploring additional partnerships and opportunities as we prepare for our next step and I work towards fluency in San Josean.

Daniel Harris is San Jose program director at Knight Foundation. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @dyuliharris

Here are the 13 projects Knight is funding:

·      City ID ($129,927): Developing a more vibrant and connected San Jose with a “wayfinding” needs assessment and strategy that will help people more easily maneuver throughout the city and make it more walkable.

·      Content Magazine/Silicon Valley Creates ($75,000): Helping Content Magazine, a leading resource for creative and innovative culture in San Jose, pursue ways to engage the community in city life and develop a sustainable business model.

·      CreaTV ($11,250): Expanding the “We are San Jose” storytelling campaign, a citywide video project to collect the diverse stories of city residents. 

·      Destination: Home ($75,000): Identifying pathways for housing and employment for Santa Clara County’s homeless population by supporting a feasibility study and fiscal plan that aims to tackle homelessness and engage people across the government, tech and philanthropy sectors around a unifying cause.

·      Downtown Streets Inc. ($25,000): Supporting the creation of a mobile coffee cart in St. James Park, a social enterprise working to employ the homeless and energize an important San Jose public asset.

·      Greenbelt Alliance ($75,000): Creating a thriving city of urban villages in San Jose made up of mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods with housing options across income levels.

·      Housing Trust Silicon Valley ($75,000): Helping establish more affordable and equitable housing policies through educational, community problem-solving and research activities, as well as partnership building within the region.

·      Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network/Valley Transportation Authority: ($15,000): Supporting “Hack My Ride 2.0,” a three-month online app challenge open to anyone in the world and focused on transforming mobility in Silicon Valley.

·      Metro Newspaper Silicon Valley ($10,000): Promoting SoFa, San Jose’s arts and cultural district, with a monthly full-page ad in Silicon Valley’s leading alternative press publication.   

·      Moveable Feast ($19,200): Supporting a monthly pop-up dinner series across the city’s neighborhoods that brings together diverse city leaders to discuss and act in support of the future of San Jose.

·      Wreck Studios ($10,000): Creating “The Exhibition District,” a project to convert 40,000 square feet of vacant wall space in Downtown San Jose into an outdoor art gallery.

·      San Jose Parks Foundation ($75,000): Expanding the “Summer in St. James Park” series which brings community engagement activities, such as movie nights, concerts, exercise classes and more, to the public park.

·      San Jose Public Library ($25,000): Helping to reimagine underused spaces in San Jose through the “Pop-Up Mobile Makerspaces” project, a partnership with Okada Design, which will encourage community conversations and prototyping workshops with residents at neighborhood pop-up events.