April 10, 2015

The Daily Scot in San Jose

Scot discovers the SoFA District:

We all know about the corporate-campus aspect of Silicon Valley – but just a few blocks away from the Adobe campus in San Jose is the historic walkable section in and around 1st Street. (Map here.)

Photo 1Like most American cities, San Jose’s once-thriving human-scale downtown neighbourhoods were largely obliterated by Motordom (Guadeloupe Freeway and I-280), and the resulting surface parking and stroads.  What historic fabric remains is, as usual, cherished by the hipsters, artists and other creative types – as witnessed during a quick Monday afternoon stroll along 1st Street in the SoFA District (South First Area).

I have never seen such a large collection of parklets on one city block than anywhere else.

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Successful parklets require an energy source for survival, ideally facing and interacting with buildings of a human-scale quality with good porosity.  Cafes and restaurants make great symbiotic energy sources, as seen below.  The warm and dry San Jose climate helps as well.

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The overall 1st Street environment is further enhanced with beautiful layers of street trees: queen palms in the upper canopy and jacarandas anchoring the sidewalks.  Then layers of pedestrian-scale amenities like decorative string lights and bike-friendly lanes of traffic (sharrows).  A complete street.

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Beyond dining and drinking, the SoFA District is a showcase for art and creativity, as evident from the numerous murals.

“The South First Area (SoFA) serves as downtown San Jose’s visual arts and entertainment district.  Cool, organic and creative, SoFA is a place where you can interact with some of the most eclectic and artistic people in the city.”  -San Jose Downtown Association

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SoFA is well equipped with cycling infrastructure: plenty of bike racks, a bike-share station provided by Bay Area Bike Share, and traffic calming in the form of sharrows that allow access to and from this funky San Jose ‘hood.

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Lessons for Vancouver:

1) It’s time for a concentration of bold colourful murals in an urban setting somewhere in the city.

2) You can have a series of Parklets on one block; the benefits outweigh the loss of parking.  In fairness, this situation benefits from surrounding surface parking taking the pressure off parallel parking demand on 1st Street.

3.) Layer the streetscape with as many elements as possible (string lights, paving details, artwork, vegetation, etc.)

4.) Preserve fine-grain horizontal building scale!  Allowing developers to consolidate lots and build large monolithic street frontages destroys character.

Work hard to preserve what you have because once it’s gone, it’s gone.

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More on SoFA here.

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