Eight San Jose proposals make Knight Cities finalists list

Sal Pizarro| San Jose Mercury News| Link to Article

Local Color, a pop-up artists’ enclave occupying the former Ross department store in downtown San Jose, is one of eight finalists from San Jose vying for part of $5 million in funding from the Knight Foundation. (Sal Pizarro/Staff)

Local Color, a pop-up artists’ enclave occupying the former Ross department store in downtown San Jose, is one of eight finalists from San Jose vying for part of $5 million in funding from the Knight Foundation. (Sal Pizarro/Staff)

How do you make San Jose more successful? For the third year, a handful of ideas to do just that are competing for $5 million in the Knight Cities Challenge.

The eight proposals are among 144 for 26 communities across the country where the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has been making investments to create more vibrant places to live and work. And that’s out of 4,500 ideas submitted nationwide, answering the call to create public spaces, contribute to economic growth and strengthen connections between governments and the public.

One of the San Jose ideas is Local Color, the artistic enclave proposed by Erin Salazar that’s already showing how it can work by turning the vacant Ross store downtown into a hub of creative activity, including artist studios and a community mural wall.

Some of the other ideas would transform activity in downtown San Jose, like Laura Wells‘ idea for a pilot program to create a Great Public Plaza in San Pedro Square or Moveable Feast founder Ryan Sebastian‘s idea to encourage residents to connect with each other over food and fun at the “SoFA Playground,” a food truck bonanza in the heart of the city’s arts district.

The Mobile Street Amenity Builder, submitted by Jason Roberts, would develop a mobile unit that would have resources to improve city blocks one-by-one with public benches, directional signs and planters. Similarly, Liz Ruiz‘s idea with the Pedestrian Paradise Project would encourage sidewalk murals and installations in vacant storefronts to give people more interesting strolls.

Zacharias Edward Gabriel Mendez‘s idea, “Young Placemakers,” would facilitate youth-driven improvements in neighborhoods, which would enhance those areas and give the next generation a lot of leadership experience. And People Acting in Community Together CEO Akemi Flynn proposed “#TogetherWeVote, Together We Are San Jose,” a project to engage new voters and use community events to discuss the importance of voting and becoming involved with the community.

Shireen Santosham, the chief innovation officer in San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo‘s office, proposes re-imagining the city by hiring a visionary chief architect who could ensure that San Jose develops into a walkable, green and engaged metropolis. Anyone who can help San Jose with the “vision thing” would be a good thing, I’d say.

Of course, every idea has its challenges and there’s no guarantee any of them will get funding. We’ll find out in the spring if the ideas, fleshed out by the people who proposed them, make the final cut. But they’re all good starting points for discussion, or in the case of Local Color, trying something new to show how it can work.

You can read more about the San Jose finalists and the others from across the country — you never know when an idea proposed for Philadelphia or Miami might make sense here, too — at www.knightcities.org.