A Redesign of the South First Street Corridor
by Yasmine Farazian, Project Manager, KenKay Associates


In 2006, 1stACT (Arts, Creativity, Technology), “a cross-sector collaborative whose mission is to inspire leadership, participation and investment at the intersection of art and technology,” spearheaded an energetic effort to create a vision for Downtown San Jose as Silicon Valley’s city center. This initiative was funded by Adobe, a leading software mogul and Downtown San Jose resident, and was led by Connie Martinez, Founding Managing Director of 1stACT, Dan Keegan, Executive Director of the San Jose Museum of Art, and Tamara Alvarado, Executive Director of MACLA, along with the support and involvement of several other local leaders. This leadership group commissioned the urban design firm of KenKay Associates to play a major role in conceptualizing the vision for Downtown.


Envision a redesigned and renergized SoFA District

Downtown San Jose is rich with culture, art, open space, work environments, venues, fine dining, retail, and nightlife which are all elements that make up the DNA of a vibrant city center. With that said, these amenities are spread throughout the Downtown as isolated islands of activity which are not connected in a cohesive manner, and are mostly accessible by car, which discourages people from walking. By encouraging pedestrians to wander from one venue to another, and to discover authentic hidden gems along the way, the dynamism of an energetic Downtown, and the livelihood of local businesses is ensured.

Downtown San Jose is determined to revamp its 21 st century regional and international identity. The evolution of Downtowns’ identity depends on a graceful transition from an autocentric past to the pedestrian friendly future. A delicate balance between parking and the pedestrian is crucial to realize this transformation. This balance can be achieved by allowing for increased parallel and diagonal street parking, and creating an affordable public parking plan that encourages locals and visitors to park once, and walk. Parking is important, but not the only factor in the walk-ability of a city. Good parking measures practiced in conjunction with other urban design principles such as the narrowing of certain streets and the constant programming of the public realm will in turn promote a pedestrian-friendly environment which supports local businesses. This is not to say that the car has no place in the city, but its reduced use plays a vital role in creating a walk-able Downtown core, and prompting a shift from a suburban to urban mindset.


In order to promote the walk-ability of the city, the 1stACT vision for Downtown proposed the concept of “Big Deals and Small Wonders.” The “Big Deals” of downtown were described as the platforms for major activity, and include Cesar Chavez Park, the SoFA District, the Circle of Palms, the Mexican Heritage Museum, Tech Museum, the Convention Center, Silicon Valley experience stores, the future Downtown BART Station and many more. In addition to the “Big Deals”, there was a need for a series of “Small Wonders”. The “Small Wonders” of the city were identified as the elements that thread and connect the larger urban islands of activity together and create a sense of excitement and discovery for the pedestrian, while bringing a little smile to their faces. Some of these components include permanent and temporary public art, sidewalk cafes, food vendors, kiosks, live/work lofts, banners, seasonal planting, wider sidewalks, and street performers. The synergy of arts, creativity and technology within the concept of “Big Deals and Small Wonders” are the elements that can help Downtown San Jose realize its identity as Silicon Valley’s city center.


1stACT’s Conceptual Design for the Gateway to SoFA


Just as Downtown San Jose is recognized as the ideal location for the city center of Silicon Valley, SoFA (South of First Street Area) has been acknowledged as an ideal location for a cutting edge, authentic arts and entertainment district within San Jose.

South First Street from San Carlos Street to East Reed Street is an incubator for artists who share a healthy appetite for activation and change in their neighborhood. It is home to many local galleries, business owners and cultural institutions such as the California Theatre, Anno Domini, Green Rice Gallery, Works Gallery, Original Joe’s, South First Billiards, MACLA, San Jose Quilts & Textiles Museum, ICA, and many more.

A sense of ownership and pride is readily apparent in this community. The “can-do” spirit of its residents is demonstrated in organizing events such as “South First Friday” (www.southfirstfriday.com), orchestrating the restoration of the California Theatre, and facilitating the opening of many new restaurants and bars such as Motif, Hunters, and Jersey’s. South First Street has an active night life thanks to a wide variety of high-end restaurants, bars and nightclubs. As important as the night time use of South First Street is, the day-time use must play just as important of a role in order for the corridor to thrive as a 24/7 active place, and to bridge the “indoor” art world to the greater public. The building of Threesixty Residences, the remodeling and conversion of Original Joe’s upper floors to condominiums, and the conceptual designs for the Market Gateway Tower adjacent to Parque de Los Pobladores, are the first steps in creating a residential base along South First Street, which is a vital step in providing the people necessary to activate the corridor.


In response to the community‚Äôs persistent call to action and the 1stACT Vision, the San Jose Redevelopment Agency, in partnership with the 1stACT, commissioned KenKay Associates to create an unprecedented demonstration project along the South First Street corridor (from San Carlos Street to East Reed Street). The premise of the project is to showcase the corridor as the initial step to realizing 1stACT‚Äôs vision for the “Small Wonders.‚Äù The implementation of the project will involve creating a pedestrian-oriented street by expanding the sidewalk and building temporary platform structures as pedestrian amenity areas. The sidewalk platforms will allow for local artist opportunities, seating, shade structures and planting. In addition to the physical form of the structures, the platforms will include sidewalk dining, vendors, kiosks, banners, street performers, and art vendors to promote ‚Äúthe private use of the public realm.‚Äù These measures in turn will enable locals and visitors to enjoy street life on South First Street.

The first phase of the construction to be implemented will be at the corner of South First Street and San Carlos Street. This area was chosen based on its central location within Downtown, its presence as the northern gateway to the SoFA district, adjacency to the Convention Center and San Jose State University, and the existing volume of foot traffic.

The benefit of a demonstration project, as opposed to a full streetscape redesign, and major renovation to Parque de Los Pobladores, is the short construction time, reduced budget, opportunity for public involvement, and testing before a large scale construction project is under taken. The first phase of the project is scheduled for completion by the Zero-One Global Art Festival in June of 2008. This timing will help support the festivities that will take place along the corridor.

From a once hustling and bustling commercial and civic area along the trolley line in the 1800’s, to a red light district, and eventually to an arts and entertainment district dubbed “SoFA,” the South First Street corridor has gone through many changes. The next wave of change to revitalize South First Street is a step forward to creating the activity that the community is craving, and the true implementation of a “first act” towards the vision for Downtown as Silicon Valley’s City Center.


Existing South First Street and San Carlos Street Intersection


Demonstration Project Pedestrian Amenity Areas


Full Street Closure during Zero-One Arts Festival


South of First Street, South Block, Conceptual Design

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