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Urban Nexus
Upgrading San Jose's image with High Speed Rail.
Conceptual sketch of the Diridon Station area.
Courtesy City of San Jose

Like other young metropolises developed in the 1950s and 1960s, San Jose has tried to move beyond its sprawling adolescence by encouraging high-rises downtown and implementing urban growth boundaries. But while it has yet to establish the real density and mix of uses that characterize a truly urban setting, the convergence of several major projects west of downtown—from high speed rail to a new baseball stadium—could create something truly novel in the Silicon Valley region. In April, the vision for the new neighborhood, the Diridon Station Area Plan, got initial approval from San Jose’s city council, and the planning department will begin putting together a draft EIR this month, to be completed in early 2012.

“It’s a huge step for San Jose, which I like to call Northern California’s biggest suburb,” said Jeremy Madsen, the executive director of Greenbelt Alliance, a Bay Area advocacy group for smart growth. And, he believes, an important step towards making San Jose a great city.

The existing Diridon Station (top) and a diagramatic site plan (above).
[+ Click to enlarge.]

The prime catalyst for the development is the city’s Diridon Station, and its future as a major transit hub. The Caltrain commuter rail station, located a few blocks from downtown San Jose, will be where high-speed rail stops in San Jose, and eventually, where a BART regional transit station will be built. In addition, the Oakland A’s new ballpark—assuming current negotiations work out—will be another addition to the 250-acre area, currently devoted to light-industrial uses.

In anticipation of these developments the city is planning a mixed-use neighborhood with an emphasis on commercial space (5 million square feet) to attract companies looking for an energetic environment, along with 2,500 units of housing. Initial land use planning is being carried out by the city with the help of San Francisco firm Field Paoli. Public amenities will include a new plaza, parks, and a pedestrian corridor lined with restaurants and shops and bookended by the ballpark and the existing HP Pavilion sports arena.

While the new structures are unlikely to outdo those at San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal—because of the nearby airport, heights in San Jose are capped at 11 stories—city planners are counting on architecture to play an important role. “They need to be signature, memorable buildings—when people think of San Jose, we want people to think of them,” said Joseph Horwedel, San Jose’s director of planning. With the Diridon Station Area Plan, he says, there’s the chance to set a good precedent. “Companies grow and die off so quickly, permanence is not always respected here in the Valley. It’s important that in the public realm, we help develop that appreciation of what quality spaces add to the community,” said Horwedel.

Lydia Lee