A coordinated effort to address some of St. James Park’s problems took place this summer. The process was a little convoluted and had some fits and starts, but the early results have been encouraging.
The strategy was to first address criminal behavior in the park as well as the homeless population, and then provide new activities that would draw visitors. The hope is these activities will make people return to use the park for general purposes, like walking, picnicking, playing soccer or eating lunch.
San Jose police stepped up enforcement during April, May and June. Homeless advocates and providers were then consulted to contact the homeless populations living in the park, which has been a chronic problem for years. City staff also made an effort to bring all basic maintenance up to date, including putting in new garbage receptacles and fixing benches.
The St. James Park Activation committee included more than 30 people, who were divided into sub-committees to address various tasks (i.e., publicity, programming, etc.). The programming elements were critical. Cleaning up the park was important, but unless the number of activities increased the park would return to its previous state. San Jose Downtown Association, San Jose Jose Parks Foundation, parks and recreation staff, and others worked together to create activities that included: viewings of the World Cup on big screens, SJDA-sponsored concerts, afternoon yoga classes, food trucks and a variety of games and performances.
The diverse offerings featured the San Jose Jazz Society, Firebird Youth Chinese Orchestra and the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Friends of St. James Park also staged a well-attended National Night Out in August. And on Saturday, the park will host the Electronic Sriracha Music Festival.
Attention was given to providing activities and events that would draw dozens to hundreds of people, and not just rely on large-scale events. The idea being that one-time draws have a different impact than small-scale activities. Both are important. Small-scale activities are more likely to create habitual use of the park on a daily basis.
Besides the city of San Jose, the Knight Foundation was the major funder for the “Summer in St. James” program. Knight Foundation grants funded city staff, grants to performers and activity providers, as well as supported efforts by the Downtown Association, SPUR and San Jose Parks Foundation.
The activation of St. James Park this summer has been encouraging. It shows that we can change the culture by working together and being creative. While we definitely have a long way to go, the future holds potential for a better park.