Nine San Jose Finalists Chosen for Knight Cities Challenge

Last fall, the Knight Foundation asked 26 communities across the country: How would you make your city more successful?

The answers are in, and nine submissions from San Jose were named finalists. That puts them in the running for the final round this spring when the foundation will divvy up $5 million to winning ideas.

Among the finalists are former Mayor Chuck Reed and his chief of staff, Peter Furman, who want to create a set of tools to make municipal budgets easier to digest for the average person.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts suggests a Bay Area Prototyping Festival, where the public is invited to drum up "public space" solutions for problems including blight and economic opportunity.

Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Association, submitted a plan to turn the ground floor of the San Pedro Square parking garage into a retail space.

People from 26 communities around the country submitted 7,000 ideas to the Knight Foundation. That number was whittled down to 126 for this round.

“The challenge has introduced us to a host of new ideas and people who want to take hold of the future of their cities,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives. “Through these new connections we hope to grow a network of civic innovators to take on community challenges and build solutions together.”

Here's the full list of finalists from San Jose:

San Jose, Calif.

The Bay Area Prototyping Festival by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (Submitted by Deborah Cullinan): Creating a large-scale urban prototyping festival that will call on the community to address challenges such as blight and lack of economic opportunity through public space solutions.

Civic One by The Tech Museum of Innovation (Submitted by Maryanna Rogers): Inviting the public to both imagine and test solutions for one significant city issue every year.

Crowdsourcing Three Creeks Trail Design & Development (Submitted by Scott Lane):  Involving the Willow Glen community in designing and maintaining San Jose’s Three Creeks Trail.

Knight Houses by Houslets (Submitted by Tim McCormick): Prototyping and deploying low-cost, modular, off-grid housing and workspace units to serve as civic building blocks to accommodate events, projects, creative space or the homeless.

Local Government Fiscal Assessment Tool (Submitted by Peter Furman and former Mayor Chuck Reed): Increasing transparency by designing a suite of tools to open up city budgets and make them comprehensible to the average person.

Mapping Learning Resources by Institute for the Future (Submitted by Sara Skvirsky): Mapping and sharing community knowledge through a “time bank” where residents can exchange hours of teaching for hours of learning, gain new skills and form new connections.

The Resolution (Submitted by Joshua Johnson): Making civic debates as engaging as televised sports coverage by assigning teams to an issue, crowdsourcing research, and presenting the debate live online

San Pedro Squared by San Jose Downtown Association (Submitted by Scott Knies): Transforming the ground floor of a parking lot in the San Pedro Square to build momentum around economic revival of the area by introducing ground floor retail to the garage.

We Run This Space by Somos Mayfair (Submitted by Camille Llanes-Fontanilla): Transforming unused community centers, rundown buildings and empty lots into community-owned and -operated spaces for residents to shape and develop with their own innovative ideas.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Don’t know about the other candidates but does anyone believe the “fix” wasn’t in for Reed/Furman and Knies suggestions to place?

  2. The real fix to making San Jose better isn’t just as simple as a one liner executive summary.

    1. It starts with ending this fascination with building retail and housing. For years we’ve blamed “Dutch Hammond” for designing the city the way it is now. How is it we’ve managed to let 40+ years of elected officials do this to us? In my immediate neighborhood you have the Walbass combo at Almaden and Cherry turning the area into gridlock.

    Unfortunately a lot of the EO’s are firmly in the pockets of housing and retail developers.

    2. Next up, office space *NEXT* to our existing retail. There are plenty of office spaces that can use an update. The medical offices on Ross and Camden are already 4 stories. The entire thing should be demo’d and rebuilt as a 4 story single standing structure with underground garage. There is still some opportunity to build new office space next to Safeway on Almaden and Cherry. Office space enhances retail.

    All the successful cities north of us do this. I just passed a Safeway on Foothill Expressway in Los Altos that *just* built 21ksqft of office next door. We would want to target the still affluent areas of San Jose, namely anything close to Almaden Valley (which is why building office along the 85 corridor would work)

    3. Convince CEO’s that SJ is a great place to live and do business. This is hardest thing to do, but we’ve been able to do it in South San Jose (Bioincubator/IDT next to silvercreek) We have to get rid of the unsupervised thugs in our school, harp on the homeless to move on or house them. People in D8 suspected Evergreen High School was built *just* for the CEO’s of Silvercreek, it took a lot of wrangling to let the general public put their kids there.

    Finally, we have to ask the question, “Well, why don’t people want to rent in downtown or North San Jose? Wouldn’t the vacancies there indicate office space along the 85 corridor would meet a similar fate?”

    No it wouldn’t. CEO’s want to walk to work. They don’t want to have to drive to a piss stained DTSJ, get accosted by 15 different “Halfway house” guys trying to accost them for money. No CEO wants to live in North San Jose (Alviso) because of the stink. They don’t want to have to fight the 10’s of 1000’s of crappy drivers on 237. The houses they have in Santa Clara aren’t up to snuff for them. They don’t want to live in the Cupertino Hills to drive through Los Altos.

    This is how we make San Jose better. All the stuff I see proposed above is just fluff.

  3. Good grief.

    We’re doomed.

    If this is what trust fund children with check books to spend other people’s money think are “good ideas”, it’s hopeless.

    Very little of this appears to be real, “actionable” ideas to build something or do something that that will make a city community generally better off.

    It’s either a hodgepodge of fuzzy thinking about cheerleading people that “good ideas are a good idea”, or building a business case for a connected politician’s real estate project (“converting a parking garage to retail”). It may make business sense, but it’s just “Real Estate Development 101”.

    I know. I know. I’m a curmudgeon.

  4. Indeed – what new innovative ideas are presented here. Sheltering the homeless in empty spaces? the homeless do that anyway w/o any grants – they simply move in. Making retail space in a parking garage? Pluuuessse – the RDA spent 30 years, $6Billion and what did that accomplish? Did downtown ever get a first class store to buy a pair of socks at? Literally paying chain outfits to move in only to see them gone in 6 months. People get all SPUR-ed up with catchy lingo like “Urban Villages” when its just another way of saying large scale sprawl. Get those bus lanes rolling.
    Where is the critical thinking in these awards? Nothing about getting innovative ideas in education started. Where is the civic engagement beyond paying some downtown insiders to open up a space wherein people can share ideas about retail, homelessness, etc. this is just more “talk about ideas” – nothing actionable, nothing noteworthy. How dismal and what a sad letdown.

  5. What an F’ing Joke.”Local Government Fiscal Assessment Tool” . The most corrupt and unscrupulous Mayor San Jose has ever had , ran on a platform of “Open Government” & “Sunshine Reform” . The funny thing is most of the new rules and regs , Didnt even take effect until Reed was out of Office. This crook talked about sunshine but did most of his dealings “in the Shadows”.

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