Urban Parks and the Walkable City

Statistics show that the number of people under 25 who have drivers licenses has decreased steadily over the last 20 years. This may seem like random trivia on its face. But a closer look reveals a social trend that has significance to San Jose and other metropolitan areas across the country.

The trend among Millennials, or Generation Y, is to locate in a city that offers convenient access to all key aspects of life—work, home and social venues. Having all these in proximity to each other means life is livable without a car. This saves money, of course, but more than that it saves them time on a daily basis that can translate to a better quality of life.

Where young people once dreamed of living in the suburbs, complete with a nice car and a job some distance away, younger urbanites prefer to skip the daily commute in favor of spending time with friends and colleagues, relaxing at a restaurant or bar instead of crammed in a car, slogging through traffic with anonymous commuters.

Downtown San Jose is actually well positioned to provide a desirable city center for Gen-Y and those who will follow. A recent lunchtime program presented by SPUR San Jose featured a look at how other cities are working to create urban environments. What makes downtown San Jose attractive to developing this future core is that light rail and the Guadalupe River Trail offer alternative, clean, green transportation between living quarters and corporate campuses.

Guadalupe River Trail is a corridor for bicycles, skateboards, inline skates or a healthy walk between downtown living spaces and North San Jose jobs. The recent development of downtown restaurant/bars (Blackbird Tavern, Café Stritch, Vyne Bistro) that offer reasonably priced food, jazz and other lower-volume music is, I hope, a hint of what is beginning to be a truly great, walkable urban center.

The downtown parks form a wonderful greenway to compliment the urban core, and it behooves us to connect them, both conceptually and physically, to emphasize that they are key places for exercise, contemplation, or just a refreshing change of pace for urban dwellers.

Discovery Meadow, Arena Green, and the lower Guadalupe are literally connected, but I would add St. James Park, Plaza de Cesar Chavez, and Gore Park/Parque de Los Pobladores (now less of a green space, more of a plaza) to the suite of parks parallel to Guadalupe River Park.

It’s my hope that more cafés, galleries and similar entities will form around these parks to offer a relaxing meal or a drink with a view. Connecting St. James Park to Guadalupe via San Pedro Market Square also creates a vibrant East–West urban corridor that holds much promise for the many who live downtown.

James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at [email protected] or 408.893.PARK


  1. “It’s my hope that more cafes, galleries, and similar entities will form….”

    And it’s MY hope, Mr. Reber, that precious tax dollars will not be handed out to opportunistic, greedy insiders to finance your cafes, galleries, and similar entities.

    If your utopia is meant to happen, let it happen naturally with real people making the calculation of the free market, weighing the risks vs. the benefits, and investing their own time, effort, sweat, and money. Leave the taxpayers out of it.

  2. People will not come to down town after dark just because it is not safe.  This city just attracts drug dealers, drunks and prostitutes after the lights go out.  If it were not for Sharks games this city would be hurting for certain. I use to love to come downtown to eat, now I refuse to spend a penny in city limits.

  3. All sorts of infrastructure have been planned with downtown San Jose as a hub.  This was sort of an exercise in positive thinking.  The reality is that people don’t really want to go downtown.  Not then, not now.

    Take light rail for example.  People that might be interested in riding light rail want to go through downtown.  When planners try to come up with a plan to make that easier by allowing express trains through downtown, they are prevented from doing so, because it will diminish St. James Park.  They can’t diminish St. James Park because that would make downtown even more unattractive.  That would keep people from going to downtown.  That may or may not be the case, but it sure discourages people from going through downtown.

    If you live on the lower Peninsula, you’ve probably seen all the busses that companies like Google and Facebook use to ferry employees back and forth to their homes in San Francisco.  Why doesn’t San Jose offer to pay for some busses to ferry Google and Facebook kids to and from downtown San Jose.  If that sounds crazy, then it’s about as crazy as most of the ways that our city is spending money to get people to promote downtown.

    Our city needs to come up with concrete examples of people that will be attracted to downtown when coming up with yet more schemes to fix downtown.  Because otherwise all the Generation Y folks that will be attracted to downtown will be the homeless ones.  And they already know the way.

  4. You’re enjoying your day, everything’s going your way, when along comes Debbie Downer. Always there to tell you ‘bout a new disease, a car accident, or killer bees. You beg her to spare you, ‘Debbie, please!’ but you can’t stop Debbie Downer!

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