How to ‘Activate’ St. James Park

One of the most amazing things I witnessed in my tour of New York City parks was that there were no isolated spaces of green or concrete. They were no islands in the sense of being separate from the rest of the city. Prior to this educational tour, I thought of parks as places unto themselves that people go to for recreation or rest.

The parks I saw were integrated with their neighborhoods, creating definitive spaces—spaces that are inextricably linked to streets or to greenways that give the park a greater purpose.

An example of this concept is Union Square, one of NYC’s oldest public places, known primarily for having the first statue of George Washington on its grounds. Over several decades, Union Square deteriorated into an unsafe place for citizens. Drug dealers and other assorted criminals reigned.

The neighborhood reached a tipping point of frustration and decided to take action. People began with a very simple idea: a Farmer’s Market. Now in its third decade, the three-day-a-week market attracts hundreds of people to purchase products, many grown in upstate New York. The relationship between urban center and farmland is a healthy one. Many neighbors use the Farmer’s Market as their primary food store.

Union Square also formed a special business improvement district (BID) to fund its activities, which included cleaning up the park and bringing in additional features. They created a steady flow of people and drove out the undesirable elements in the process. Residents were pleased, as was the local business community. Crowds spilled over into adjacent businesses. Soon, a few restaurants sprang up as a result of the convenient access to high-quality fresh produce.

Looking at St. James Park here in San Jose, many people forget that it is not simply a matter of cleaning out undesirable elements to make everything alright. St. James Park should be seen as an integral part of the neighborhood, a place where residents have reason to regularly visit the park, walk it, play and relax in it. The park should also serve as a place where people who work nearby can go to eat lunch or socialize with friends.

As part of a larger plan for integration, having food within the park, even a small café, would do a lot to attract people daily. We can also create other reasons to visit this spacious regularly.

Entertainment, as part of a large venue such as Levitt Pavilion, or a smaller stage for lunchtime concerts and poetry readings can work. Events don’t need to draw thousands of people to be of value.

Activating the park will make it an integral part of people’s lives. This will drive out undesirable elements and make the park safer. It might be good to have a Farmer’ Market there, too.

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.

10 Comments

  1. SJ needs a lake, a river or something like that. You ve heard from me first.OK. Now, why don’t they develop Guadalupe creek to make it a romantic river passing the heart of the city, huh

  2. What San Jose truly needs is to get rid of Reed , and the rest of his good for nothing hand puppets , and take Mahood as well . Crooks all of them

  3. We actually need a plan with something to do about all these homeless instead of just displacing them somewhere else. Where are they going to go once you boot them from St James Park?

  4. > They created a steady flow of people and drove out the undesirable elements in the process.

    > … it is not simply a matter of cleaning out undesirable elements to make everything alright.

    > People began with a very simple idea: a Farmer’s Market. Now in its third decade, the three-day-a-week market attracts hundreds of people to purchase products, many grown in upstate New York.

    OH WOW!

    Am I a genius or what!

    I have been attempting to ‘esplain to Rich Robinson and other obdurate “pro-agressives” that civilization is a process where primitive predatory tribalist foragers are superseded by advanced collaborative farmer/herders who have figured out how to plan for future needs by delaying consumption and laboring for future benefit.

    There you have it! It’s all in Reber’s piece.

    Can we identify the rootless, planless “undesirable elements” that Reber refers to as “foragers”? Can we identify the “tribe” that these “undesirable elements” belong to as the “homeless tribe” of the Democrat Party base?

    Can we identify the DESIRABLE elements that are creating a tiny patch of civilization in a tiny patch of the urban habitat as “farmer/herders”? After all, Reber DID refer to the desirable behavior as a “Farmer’s Market’ and not as an “undesirable elements” swap meet for looted and stolen goods.

    Primitive humanity lived in tribes and survived from one consumption event to the next by hunting and gathering.

    Social anthropologists call it a “subsistence life style”. Today, most people would call it “poverty”, but pro-agressives would call it “unfairness” requiring a wealth transfer.

    Reber’s idea for “activating” St. James Park sounds a bit too mechanistic, like something on an urban planner’s “to do” list. “Real” civilization undoubtedly emerges more organically.

    Nonetheless, it’s a valuable essay on it’s own because it speaks to the grand question of “what is civilization?” and “how can we tell when it is receding or advancing?”

  5. Mr. Reber,

    As of the following date of the Community and Economic Development Committee (CED) for (05.19.14);

    Item D (2): “UPDATE ON ST. JAMES PARK REVITALIZATION AND LEVITT
    PAVILION EXPLORATORY COMMITTEE”

    http://sanjoseca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/30625

    You are identified as one of two (2) Chairmen of the aforementioned “Exploratory Committee.”

    Why didn’t you disclose this fact in “How to Activate St. James Park?”

    This omission to disclose your ongoing activities with reference to Levitt Pavilion and St. James Park gives the appearance that you are just another Lobbyist.

    St. James Park (a.k.a. Vagrant and Criminal Element Park) has been allowed for years to fester as an ongoing social cesspool. Council has acted as an “Enabler” of the criminal activity and assorted depraved acts by doing virtually nothing to make St. James Park what you describe in your article; “St. James Park should be seen as an integral part of the neighborhood, a place where residents have reason to regularly visit the park, walk it, play and relax in it. The park should also serve as a place where people who work nearby can go to eat lunch or socialize with friends.” Council could order the San José Police to “clean-out” St. James Park but that would require leadership.

    Taxpayers are already “paying the bills” for the St. James Park you described. The Levitt Pavilion concept is nothing more than an “Economic Development” formula under the guise of making St. James Park a habitat for cultured people. The Levitt Pavilion-Economic Development concept carries with it an absolute reckless disregard for the “Diminution of Value” to property values and emotional despair arising from; crowds, congestion and amplified music attributed to Levitt Pavilion activities at St. James Park that a certain number of D3 residents will be compelled to endure and pay for via the “Business Improvement District.”

    Your article, “How to Activate St. James Park” in conjunction with “No disclosure” of your ongoing efforts to pursue Levitt Pavilion is a “material conflict of interest” at best and at worst- a cheesy subliminal message to acculturate readers to embrace Levitt Pavilion.

    In my opinion, the readers of the San José Inside are ill served by this tactic.

    For the readers, if interested;

    Who is going to “Pay for Levitt Pavilion?”

    http://sanjoseca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/24121

    And…

    Councilmember Liccardo’s Memorandum on Levitt Pavilion;

    http://www.sanjoseca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/23769 .

    David S. Wall

    • One thing is almost guaranteed… If it involves a park in San Jose and there is money to be spent on that park Then Jamer Reber will be collecting the lions share of that money , doling out as little as possible and laughing all the way to the bank (after producing the next “Mayoral-Council Inauguration,” State of the City Event and any other fabricated non-event that he can feather his nest with…

    • As usual, thanks Mr. Wall for uncovering these important facts and omissions. You are so correct that taxpayers are already paying the bills for the park Mr. Reber and Liccardo describe would be good for the community around the park. Mr. Reber and Liccardo apparently don’t agree, and want taxpayers to pony up millions more for something that would benefit a select few people, and not the community at large. Keep up the great work, Mr. Wall.

    • Flim flam men like James P. Reber always have and always will be out there ready to fleece people who are careless with other peoples’ money. Our endorsement powered council members are, by definition, the types of personalities who will be careless with other peoples’ money.
      We keep electing these progressive ninnies. We shouldn’t be surprised by the silly ways they waste our resources.

  6. Putting in a small cafe to attract residents and downtown workers to St. James Park won’t eliminate the undesirable element. Instead it will attract the more aggressive panhandlers and other homeless types to the park. If you want to help clean up the park, start enforcement actions (except no police to do so), and ban groups who hand out free food and clothing to the dregs of the park. It only attracts others to the park. Instead these groups should be advised to donate to the homeless shelters and handing out food is a violation of various health code statutes.

  7. Sacramento had a park, Cesar Chavez Park, that was right in front of City Hall, and two blocks from the Capital. It was often referred to as “Gallo Park” back in the day when it was mostly inhabited by the homeless moving between the Loaves and Fishes shelter and the Capital park. in the 90’s, the City put a very small cafe in the park, and a stage with a statue of Cesar Chavez. They held farmer’s markets there once a week, and during the work day, it was actually used by nearby workers. It was an amazing transformation, and it all started with a cafe.