Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tunnel Visions

Californians For High Speed Rail are planning what they call an "Informal SF-SJ Local Advocacy Team Meeting" on May 6th in Palo Alto:

This will be our kick-off meeting of CA4HSR's Local Advocacy Team for the San Francisco<-->San Jose section of the planned high speed rail route. We'll discuss HSR developments in the region and ways we can help bring high speed rail to California. Choo choo, see you there!

Doubtless there will be a vocal contingent of peninsula NIMBYs, so it's important to support events, such as these. To be fair, residents of some of the wealthier communities in the valley and peninsula are fine with HSR in their neighborhoods—they just insist on tunnels and not to have to pay for them. We've seen popular projects tanked by loud interest groups before, and high speed rail is just too important to let that happen again.

Hope to see you there.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

All About Kiosks, Pt II

Last week, I wrote about kiosks as a possible component to downtown San Jose's revitalization. I also wrote that I had a few ideas about where these could go.

So, here are three potential sites:

Fountain Alley

Fountain Alley, between First and Second, is an interesting area. On the plus side, it has historic charm and, due to its proximity between two light rail lines, significant foot traffic. On the down side, it is straddled by a parking lot on one side. In 2006, there were plans to build a 16-story tower in that parking, but those never came to fruition, partially due to neighborhood concerns that it would be incongruent with the area's historical styles.

Regardless of whether that parking lot is developed it or not (and I certainly hope it eventually is), Fountain Alley still serves as an important corridor between First and Second. But as it stands, it's not terribly inviting.

A kiosk or two, maybe on both ends at First and Second, might encourage a more friendly pedestrian environment. A food or coffee kiosk, along with a seating area, could help soften some of the Alley's harder edges. (Curiously, not long ago there was a glass brick kiosk on the Second Street side, but for some reason it was torn down.) With a potential BART stop just around the corner, Fountain Alley could become a significant corridor to and from the station. Why not make it that much nicer of a stroll?

St. James Park

To imagine what St. James Park could be, you must first know what it was...

If you don't recognize St. James Park, it's because what was once a lush urban oasis is now a unpolished jewel in need of some serious attention. To be sure, the residents of The St. James Historical District have done their due diligence in promoting the needs of the park, but as of yet, progress has been slow.

St. James Park is a public space that is missing exactly that, a public. The San Jose Downtown Association's Music in the Other Park series was great, but its no longer being produced. So, the park is largely left to the homeless during the day. It's not that it's a dangerous park, it's just that it is unwelcoming and, despite a beautiful central fountain, lacking a focal point to pull people in.

Despite being cut into two, the park is still ideally situated for kiosks. The western half, between First and Second Streets is anchored by the majestic St. James Park Fountain. The problem here is that the surrounding elements don't beckon citizens to stay and enjoy the beautiful views. Imagine two or three kiosks strategically placed around the fountain, maybe ice cream for kids playing at the nearby playground, or a coffee or danish for mom and dad to enjoy. As in New York City, kiosks could be a way to encourage people to not only visit the park, but more fully engage it. And let's be honest, we have better weather than most cities, so why not?

Fairmont Plaza

This is another interesting area to consider. Across the street from The Plaza de Cesar Chavez, and nestled between The Fairmont Hotel, The San Jose Museum of Art, The Knight Ridder Building, it's difficult to ask for a better location than Fairmont Plaza. And during Christmas in the Park, the plaza comes alive with Downtown Ice.

Downtown Ice is an example of utilizing the best of a location. Of course, many cities have urban skating rinks, but the plaza's Circle of Palms, makes San Jose's unique. Unfortunately, that only happens a couple months out of the year. Most of the time, particularly during the day, the plaza is vastly underutilized.

Some efforts have been made to better utilize this space, namely The San Jose Museum of Art's Cafe Too! and The Knight Ridder Building's Cafe 1850. Both take advantage of the great views and weather. However, both also close at 3:30 PM, so for the better part of the afternoon and all evening, there's little to attract people to this space. A kiosk, perhaps along the hotel side, could entice people to stay longer. A late afternoon coffee or a small snack might entice passers-by to give the plaza a chance. Fairmont Plaza is a nice place to be, we just need to give people a reason to stay.

Final Notes

I would be remiss not to mention that downtown has indeed had two successful kiosks on the Paseo de San Antonio for years. Rosies & Posies Downtown Florist and Circle-A Skateboards are well-situated and offer useful services. Overall, Paseo de San Antonio still needs a lot more work, but theses two kiosks are definitely pluses.

And if you think kiosks are limited to the green, cast iron boxes we are used to seeing in places, like New York City, then their evolution might surprise you. In fact, several cities worldwide have embraced bold designs in their kiosks. Utilitarian or whimsical, contemporary kiosks come in all shapes and sizes, limited only by our imaginations.

I like how the folks at The Pop-Up City put it:

We all know the kiosks on the busy streets of our world cities — those small, neat pop-up booths that sell about everything, from newspapers and magazines to cigarettes and cold drinks. Kiosks mean a lot to me, and to the city itself. At these colourful places, where tourists buy their public transport tickets and commuters grab a fresh newspaper in the morning, is the metropolitan vibe at its best.

They are right. And though kiosks alone are not the answer to downtown's revitalization, they could play an integral part. I've humbly submitted my ideas for kiosk locations, but there are certainly many other possibilities throughout downtown.

Where do you have in mind?