Hope to the City of San Jose

by Jason on March 26, 2015

Six months ago I started my new position with the San Jose Downtown Association as their new Street Life Project Manager. It has been an interesting and eventful journey thus far – working on many fun and fast-moving projects, and seeing what it is like on the other side of the planning counter. Downtown San Jose, and the city as a whole, is undergoing major public and private investment, and the scale of development seen now is unprecedented. It is a great time to be an urbanist in San Jose, the slate is blank, but the paint is ready.

Part of my role is to provide updates on the Downtown Street Life Plan, which is where many of my projects stem from. In these sessions, there is inevitably a question regarding the street life and placemaking work of San Francisco. Even beyond, I constantly get asked to compare the two, or to test projects in San Jose that have shown results in San Francisco.  In these situations, I find myself providing a pep talk to the questioning individual and to the room at large. Truth be told, it is a bit demoralizing when you bring up in an audience the merits of another city over your own.

In college, I participated in the Student Parent Orientation Program (SPOP) at UC Irvine. Part of the program, in addition to class registration, adjusting to college life, and making new friends, is the capacity-building of the student who is entering a new stage of their lives, with new opportunities and responsibilities to deal with. We as volunteer staffers would give them these pep talks to ensure them that they have all the resources and personal capacity to succeed in this new environment. When the question gets asked that compares San Francisco to San Jose, I automatically fall back into this role, but not because I feel the need to cheer everyone up, but because what is limiting San Jose to meet its potential is that the city doesn’t think they deserve or is incapable of it.

To note, I love San Francisco. My time working on the streetscapes team was a whirlwind of activity, and I knew I was doing good work. The city is electric, to say the least, and working there was a lot of fun. Saying that, San Jose and San Francisco are not apples to apples. Things are just as intense, politically charged, and eventful as it is in San Francisco, but in different ways. The perspective of how urbanists and the community in San Jose view their own city needs to change, because when you second-guess yourself as a city, you will never break that barrier to excellence.

I hope San Jose stops thinking it is second-fiddle to San Francisco. I hope San Jose stops caring about how they appear in comparison to San Francisco. It’s basic business practice that if you cannot compete with another in one way, find your own niche and create that demand. It’s also bad morale to be working towards a mission whose sole purpose is to catch up to another city. You have great weather, an organic arts community, the oldest institutions of the State of California, tech companies, a downtown with strong local support, fabulous dining and entertainment options, rich cultural diversity, and many other attributes. Additionally, you are a world city and you shares more urban ailments as other cities in America, so urban intervention solutions coming from San Jose will have a greater impact on the city landscape of more cities in the United States.

There is so much San Jose has to offer, but the first step is admitting that it has something to offer, and to do so in a context that stands on its own. You are the 10th largest city in the most powerful nation on earth. Own it.

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This is my final board of the Landscape Studio Fundamentals course taught by Achva Benzinberg Stein, FASLA through the University of California, Berkeley Extension Landscape Architecture Certificate Program. Saint James Plaza is located in West Oakland, and has the potential to be a great neighborhood plaza. At this moment, however, it is impacted by a high concentration of homeless and persons selling drugs. The premise of the design is to light the plaza with a halo structure atop a tree – harkening to the idea of a tree and light as sanctuary and knowledge. Good practices in streetscapes were also included, absorbing the surrounding street parking and tightening the corners to slow cars turning.

Particularly happy with the section background and my first attempt at the ray-of-light effect and nighttime light effect.

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The Wonderful Anatomy of a Bioswale

by Jason on February 5, 2015

Been taking landscape architecture classes and finally got to the Plant Identification series. The final project was to sketch out some plants into a theme. Naturally, my interest fell on green infrastructure, so I created a Bioswale 101 factsheet. Enjoy!

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The New Mechanics Plaza | San Francisco

by Jason on May 22, 2014

Early May 2014, the city has been thinking of the redesign of Mechanics Plaza that would spur more use and activation of the space. The Mechanics Plaza holds  the historic Mecahnics statue that has been a San Francisco and Market Street staple, moving locations various times due to various historic events. The photography series presented is part of my final project for the Landscape and Horticulture Photography course I took at the University of California, Berkeley – Extension. They may also appear with SF Department of Public Works as promotional photos.

The seating echos the inspiration of Times Square in New York, and plays into observations made in William Whyte’s “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.” It is interesting to see people sit in sunny spots, or move seats just slightly to gain ownership of it.






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Japanese Gardens, Parks, and Open Spaces

April 14, 2014

In December 2012-January 2013, I did research in Tokyo, studying Shinjuku Station. In my time there, I was also able to explore the rest of the country, and make more informal observations of the open spaces there. After reflecting on a series of landscape architecture classes I have taken, I revisited some of these pictures […]

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Expose Washington D.C. – the Seat of Power

March 15, 2014

I took a trip to Washington D.C. in October of 2013 with some college friends. We were worried that due to the government shutdown, we would not be able to see anything. Luckily, our elected officials were so nervous upon my arrival to the city that they reached an agreement and ended the shutdown. You’re […]

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VOTES NEEDED! NELA Placemaking Competition – Cypress Celebration Street

February 25, 2014

I need your VOTES! I entered the KCET Northest Los Angeles Placemaking Competition and there is a category for People’s Choice! The premise of my design is to create a Celebration Street in Cypress Park, connecting the neighborhood with a civic spine and would link all the present retail and institutions on Cypress Street. Additionally, […]

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Expose Muir Woods – Landscape Wonder

February 18, 2014

In one of my landscape architecture courses, the professor presented on important landscapes and gardens, both designed and natural, around the Bay Area. Still being relatively new here, living in the Bay for two years, and just finishing graduate school, I never had the time to go exploring. At the end of daylight savings time […]

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2014 Updates – Personal pace of professional development

February 4, 2014

Hi everyone, I know an update has been in the works – so here is a quick one on just what new developments have been happening on my end. Currently, I am working for the San Francisco Department of Public Works under the project management division – specifically working on streets. It has been great […]

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Evolving Urban Morphology of my Hometown

December 24, 2013

Being originally from Los Angeles, I come back during the holidays like millions of Americans this season. Each time I am back, I see something a little different: a new development, a stripmall more worn down, new bus stops, wayfinding signs, etc. While at times the feeling is bittersweet, it is also interesting to note […]

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