Blog: March, 2012
SPUR San Jose Launch Party: The Night in Pictures
On Thursday, March 8, the San Pedro Square Market filled with supporters of the new SPUR San Jose office, which opened in January. The 500 urbanists who joined us received a thundering welcome from San Jose Taiko, an award-winning traditional drumming group based in San Jose’s Japantown.
The energy in the room continued to build as Leah Toeniskoetter, director of SPUR San Jose, asked the crowd what they love about their city. “Cities are the incubators of creativity in art, technology and thought leadership,” she said. “Cities encourage us to experience the unexpected by simply walking down the street. SPUR’s mission is to foster this type of dynamic city, advocate for this type of city and research what makes this type of city tick.”
City Councilmember Sam Liccardo followed, reminding us of the great inventions that launched in San Jose, including the first commercial wine business in California (Paul Masson), the world’s first commercial radio station, and the Dorsa brother’s creation of the illustrious Eggo waffle. In a city of great dreamers, Liccardo said, “We’re taking this downtown and this city to the next level, and SPUR will help lead us there.”
Our strategic partner Connie Martinez, president and CEO of 1stACT, talked about the catalytic potential of great cities and San Jose’s forward-thinking leadership in fostering a strong urban culture. And SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf toasted San Jose’s embrace of change and thanked the city for inviting SPUR to be a part of its vision for the future. “I love the spirit of optimism and practicality here,” he said, “because what it means is that any problem we can come up with is going to be solved.”
The event drew a who’s who of city lovers, planners, architects, elected officials, and city and county staff — and they stayed with us for hours after the official program had ended. It was this dynamic energy that SPUR San Jose looks forward to continuing and building upon as we grow.
Thank you for being a part of our beginning — we look forward to seeing you in our future.
For more pictures, see our Flickr set San Jose Launch Party >>
Salesforce Exits Mission Bay: What It Means for SF
On February 28, Salesforce announced its was suspending plans to build a 2-million-square-foot campus on the 14 acres it had acquired in San Francisco’s Mission Bay. Citing that it has grown faster than expected, the company will instead lease existing space two miles north, near Market Street in San Francisco’s Central Business District.
While the change of plans is certainly a temporary blow to Mission Bay, it can also be viewed as a reaffirmation of the importance of downtown San Francisco as a premier business location. In January, Salesforce signed an 18-year lease for 400,000 square feet at 50 Fremont Street. CEO Mark Beniof has publicly projected that in the next few years the company will add more than 2,000 additional employees in the city.
Salesforce could have abandoned both Mission Bay and San Francisco by moving outside of the city. Yet by choosing to remain and grow in downtown San Francisco, the company is selecting the most accessible location in the region — and the one with the lowest rates of driving. In addition to the environmental benefits of low-carbon commutes, this move is also a big win for the strategy of dense, urban economic growth that we call for in the recent SPUR report The Urban Future of Work.
Interestingly, the company’s decision to locate downtown may only hasten the day when the city and region will need to make some important transit investments. We wrote about the issue of downtown San Francisco’s transit and zoning constraints in our major report on downtown San Francisco. See also SPUR’s video about the need for additional East Bay–SF transit connectivity.
SPUR has long been a vocal advocate for job growth in transit-oriented downtowns. We hope that the prospect of an increasing number of fast-growing tech companies taking space in downtown San Francisco, combined with the city’s support for job growth, may help developers overcome some of the regulatory and financial barriers to adding new office space downtown.
For their part, Mission Bay boosters have insisted that the 14-acre parcel in the heart of the “innovation corridor” will surely be developed, if not by Salesforce then by another company eager to locate in the burgeoning biotech hub. And though the scrapping of the campus is a blow to all who were excited by the inspirational Legoretta + Legoretta design — including the 100+ attendees who turned out for a SPUR forum on the Salesforce campus design plans— the soaring purple columns, orange adobe walls and stepped public plazas of the proposed project may still have an impact yet. Even unbuilt concepts leave a mark on the landscape by pushing the envelope of what we imagine and accept as possible. As John King noted in the Chronicle, “Even when they don’t pan out, well-publicized designs that defy the conventional grain can...shift the public expectation of how things should be.”
Cultivating Public Spaces for Urban Farming
Two sites owned by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in San Francisco moved closer to becoming urban agriculture projects this week. Since October, PUC staff members have been conducting an urban agriculture feasibility study of open space adjacent to two facilities: College Hill Reservoir (at 360 Elsie Street) in Bernal Heights and the perimeter of the Southeast Treatment Plant (at Phelps and Evans streets) in the Bayview. They presented a progress report and future timeline at the March 13 commission hearing.
The PUC’s assessments of each site shows that both are suitable for growing food, with the necessary access to water and sun. Beyond the technical specifications, the PUC staff reported having had numerous conversations with community groups in the neighborhoods surrounding the two sites. Based on these conversations, the PUC is leaning toward different uses at each site.
For the College Hill Reservoir site, the PUC is proposing to transform the currently inaccessible open space into an outdoor classroom for neighboring schools that also serves the community as well. Based on conversations with the San Francisco Unified School District and Green Schoolyard Alliance, the PUC staff presented the idea of a garden servings students from the public schools that are within walking distance (Junipero Serra and Fairmount elementary schools and Paul Revere College Preparatory School) during school hours while also serving nearby residents not affiliated with the schools during afternoons and weekends. There are few school gardens in San Francisco that also provide gardening space for community members, notable exceptions being the gardens coordinated by Urban Sprouts at Aptos Middle School and June Jordan School for Equity. If the PUC’s proposal becomes reality, it would offer an innovative use of public land to serve both students and the general public on the same site.
The PUC’s proposal for the Southeast Treatment Plant site remains less defined. The PUC reported hearing feedback, especially from the Southeast Food Access Working Group (SEFA), that the neighborhood did not necessarily need more space for growing food. SEFA instead encouraged the PUC to consider other urban agriculture uses of the site — perhaps as a resource distribution area or other type of project that could make use of its relatively high visibility for passersby.
The plans for the two sites are now progressing on two separate tracks. For College Hill Reservoir, the PUC is moving ahead with the outdoor classroom and community garden idea, hoping to have the site up and running before the beginning of the 2012-13 school year. For the Southeast Treatment Plant, the PUC staff expressed a goal of hosting open houses for the public to learn more about the site in the summer, followed by a solicitation of proposals in the late summer or early fall. The staff also expects to provide another progress report back to the commission in May.
SPUR supports the PUC’s efforts to open up these two sites for urban agriculture and sent a letter in November encouraging the agency to consider its pilot projects as a model for other city agencies. We are actively engaging with PUC staff as the projects develop and have encouraged the agency to create a more public means of soliciting feedback, as well as a faster timeline for the Southeast Treatment Plant site. With many San Franciscans seeking spaces to grow food, the PUC’s two sites could be an encouraging step toward helping the city meet that demand with public land.