Issue 561 to

San Jose’s Urban Ambitions Coming to Life

Urbanist Article

What Happened: Google announced plans to develop up to 8 million square feet near Diridon Station in San Jose.

What It Means: The Bay Area’s largest city is on the cusp of a major growth spurt. If a significant amount of new jobs are concentrated in the station area, Diridon can become a major economic engine for San Jose and the South Bay. It’s a tremendous opportunity to plan in an integrated and cohesive way and create jobs, housing, transportation and placemaking in one shot.

In 2014, the City of San Jose adopted the Diridon Station Area Plan to spur the future development of millions of square feet of office/R&D space, retail, and housing. In the coming years, several major transportation investments — including BART, high-speed rail, bus rapid transit, and an electrified Caltrain (along with existing lines including Capitol Corridor, ACE, AmTrak, and VTA Light Rail), will meet at Diridon Station, connecting cities in the region and the region to the state. This convergence is expected to bring an eight- fold increase in daily commuters — and offers an unprecedented opportunity to transform downtown San Jose. Surrounding all this is 240-acres of developable land; Google has signed on to develop up to 8 million square feet in the Diridon Station area.

There are two things that are unique about Google’s expansion at Diridon. On the one hand, the tech giant is no stranger to big ideas. It has fostered Silicon Valley’s culture of disruptive innovation and could bring that to bear on the built environment. Low-slung office complexes surrounded by oceans of parking won’t do. Fortunately, Google has built places that are part of great urban districts in other locations around the world; Google in San Jose could provide a new model for the design of tech campuses by addressing one of the Bay Area’s most intractable problems— traffic congestion — by investing in transportation and designing for walkability.

Google will be the largest landowner in the station area by far — holding the lion’s share of the station area and proposing to add over 20,000 new jobs. Whereas most city-building happens incrementally — parcel by parcel over years or even decades — what gets built here will undoubtedly have the biggest influence over the type of place that Diridon and greater downtown San Jose will become.

Teresa Alvarado is SPUR’s San Jose Director