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Community Activates O’Donnell Garden Park

Authors: Sneha Parmar, Project Coordinator; Katherine Cushing, Interim Executive Director; Marisela Castro, Communications Specialist

Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created for everybody. – Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

As famed urbanist Jane Jacobs points out, city parks are valuable public spaces only when people use them. Related research identifies a clear association between park use and residents’ sense of security and between park use and reductions in anti-social behavior.1

250 residents enjoy sun and friendship at the South University neighborhood Spring Festival

This year, the residents of the South University neighborhood, which lies adjacent to San Jose State University, demonstrated the many benefits that the small but significant  O’Donnell Garden Park brings to their community.

Located at the corner of 6th and William Street, the diminutive half-acre park is the only public open space within the neighborhood. For the past five years, a team of residents, CommUniverCity staff, and San Jose State University students and faculty have worked diligently to organize and put on the S.U.N. Spring Festival. Now in its fifth consecutive year, the event has been one of many factors contributing to the successful revitalization of the park area which had previously been a center of unsafe activities, such as drug dealing and prostitution.

Artists from Akoma Arts performing the traditional African Dance
Mariachi performance by the Horace Mann Elementary School students








More than 250 residents attended the festival, with many of them bringing their young children and pets. Event highlights included performances by Akoma Arts and the enchanting Mariachi band from Horace Mann Elementary School. These artistic demonstrations help attendees learn about the importance of African, African-American and Mexican traditions in a fun and engaging way. A number of community organizations also provided resource tables including Our City Forest, CommUniverCity’s Growing Sustainability, and Get Out to Vote projects, the San Jose Public Library, the South University Neighborhood Association, Legacy Academy, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church Campus Ministry. Staff representing these organizations helped attendees learn about services available to them right in their own backyards. Dozens of SJSU students from Political Science, Communication Studies, Urban and Regional Planning, and other majors came out in force to educate the community on sustainable living and help them enjoy the sun-filled day.

Attendees participating in tabling activities

SJSU student clubs and Greek organizations also made the event a success. A special thanks are owed to Chicano Commencement, Kappa Delta, and SJSU TRANSITion whose members helped with activity tables, event set up, and takedown. Donations from the SJSU Urban Planning Coalition made the unique Bike Blender smoothie exercise activity a huge hit with the younger crowd.

SJSU Chicano Commencement & TRANSITion interacting with the bike blender and members from the South University Neighborhood showing their pride

Near the end of the festival, Mayor Sam Liccardo stopped by to greet residents and thank event organizers. He also gave an inspirational speech in Spanish about his vision for the city’s future, which included new community development, community choice renewable energy, and public safety.

Planning and implementing the Spring Festival together strengthened the bond between residents, community-based organizations, and SJSU students and faculty. It helped the students learn about local conditions in the neighborhood from the people who live there, turning the term “park activation” into something with tangible meaning. It helped residents see SJSU as part of their neighborhood and as a partner in their efforts to strengthen community and maintain safety on their streets.

Many thanks to the Kappa Delta (and friends) volunteers for being part of the Spring Festival today. The group was super responsible, self-starters with leadership, energy and such spirit! I love having helps who just ‘go for it” – Ann Clarke, South University Neighborhood Association


  • 250 resident participants
  • 25 SJSU Student Volunteers
  • Performances by Akoma Arts & Horace Mann Elementary Mariachi
  • Volunteers from SJSU, Chicano Commencement, TRANSITion and Kappa Delta
  • Visit from Mayor Sam Liccardo


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