by Robert Foran, Communications Specialist
Communities exist to fulfill certain needs of the individual and the collective to reveal their unique and interdependent social networks. CommUniverCity’s support of and collaboration with Viva Calle SJ, one of Northern California’s largest open streets event this past September, has added another bridge into the mosaic of community engagement and capacity building, all of which are qualities of healthy, vibrant neighborhoods.
“Viva Calle SJ benefits San José by showing me neighborhoods I haven’t seen and people I haven’t met. And…. I get exercise. This is community!” San José Community Resident
Open streets events, found in over 400 cities worldwide, are dynamically-involved affairs that are geared towards the bringing together of urban communities and families, the exposure of community members to other neighborhoods that they would not normally wander through, and also to promote healthier opportunities to exercise and move about an urban environment by biking, walking, jogging, etc. within the safe confines of an open and inviting communal expansive park-like space. Along the route of an open streets event, one will find food vendors, music, artists, local businesses, community-based organizations, schools representing and highlighting their programs and student’s work, among other choices and opportunities for community engagement, education, and fun.
“Viva Calle creates more human and humane interaction between and among people. It creates connections that build strong, healthy communities.” –San José Community Resident
This particularly impressive event was accomplished with the aid of several working partners like Ed Solis, Mike Tkalcevic, and Zacharias Mendez, team members and organizers of SJ open streets event(s), the City of San José, the Knight Foundation, the Mineta Transportation Institute, faculty and student researchers of San José State University, and various other community-based foundations/organizations. All of these community-centered groups and individuals worked alongside of CommUniverCity on that sweltering, but fun-packed afternoon at the fairgrounds, which was but one of the main hub locations set up along the 6-mile route. This traffic-free stretch of barrier free community engagement ran from the starting main hub of SoFA/downtown San José, which was packed with music stages, live art and performances, photography backdrops hosted by various local resource agencies like the Registrar of Voters, and extended along 1st Street, finally ending at Martial Cottle Park.
“Viva Calle is a great way to learn about the city. I have been with friends today who were amazed by both the food and retail [economic] opportunities along the route as well as how easy it is to get to them without a car.” –San José Community Resident
Collaborative efforts spanned amongst Community-based Organizations (CBOs), schools, city and county offices, local businesses, and a multitude of volunteers from different organizations and institutions such as Viva Calle SJ, City College of San José, and of course, San José State University students! Approximately 110 SJSU student researchers, under the guidance of Principle Investigator Dr. Asha Weinstein Agrawal and their professors, Dr. Mary Currin-Percival’s Political Science 195A class, 2 sections of Professor Jason DeHaan’s Sociology 104 class, and Dr. Gordon Douglas’ Urban Planning 280 course, administered and collected over 1,600 surveys!
“I was paired with a Spanish speaker. Approaching people wasn’t bad. I found that it was easy for attendees to relate to us as students. My team was able to complete all our English surveys and almost all the Spanish surveys we had. We approached all different types of people who were sitting, standing, or walking–even city workers. People were really happy about the event and when they got to the part about sharing their comments, they wrote so much some were as long as essays!” –Sociology 104 SJSU Student
The gathering of this data is an integral part of affirming with the City of San José that the community’s desire of such an event like Viva Calle SJ is not based on simply another fun-filled distraction for San José residents, but that it fulfills a deep-seated need that fosters community interaction, stimulates economic development, adds to the overall value of community engagement, instills healthier practices, and provides a space where the multi-faceted and diverse nature can be experienced – all of which supports and exhibits the beauty found within the communities of San José.
“I think it is a great way to see a new part of the city. It brings out families and members from all areas of San José. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. More please!” –San José Community Resident
Open streets events such as Viva Calle SJ when partnering with CBOs like CommUniverCity promote capacity building attributes along with student involvement while spilling over onto the larger community. Such qualities as leadership, community connection and engagement, collective and individual value, sense of community responsibility through investment, and academic excellence are all powerful and necessary components that make up the building blocks of all great urban communities.
“We believe that there is a connection between civic pride and economic development. CommUniverCity’s work will help us validate the argument that these softer variables [socio-cultural values] matter.” -Angel Rios, Jr., Deputy City Manager, City of San José
The overall impact of Viva Calle SJ is only beginning to emerge as the data gathered by SJSU student researchers is reviewed and analyzed. Community-centered events such as these give San José residents the opportunity to experience a safe alternative way to move about the city, to engage with one another, to exercise, to breathe healthier air not dominated by vehicular traffic, and gives access to cultural exchanges that are not necessarily always available when isolated by our busy lives. We at CommUniverCity are proud and excited to have been a part of the foundation that will contribute to the future successes of Viva Calle SJ and to the continuing development of the overall community health, value, and cultural development for the City of San José!
Please stay tuned as the entire research project comes to a close later this semester, it will then be presented in December to the public, location and date TBA. Check back with us at http://cucsj.org and keep connected for that upcoming event and more. For more information and history of open streets events in a global context, visit: https://www.vox.com/2016/10/9/13017282/bogota-ciclovia-open-streets