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Student-Led Community Engagement in Eastside San Jose Goes Virtual

The Alum Rock Avenue corridor is located approximately two miles east of downtown San Jose. In Fall 2019, graduate students in San Jose State University’s Master of Urban Planning program, partnering with CommUniverCity and the City’s District 5 office, conducted a series of outreach events in the communities adjoining this corridor. This included “Café y Communidad” events as well as a student-organized open house, with the goal to assist the community in creating a new vision for future development in this area.

Building on the previous semester’s efforts, a graduate student team in Spring 2020 focused on the amenities and neighborhood improvements that are important to residents, with the purpose of developing a comprehensive list of potential amenity investments for new developers.

The first phase of the project included a demographic analysis using Esri’s Community Analyst software, site visits, a walking tour, and the development of posters highlighting specific themes derived from this research. Representatives from the local non-profit SOMOS Mayfair and the School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza led the walking tour along the Alum Rock corridor and through the surrounding neighborhoods.

The second phase focused on community engagement and was critical in understanding the opinions, priorities, and concerns of residents to help determine the amenities that may be most beneficial and impactful. The initial community outreach plan for this project included a survey and multiple focus groups with seniors, businesses owners, youth, and parents. Due to COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place order, the graduate student team pivoted engagement methods to remote video sessions and one-on-one phone interviews. While not as warm as in-person focus groups, the interviews successfully captured the opinions and daily experiences of residents.

Overall, these interactions with Eastside San Jose residents showed that there is a strong sense of community and culture, but also significant concerns about traffic and speeding, crime, and residential and business displacement. The residents suggested a number of amenities and improvements to help mitigate these concerns including more family-oriented parks and open spaces, youth programs, street safety improvements, improved streetscapes to promote walkability, more grocery stores, and business-supporting amenities.

The community engagement findings and recommendations were synthesized into a final report that will be shared with community stakeholders and Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco’s District 5 team. A notable aspect of the report is the visualization of form-based codes that the city put into place to support the development of an Alum Rock Urban Village. The city planners who collaborated with the graduate student team noted that the current form-based code document is heavy on text and short on illustration, and full of complex technical terms which can lead to confusion. In response, the students developed a user-friendly set of graphics to complement the legalistic text. These graphics aim to help readers visualize how the form-based codes could affect the look and feel of buildings and structures within the Alum Rock Urban Village.

The finished report will be available on the website of San Jose State University’s Urban and Regional Planning program in August at

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