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Veggielution’s SoFA Pocket Park: A Perfect Project Uplifting the Community Through Research and Core Partners

By SJSU URBP295 Students: Matt Gustafson, Xio Aguirre, Jean Reynolds, Ana Lopez

At the southern edge of downtown San José lies an arts district known locally as SoFA (South of First Area). In recent years the area has seen an influx of investment activity as developers set their sights on the highly gentrifiable landscape. Enter Veggielution, an urban agriculture nonprofit tasked with repurposing an abandoned lot in the area while the site awaits future development. Veggielution has ambitious plans for the site — officially dubbed the “SoFA Pocket Park” (SPP) — aiming to create a vibrant place of belonging for all community members, especially those often overlooked by these sorts of placemaking efforts.

Rosa Maria Gordillo Garfunkel (center), Veggielution’s Environmental Education Manager, speaks to students at SoFA Pocket Park

In the Fall 2021 semester, CommUniverCity worked alongside a class of 12 students from SJSU’s Urban and Regional Planning Program to engage local area residents about their experiences and perceptions of the SPP and about their parks usage in general. It was important to Veggielution to uplift the desires of the local community, so students focused on surveying residents in the South University and Guadalupe Washington neighborhoods. Students were flexible and creative in their surveying, utilizing formal and informal interactions with residents & businesses, long and short versions of the survey, and a (very popular) sticker board survey at Viva Calle. Survey questions were designed to provide insight on local residents’ parks needs and usage, desired additions to the pocket park, and access to produce. Surveys were available in four languages, both on paper and online.

Students administer surveys at Viva CalleSJ and in the Pocket Park

CommUniverCity assisted with event planning and survey collection at SPP Exploration events, the SoFA Farmers Market, South First Fridays, Viva Calle SJ, and a focus group of parents at Healing Grove. In total, 235 residents completed some version of the survey!

Of the 235 respondents, 91 live in study area zip codes. Respondents living in the study area felt overwhelmingly (75%) that there were not a sufficient number of quality parks in their neighborhood. They expressed a high interest in events and activities, especially food/culture/music festivals. About three-fifths knew what SPP was, and they generally had very positive perceptions of the SPP: 91% of respondents said SPP has ‘positively’ or ‘very positively’ contributed to surrounding neighborhoods, and 98% said they ‘would like to see more parks like this in their neighborhood.’ As for park improvements, respondents expressed interest in more picnic tables, open hours, shade, and events for kids & families.

The survey revealed a deep need for affordable produce among survey area respondents. Nearly one-third reported they were not always able to get enough produce and live in an Extremely Low Income household (with income below $35,000 per year). Interestingly, the vast majority (86%) said they would go to the park if it offered local fruits & vegetables.

Students present findings to project stakeholders at SoFA Pocket Park 

A full report with project background and data findings will be presented to Veggielution in December. The report recommends building better awareness of the SPP, its events and services; increased seating and shade; more accommodating hours; and more events with markets and options for children. Hopefully Veggielution will be able to build on connections made and lessons learned during this project, fulfilling the community’s visions for the space alongside community members that become a regular part of the life of the park.

Stay tuned for a public version of the report in Spring 2022!

A Word From CommUniverCity

A project like this is a perfect example of how the three core partners, the community, university, and city, are able to identify the needs of those living within undeserved communities.

From the university, came 12 highly go-getter thinkers. From the city and community, came resourceful Mineta Transport Institute, and the passion-driven Veggielution. Of course, the project wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the community providing feedback so that all partners and institutions can thrive.

To keep supporting the connections and efforts of engaging, learning, and building up the community through CommUniverCity, please donate to the CommUniverCity Founders Fund. Through your generous efforts, you can help provide long-term sustaining support that will benefit the community around you.

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