Guadalupe River Park and Gardens Assessment

Written by the Spring 2022 SJSU URBP295 Students.

Lecturers: Rick Kos and Ahoura Zandiatashbar.

Spring 2022 SJSU URBP295 students take a group photo underneath the San Jose State University sign on San Salvador St.

Located a few blocks west of Downtown San José, the Guadalupe River Park rests along the banks of the Guadalupe River and between Interstates 880 to the north and 280 to the south. Spanning more than 2.5 linear miles and encompassing over 254 acres, the Park is known as the Central Park of San José. Its long trails and paths make it a favorite among dog walkers, runners, and cyclists, while the Rotary Playground is a popular attraction for young families.

During the Spring 2022 semester, San José State University Master of Urban Planning students partnered with the Guadalupe River Conservancy to study the Park and learn how it is currently being used. The goal was to better understand who is using the Park and to develop a set of recommendations to enhance the visitor experience for all community members. 

For this research effort, data was obtained through a combination of intercept and direct observation surveys, which collected park-user feedback and demographic data. This project builds off the work of a previous class in the Fall of 2020, which conducted this same study during peak pandemic conditions and an unprecedented smoke-filled wildfire season.

Public and civic spaces like parks are destinations where people can coexist and enjoy nature. These are places where all people, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, can visit to relax and connect with the natural environment. Civic spaces are vital to our daily lives because they allow different communities to come together and address the problems of social isolation and economic segregation.

The City of San José recognizes that these are valuable places and is committed to providing all community members with access to superb park and open space. With this in mind, the Guadalupe River Park has the potential to become the City’s finest civic asset.

The SJSU graduate teams conducted both intercept and observation surveys to obtain park-user feedback and data. Based on the survey results, the teams produced a high-quality report with specific recommendations for park improvement. The findings were presented to staff and board members of RCC, Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, CommUniverCity SJSU, City of San José, and community members. Below is a summary of our findings:

Overall, the Guadalupe River Park is becoming a regional destination, appropriate with the upcoming developments to shift San Jose’s downtown around the park.

  • (24% of survey respondents reported not living in San Jose)

Civic Engagement

Frequent visitors are more likely to participate in some level of civic engagement, but lack of particular civic engagement activities may signal a lack of awareness of opportunities to get involved.

  • (82% of frequent visitors reported participating in civic engagement compared to 54% of infrequent visitors. Overall civic engagement is at 66% of survey respondents. 

Socioeconomic Mixing

Guadalupe River Park demographic trends may be a consequence of rising housing costs in downtown San Jose. 

  • (10% increase in users 18-34, 12% decrease in 55 -64 [older, working class], 8% increase in HH income over $150,000, 11% decrease in HH income under $20,000. With rising housing costs in downtown San Jose, people may be getting pushed out of having direct access to the park from their homes and are at risk of getting pushed out of downtown San Jose as a whole)

Environmental Sustainability

As a result of being a regional destination, driving shares have increased over time.

  • (Driving to the park increased 13% from 2020, while non-vehicle travel fell 15%. There is a three percent increase in biking however, following focused efforts to improve bike travel in San Jose.)

Value Creation

The Guadalupe River Park is perceived as a dangerous area at night, with many attributing the perception of danger to the unhoused.

  • (63% of survey respondents said they felt somewhat or very unsafe at the GRP at night, even though there are generally no safety issues at night. It’s important to note that perception of safety does not necessarily equate to reality of safety)
URBP295 students assess the Guadalupe River Park trail.

Assessments help determine the needs of the community. Because of prolonged community input research, CommUniverCity SJSU and other partner organizations are able to meet the needs of the community as accurately as possible.

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