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A Vision for the Alum Rock Community of San Jose

The Alum Rock Avenue corridor is an area located two miles east of San Jose’s downtown core. In the spring of 2019, Futuro de Alum Rock formed as a coalition of community organizations to address existing neighborhood concerns and anxieties over the City of San Jose’s current Alum Rock Urban Village Plan. That coalition includes CommUniverCity, the City of San Jose’s District 5 office, Somos Mayfair, the School of Arts & Culture and others who provide invaluable services to residents and businesses along the Alum Rock corridor. During the fall semester of 2019, students in San José State University’s Master of Urban Planning Program partnered with CommUniverCity and the City of San José’s District 5 office on a community planning project, the goal of which is to assist the community in creating a new vision for future development in this area.

Using an asset-based community development approach, the students spent the semester identifying existing positive elements in the neighborhood. Phase One of this effort included assessing the area via walking tours, site visits and demographic mapping using Esri’s Community Analyst (a web-based tool that provides mapping software and demographic data in a simple and easy-to-use framework). The students made physical montages and InDesign summary boards to synthesize findings tied to land use, transportation, connectivity, public art, people, the history of activism in East San Jose and community assets.

Phase Two focused on gathering community input to help convey local desires for the future direction of the Alum Rock corridor. Here the students were organized into four teams, each tackling specific tasks throughout this phase of the project. One team was dedicated to consistent and clear messaging about the work in the community as well as shared objectives. Others worked to develop relationships with local residents, business owners, community leaders and community-based organizations. Students gathered community feedback via Cafe y Comunidad focus group events, informal discussions with residents and through attending other events in the community.

All of this data gathering culminated in a “Vision for Alum Rock Corridor” open house event where students had the opportunity to vet their findings with local residents. More than 80 attendees participated in 6 separate activities led by the students designed to raise awareness of development issues in the community and solicit the feedback of residents. These included a large map at the center of the room where residents could note concerns like unsafe intersections or assets such as where they like to shop. Another station used Legos and diagrams to allow residents to elaborate what the style and scale of new developments in the community should be. Two other activities asked respondents what kinds of new businesses they would like to see and how the local parks could be improved. There was also an activity for children that allowed them to draw what their vision for the neighborhood would be.

Through this comprehensive assessment, the graduate student team aimed to be a resource and advocate for positive change in the Alum Rock Avenue corridor. After Phases One and Two, the students were able to develop an initial assessment documenting current conditions along Alum Rock Avenue. Highlighted in this was the value residents place on the existing assets in the community and the improvements they wish to see to infrastructure, schools and currently underutilized areas. Residents also spoke to the need for improved public transportation and safety.

In the spring of 2020, a new group of urban planning students will carry this work forward. Ultimately, these community assessment and engagement efforts will be packaged into a professional-grade report that residents can use to advocate for their needs during discussions with developers and city officials.

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