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Greenbelt Alliance

Implementing Smart Growth: A Toolkit for San Jose

Every community in California is required to have a general plan, which serves as a blueprint for growth. In 2011, San Jose adopted a general plan that focuses growth in “urban villages” throughout the city rather than on urban expansion into the Bay Area greenbelt. Urban villages are walkable, bicycle-friendly, transit-oriented neighborhoods that provide a mix of homes, jobs, and amenities. All of San Jose’s urban villages are envisioned within the city’s existing footprint, largely along outdated commercial strips.

As a longtime smart growth advocate and watchdog of city planning, Greenbelt Alliance knows that even though urban villages are included in the general plan, they are not guaranteed to happen. Therefore, we are working with local residents to shape urban village plans along West San Carlos Street and South Bascom Avenue—two areas just outside of downtown San Jose. We want these plans to excite residents about their neighborhood and motivate neighbors to support smart growth in San Jose. We will ensure that these urban village plans reflect the residents’ desires and are models for how great San Jose neighborhoods can be.

West San Carlos Street and South Bascom Avenue are only two of 70 envisioned urban villages to be planned over the next 25 years. To amplify our impact on San Jose’s many urban villages, Greenbelt Alliance created the San Jose Urban Village Toolkit in 2015. This guide cuts through technical jargon and helps neighbors work with each other, the city, and developers on neighborhood plans. The toolkit also guides residents through the planning process and helps them identify and build on what makes their neighborhood great.

Our Impact

Greenbelt Alliance has been a long-standing leader in promoting smart growth in San Jose. We served on the city-appointed task force that created the 2011 general plan and brought environmental, business, affordable housing, labor, neighborhood, and other interests together to support the urban village concept. Through our work with the West San Carlos Street and South Bascom Avenue planning process, we are doing more on the ground than any other Bay Area organization to implement urban villages. Our experience in shaping the San Jose general plan and our direct engagement in urban villages have given us the unique knowledge and experience to create the San Jose Urban Village Toolkit.

“This toolkit is excellent. It’s by far the best and clearest advice on [community] organizing I’ve ever seen.” –Professor Emeritus Terry Christensen, specialist in state and local politics, San Jose State University

How the Urban Village Toolkit Affects the Bay Area

San Jose—the Bay Area’s biggest city—is a linchpin in addressing the Bay Area’s current housing crisis. The 2011 San Jose general plan calls for the city to build 120,000 new homes by 2040, which is more than any other city in the region. If this growth is handled well through the creation of urban villages, San Jose will demonstrate how to address housing needs while safeguarding our greenbelt and helping neighborhoods thrive. Our toolkit is a critical resource for making San Jose’s vision of urban villages a reality.

What’s Next

As new urban village planning efforts kick off, Greenbelt Alliance will share the San Jose Urban Village Toolkit with community members to encourage and prepare them to get involved in the planning process for their neighborhood. In the West San Carlos Street and South Bascom Avenue areas, we are working for amenities desired by community members—such as bike lanes, street signs, neighborhood parks, and art projects—to demonstrate the benefits of smart growth. In addition, in 2016, San Jose is reviewing its general plan. As part of this review, Greenbelt Alliance will encourage the City to revise urban-village-related policies to make them more effective at bringing the urban village vision to reality.

Read more stories like this in our 2015 Annual Report.

Download Annual Report

Photo: Mike Boening

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