San Jose wants to be a big city when it grows up

San Jose city officials, perhaps finally realizing that Silicon Valley will eventually need to mature into a real urban center, have proposed a tremendous upzoning of much of the city. Among other plans, downtown could double its office space and triple its residential base, while some office park areas would disappear under new urban centers. Although the plan would authorize a spectacular 70,000 new housing units, it still suffers from the usual economic-development bias towards employment: the 50 million square feet of additional commercial development authorized would, if filled with one job per 200 square feet (a typical figure for office these days) result in 250,000 new jobs.

Still, it’s encouraging to see that at least one local government (besides Oakland, that is) realizes that the Bay Area has tremendous pent-up demand for urban environments.

City leaders have launched perhaps the most ambitious overhaul ever of San Jose’s development policies. The effort encompasses more than 11,500 acres — more than a third of San Jose’s total — affecting every region of the community. If approved over the next 12 months, when the plans are expected to go to the council, the effort promises to push still largely suburban San Jose into an urban 21st century, at least in designated and concentrated areas.

In all, the city’s plans have the potential to increase San Jose’s housing stock by as much as 70,000 units, most of it high density, and to increase its industrial development capacity by nearly 50 million square feet — the rough equivalent of six downtown San Joses…

Faced with the loss of more than 200,000 jobs, the continuing decline of the region’s manufacturing, and the offshoring of much lower-level programming work, the city of San Jose undertook a massive evaluation of its economy two years ago. Among many other findings, it discovered a growing mismatch between its existing development and land-use plans and the region’s economic future.

No longer did area businesses want the low-slung, one- and two-story concrete research and development buildings so emblematic of Silicon Valley’s grittier past. Instead, the new class of company such as eBay and BEA Systems, which intended to keep their Silicon Valley headquarters, wanted mid-rise structures with lots of glass.

The tiny start-ups for which the region continues to be known, and on which it is banking its future, often were unequipped or unwilling to own their own buildings. Instead, they wanted to be one tenant of many similar to them in a large building. Further, they weren’t interested in working in a sea of windowless, industrial buildings with few nearby restaurants and little nearby housing. They wanted a real community with both.

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