ILLUM_JULY

A project of the City of San Jose Public Art, the artist-led Illuminating Downtown Program combines art, high-tech strategies and environmental sustainability to physically manifest San Jose’s aspirational goals for creating a more engaging Downtown that looks, feels and acts like the Capital of Silicon Valley.

ArtPlace spoke with Barbara Goldstein, Public Art Director for the City of San Jose, about how Illuminating San Jose’s Downtown will create a livelier more engaging cultural center for Silicon Valley.

ARTPLACE: What makes Illuminating Downtown an effective strategy for Creative Placemaking in Silicon Valley?

GOLDSTEIN: “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” is both a popular song and a dilemma that San Jose faces whenever it is asked about the elements that define its physical identity. When visitors come to our region they want to see Silicon Valley and, while we are the home to leading high tech companies that are producing exciting new technologies, social networking, games and clean tech, from eBay to Adobe, Apple to Google; the region has no strong physical landmarks that mark a focus of activity. Illuminating Downtown is one of several initiatives that address this conundrum by enhancing San Jose’s urban core to look and feel like Silicon Valley’s creative urban center.
San Jose’s downtown is the relic of the early 20th Century. Originally the largest market town in a vast agricultural region, the downtown diminished in the 1960s with the growth of San Jose’s suburbs, the construction of its highways and the transformation of orchards to industrial land and housing estates. Today, although downtown includes many new buildings as well as a beautiful historic core, it is still rebuilding itself. Unlike Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, San Jose will never have an interesting skyline of high rise buildings because of its proximity to its airport and the flight path. Like many downtowns, San Jose’s is also ringed by freeways, both an asset and a curse.

In response to these challenges, San Jose Public Art in collaboration with local arts innovator ZERO1:The Art and Technology Network and other partners has created a project entitled “Illuminating Downtown,” which is applying Silicon Valley technologies to the challenge of enlivening our cityscape with innovative interactive, artist designed light projects.

Illuminating Downtown is using Silicon Valley technologies to build its projects and create opportunities for interaction. San Jose Public Art has already forged significant partnerships with several clean tech businesses, and artists are working with sustainable lighting, mobile technology and crowd sourcing in developing their projects. As a result of the ArtPlace grant, property owners and businesses alike are responding positively to the Illuminating Downtown initiative and we believe that the grant will form the basis for a successful and transformative series of projects.

ARTPLACE: What is your elevator pitch when you describe your project to people?

GOLDSTEIN: Illuminating Downtown will bring excitement to San Jose’s urban center, the largest downtown in Silicon Valley. Working with a variety of design professionals and stakeholders, San Jose Public Art has created a project plan that defines two geographic areas and four project types that will transform the look and feel of Downtown.

Projects will be created in the south sector of downtown that links the McEnery Convention Center to SoFA, our arts district; and the northwest sector of downtown that links San Pedro Square, our restaurant row, with the HP Pavilion sports arena and Diridon Station, a multi-modal transportation hub. Four types of projects will be created in these sectors: gateways, beacons, wayfinding elements and opportunities for interaction, which broadly defined are more ground level solutions.

Projects are being developed collaboratively with a variety of partners from business and industry. Two cornerstone projects are already underway – a massive gateway project that lights the underside of Highway 87 and the Guadalupe River Trail beneath it, and new programming for “Show Your Stripes,” an interactive light work by artist Jim Conti that clads the parking garage of a downtown residential highrise. We are also in active discussions with property owners for six of downtown’s highrise buildings, creating a strategy to develop illuminated building tops to communicate with each other.

How do you expect to increase vibrancy in the place you are working?
Illuminating Downtown launched with a stakeholder charette that included artists, design professionals, business owners, and downtown residents to consider the most effective way to create place in Downtown. They chose to focus on two areas that already had established some buzz in the community. They reasoned that if the strength of these areas could be nourished and enhanced, then growth and engagement would happen from the center outwards – ultimately linking the two areas through a corridor of businesses, open spaces, arts institutions and retail. Illuminating Downtown will increase vibrancy by creating stronger pedestrian connections within two key sectors, creating a stronger visual image of downtown from a distance, and creating opportunities for people to directly interact with each other, the streetscape and the skyline. It is the hope that by building the base for a strategy that literally starts at the top and moves someone through engaging experiences in the Downtown, they will continue to innovate and engage in an ongoing way.

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