Wednesday, June 8
What's the Use of Parkland?
The Cupertino/Santa Clara radio station KKUP has a very good talk show called "Free and Clear," which discusses the civic world of San Jose and the region. The show airs every other Wednesday, and the hosts and guests frequently discuss matters of urban planning and transportation.
This morning the guest was Dale Warner--lawyer, former candidate for San Jose District 4 City Councillorship, and advocate of open space, human scale, and "wise growth." He expressed on the show that San Jose's "smart growth" shift toward higher density does not "fit" with existing land use patterns locally and that the city's growth is not affording enough open space for new residents.
Although not favoring high densities in general, he cited Moitozo Park, the center green of the North Park residential development at Rio Robles and North First, as a positive example of parkland set aside for new growth. Similar examples of new public parks among large residential developments include Cahill and O'Connor Parks, near Diridon Station and at Auzerais Avenue's western endpoint, respectively. Each is a spacious piece of land flanked or surrounded by dense housing.
Moitozo Park is also little more than a huge lawn. The surrounding trees and residential buildings are quite attractive, and the park is divided into two sections by a small drive lined by picnic tables and an exercise course, but otherwise the park's length is uninterrupted by vegetation, paths, hardscapes, stones, benches, public art, or even shade--intricacies that would provide diverse uses of the park. Instead, the park is sufficiently unbroken and unadorned to allow three simultaneous soccer games. And did I say the lawn is huge? To plagiarize a J. H. Kunstler comment on a different topic, it's as if the developer implemented the green-colored areas on the two-dimensional site diagram as a real-life, two-dimensional, green-colored area. (Unfortunately, Cahill Park is similarly too broad and plain for a city-center park, and the rowhouses on its periphery don't even connect with the park, being separated by landscaping and a metal fence.)
Then again, you could argue the emptiness of the Moitozo Park starkscape "fits" with existing land use patterns in the North First area, like the boundless profusion of sunny parking lots surrounding corporate offices. Still, what's the point of providing parkland if it has little to offer, especially in a residential development that attempts to be urban? Is urban open space meant to be usable or just to sit there and be open space? Do San Jose residents truly benefit more from
- token green space with land area proportional to the number of new residents as directed by the Parkland Dedication Ordinance* (130.68 square feet per resident**), or from
- open space with a level of usability proportional to the number of new residents?
*See this City of San Jose PDF file on the Parkland Dedication Ordinance.
**Dimensions equivalent to one small outdoor bedroom for every resident.
In my book, anything that gets people out and moving in whatever way they want is a good thing.
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