CommUniverCity Receives 2020 SPUR Impact Award

CommUniverCity Executive Director Katherine Cushing (center, holding plaque) stands with members of the CommUniverCity team.

CommUniverCity Executive Director Katherine Cushing (center, holding plaque) stands with members of the CommUniverCity team at their 15th anniversary reception, Celebrating Partnerships: A Quinceañera on November 13, 2019. Photo: Brandon Chew, ’18 Photojournalism.

On Friday, March 20, 2020, the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association will honor CommUniverCity, a three-sector partnership with San Jose State, the City of San Jose and the community, at the 2020 SPUR Impact Awards, a free online event that will start at 11:30 a.m.

Graphic of illustrations that says SPUR impact awards.

The SPUR Impact Awards will take place online on Friday, March 20.

A civic planning organization with offices in San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, SPUR is known for its independent and holistic approach to urban issues. The SPUR Impact Awards acknowledge outstanding impact by public sector employees in city and county government in Santa Clara County who are making a difference in government and the community at large in the areas of housing, transportation, placemaking and urban design, and sustainability and resilience.

Four members of CommUniverCity’s Community Planning Team will be recognized with a 2020 Impact Award: SJSU Urban and Regional Planning lecturers Richard Kos and Jason Su, ’13 MUP, Community Director Imelda Rodriguez and Project Coordinator Ralph Robinson, ’21 MUP. The Community Planning team organizes and implements a year-long engagement project with underserved neighborhoods in San Jose. Using community planning principles, the team works with local residents, key stakeholder groups and other partners to identify neighborhood assets, challenges and opportunities. This information leads to creation of a professional quality planning report at the end of every academic year that the community can use to advocate for its top priorities.

“Receiving this honor demonstrates CommUniverCity’s and SJSU’s value as advocates for amplifying the voice of underserved communities,” says CommUniverCity Executive Director Katherine Cushing, who is also an environmental studies professor and director of SJSU’s Global Studies program. “Too often urban planning processes involving public input can be pro forma. They are seen as a required part of procedural compliance for moving a development project forward. CommUniverCity’s community assessment processes are the antithesis of that. Using the power of SJSU faculty and students, who work in partnership with neighborhood leaders, businesses, and other partner organizations, we focus on listening to residents and communicating their priorities to relevant city departments in San Jose. Through collaboration, we are able to capture resident perceptions of opportunities and obstacles for their neighborhoods and translate them into actionable items that city departments can work on.”

“This award recognizes our long-standing collaboration with the community in developing urban village plans that reflect the community’s vision, our commitment to work along with neighbors to revitalize our neighborhoods, and the value of the work our faculty and students perform to capture the community’s vision,” says Rodriguez, who has worked with CommUniverCity since 2009.

“We strengthen San Jose communities by linking them with San Jose State faculty and students, and with City of San Jose staff and elected officials,” says Kos. “It’s a powerful model of collaboration and coalition-building focused on three things: community health, education and neighborhood revitalization. But do you know where the real power lies, in my experience? The students of San Jose State University. You’d be amazed at how warmly they are welcomed by underserved communities in central San Jose. They give community residents a voice in advocating for their own interests.”

Since 2004, CommUniverCity’s Community Planning projects have worked with 15 neighborhoods on important urban planning issues to help community members understand smart growth principles. Reports have resulted in direct infrastructure improvements such as Safe Routes to School projects for two area schools, which included the installation of flashing beacons and median islands. Other infrastructure improvements included the design and construction of an outdoor living room and mural in Northside Neighborhood supported by a $45,000 grant from Knight Foundation. CommUniverCity attends neighborhood association meetings and maintains a running Community Wish List used to recruit SJSU faculty members to participate in community-identified neighborhood improvement projects.

“The award honors what CommUniverCity has always believed in—that the community are experts in guiding the future prosperity of their neighborhood, that robust engagement starts from a place of trust, and that our voices are stronger when together,” says Su, who also serves as the executive director of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy. “I’m honored to be part of a long-standing tradition of learning from the community and leveraging the energy and expertise of San Jose State students to further their goals.”

SPUR is arranging to share physical awards with recipients at a later date.