SJSU’s role in the continued development of downtown San Jose

Dr. Mary A. Papazian

Welcome to 2020! I hope everyone had an enjoyable holiday break.

As I prepare for a panel discussion taking place later this week about the future of downtown San Jose, it seems fitting to share an op-ed piece I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle in November.

Though the piece lays out the ways in which San Jose State can assist Google with its downtown San Jose development project, the ideas are applicable beyond that particular effort. Our campus—including our students, faculty and staff—are intimately familiar with and well-informed about the challenges facing our city and region, as well as the many remarkable opportunities for inclusive and profound growth being considered by government and industry.

This year, 2020, is our year at San Jose State. We will continue to step out, in a very intentional way, and make ourselves heard here in San Jose and in the broader region. That begins—but does not end!—with our contributions to downtown San Jose’s continue development.

I hope you enjoy this op-ed!


How Google and San Jose State can team up on downtown plan

By Mary A. Papazian Nov. 6, 2019

Google’s visionary plans for a transit-centric development near downtown’s Diridon Station neighborhood continue to march forward.

Though my colleagues and I here at San Jose State University could not be more delighted about its plans, we want to be sure Google recognizes and engages the strong and important voice — and expertise — that our campus community offers.

Many of San Jose State’s’ 40,000-plus students, faculty and staff live and work in San Jose and its surrounding communities. They have a vested interest in ensuring that this region grows and develops in a way that provides opportunity for all its current and future residents.

There are multitudes of ways in which Google and SJSU can and should be collaborating on the development project. Here are just a few ideas:

Our department of urban and regional planning features dozens of graduate students who live, work and study here, and they encounter, firsthand, the challenges faced in urban life. They also happen to have the skills that Google could leverage as the company works effectively to stitch together the land-use gaps between Diridon Station and downtown.

Our urban planning faculty and students study real estate financing, community engagement and citizen-based planning. Like San Jose State’s Mineta Transportation Institute, our urban planners also study pedestrian mobility and the impacts of autonomous vehicles and other new transportation technologies.

Speaking of MTI, this is yet another reservoir of talent and skill that Google should continue to engage. MTI’s expertise includes deep knowledge of bicycle and pedestrian issues; financing of public- and private-sector transportation improvements; safety and security of transportation systems; long-term sustainability of transportation systems and networks; and land-use and environmental matters.

In addition to its urban planning and transportation expertise, SJSU boasts some of the finest engineering talent in Silicon Valley. The Charles W. Davidson School of Engineering has been ranked third in the nation among public engineering programs offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees — for four years running. With names like Chuck Davidson, Barry Swenson and others, SJSU’s engineering alumni and faculty have been part of the secret sauce responsible for building Silicon Valley over the years, and there is no reason to stop that tradition now.

Our College of Engineering is preparing the next generation of construction management engineers, electrical engineers, structural engineers, environmental engineers and traffic engineers — in other words, practically every kind of engineer that might be needed to contribute to a large-scale development project. They stand ready to help on the multitude of Google projects here in the city that will require engineering support.

San Jose State even features a College of Humanities and the Arts that offers some of the most creative, innovative, energetic students around who study the human qualities in this increasingly tech-driven world of ours. Google’s development project will undoubtedly include public art and vibrant aesthetics; how about engaging our arts and humanities students to contribute to or even spearhead a few of these projects?

While Google obviously has its own planning, engineering and design resources, the company has a unique opportunity with SJSU to actively to engage these kinds of human assets, especially given that they possess advanced skills and a personal stake in a successful project.

Importing talent has been a hallmark of Silicon Valley for years, but our students want and need Google to succeed. They know that the Google development project offers an unparalleled opportunity, and they want to be a part of it.

SJSU is investing heavily in growing our research and innovation enterprise. Google has a great opportunity in SJSU faculty and student researchers to augment the company’s expertise with hands-on product development talent, and in our growing pool of entrepreneurs who can help bring tomorrow’s innovations to Google today.

We are at a unique turning point for our city — a point at which we have the opportunity to create a new center, rich in history but looking to the future, with a concentration of jobs, housing and cultural diversity that serves our entire population. A successful endeavor will address the challenges we face as a community while providing opportunity for all.

In her classic book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” author Jane Jacobs wrote, “You can’t rely on bringing people downtown, you have to put them there.”

Google’s transit village, with an assist from San Jose State University, would put people in downtown San Jose. With a collective commitment to continued transparent discussions about the future, the city and its citizens can partner effectively with Google to build an inclusive and thriving city, one of which we can all be proud.

The people of San Jose deserve nothing less.

Mary A. Papazian is president of San Jose State University.