Jason Su: Reconnecting Urban Spaces

By Neelanjana Gautam

Jason Su, ’13 MUP, at the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy’s annual Pumpkins in Park event. Courtesy of Jason Su.

Jason Su is the executive director of GRPC. Courtesy of Jason Su.

Jason Su, ’13, MUP, calls himself an “urban druid.” He’s passionate about building cities and redefining community spaces.

“I find it interesting when cities and nature coexist together,” he says.

As the executive director of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, Su focuses on activating the Guadalupe River, an underutilized asset in downtown San Jose.

“We want people to meet each other. We want a healthier ecosystem. We want to attract interesting businesses and events to our community,” says Su. “This can be achieved through beautiful parks, vibrant streets and a green and inclusive culture. I see the success of the river park key to the city’s future.”

Growing up in Los Angeles, Su developed an appreciation of how unique neighborhoods can be, how the culture can manifest into local art, ecology, and economic activity, and how cities lead to opportunities for many immigrants. However, the instinct to see how spaces don’t serve the community struck him during his first job after college, when he lost his way navigating through a gated retirement community in Orange County.

“The street signs were very small. All the homes had these six-foot-tall, white-painted cinder block fences. And it was so hilly.” He thought, “Who built a place like this? Whose decision was it? Who approved a design that can actually be dangerous to older adults?” Bent on finding solutions, he decided to explore the horizons of urban planning.

“That’s how I got to where I am right now,” Su explains.

Su has also returned to SJSU’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning as a faculty lecturer, teaching community planning and design. The joy he derives from sharing insight and connecting the classroom to professional practice with the students is “what makes his day shine,” he says.

An advocate for downtown San Jose, Su has implemented projects such as painted crosswalks and murals, pop-up dog parks and the retail incubator spaces in San Pedro Street’s parking garage. Su’s fascination with the experimental and creative frequently takes him to downtown’s Post Street, SoFA Market, Local Color, and local coffee shops.

This “urban druid” believes there is something magnificent and charming about a wild river flowing through an urban city. “It really embodies all the values of Silicon Valley, where innovation, history, ecology, and diversity meet, where city and nature coexists, and how these layered elements foster a creative and engaged community,” he says.

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