San Jose came up with the Midtown Development plan back in 2000. We are about 1/2 way through the build out with mixed results. The biggest issues has been the increased traffic, scaled back retail, lack of improved transit options like bike lanes, lack of pedestrian sidewalk upgrades (wider sidewalks, safer crosswalks) and the increased problem with blight and the corresponding crime that comes with it. Midtown isn't an enjoyable or all that safe of a place to walk.
Developers usually propose a super high density housing project, wait for the out cry from neighboring residents at public meetings, and then scale back the development but claim they are hitting the point of it not being a viable project like what happened with Meridian Midtown and Ohlone Towers. It's a cat and mouse game that might actually stop if the developers of these projects actually had to live in their finished projects as part of the approval process.
Google Fiber is coming to San Jose, but so far none of the high residential projects have taken Google up on wiring their new construction for free. Seems like a missed opportunity to bring faster Internet to the neighborhood. I contacted Meridian at Midtown to inquire, but no response as of yet.
Most businesses hated the idea of trees blocking their signage, so in the end a strip of mostly palm trees down the center is all that we got. Sycamore trees are being planted in the sidewalks of newer Midtown projects, but the sidewalks really need to be widened to accommodate them. No word on if McDonald's double drive through is going to rip out the few trees that are already planted.
Voodoo Corner @ Meridian & San Carlos
At the corner of San Carlos Street and Meridian Avenue a 70 year old homeless woman Joan "Gail" Hughes who used to live on the sidewalk space at Walgreens (1399 W. San Carlos St, San Jose) was murdered.
Joan never accepted the handouts concerned residents tried to foist on her. While generally peaceful, she did occasionally greet people with crazy outbursts if they tried to engage her. No one knew her real name. Some called her Gail, but it was her deteriorating mental health and yelling that earned her the nickname "Screaming Lady."
On a very fateful August 13, 2012 she was seen casting a Black Voodoo spell at Marquis Reynolds who was watching from across the street inside Starbucks.
Marquis started screaming that she put a curse on him and began trashing other customer's tables and drinks. The 37 year old male fled and later returned on a VTA bus carrying his frequently seen Samurai sword (I always thought it was a fake) and violently killed Joan by slashing her throat.
It was San Jose's 26th homicide of the year, and it happened right here in Midtown, our neighborhood.
The county coroner had her marked as a Jane Doe until an extensive fingerprint database search discovered who she was and tracked down her children she had chosen to estrange herself from.
Her son asked that donations be made to InnVision, our community shelter. Joan Anne Sandvoss Hughes (1941-2012) is buried at Mt Olivet Cemetery in Maspeth, NY.
So what did the neighborhood learn?
Mentally ill people need treatment and not benign neglect and relegation to our shared public spaces as homeless transients. She needed help but was unwilling to accept it. Something needs to change. It used to be better.
Safeway, Starbucks, McDonalds and Walgreens need to do more to clean up their corner of Midtown. They need to stop loitering and lawlessness on their properties. As customers we need to ask for the store manager and follow up with the corporate offices when they fall short. We need a single point of contact for homeless outreach programs that residents can contact on behalf of repeat vagrants. It won't get better until we learn to fight for the livability of our neighborhood.
The Future for Midtown
In 2012 there was a Study of West San Carlos Street completed by San Jose State University's Urban Planning department and underwritten by the GreenBelt Alliance. It is a great indepth review of everything that is currently wrong on the street.
Let's hope that the city looks at finally incorporating the Burbank neighborhood into the city and using its resources to reduce urban blight and crime. Let's pray that the Midtown high density housing doesn't become yesterday's modern architecture of public housing disaster.
The VTA should look at running light rail down San Carlos Street and find ways of connecting downtown, Santana Row, the Valley Medical Center and the new Midtown projects into a much more popular transit line.
Street separated bike paths, wide sidewalks with safer pedestrian crosswalks should also have been included from the start.
Parking and manning a San Jose mobile police station trailer on one of the empty lots, soon to be a high rise might just send the right message that crime and craziness in Midtown is no longer tolerated.
Zone more space for jobs instead of just housing. San Jose has proven it can build housing for Silicon Valley's tech workers, but its track record on delivering jobs has been abysmal with most folks commuting out of the neighborhood for work.
Build more community green space. Residents in these new projects will need nearby parks and good schools, which is something they don't currently have planned. San Jose's budget restrictions means that they haven't made good on their requirement of 3 and a half acres of parkland for every 1,000 residents of a community. San Jose's Midtown buildout should have resulted in a 10+ acre park in Midtown, but instead the city is letting builders pay a fine and build a public access HOA maintained micro parks. All of this is a recipe for a neighborhood disaster in the making.
As my mom would say, "hope springs eternal."