Why Is Knight Spending Over $600,000 To Make San Jose Cooler?

Dionne Warwick famously asked, "Do you know the way to San Jose?" back in 1968.

What's less well known is that 99 percent of the time, the answer to Dionne's question is, "San Jose? Why are you going to San Jose? Have you ever been to San Jose?"

I kid, I kid... but let's be real here. LA may be a "great big freeway," but San Jose—which, as California's third largest city, has over 160,000 more residents than San Francisco—still has a way to go. But now it's got some help, thanks to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which recently announced $620,000 in grants for 13 projects intended to make downtown San Jose more attractive to workers and residents.

Ranging from advertising that promotes the SoFa arts and cultural district to a mobile coffee cart in St. James Park to figuring out how to entice visitors to explore more of what the central city has to offer, "the $620,000 is part of a larger process," said Danny Harris, the foundation’s program director for San Jose. "Central San Jose is a region where [the Knight Foundation] thinks we can make an impact on helping develop a vibrant urban core."

Fair enough, but I must admit, upon reading the news, my first reaction was one of bewilderment. The city is on Silicon Valley's doorstep. The region has never been so flush with cash. The median household income in the city is close to $81,000. Is the city in such bad shape that Knight has to come to the rescue? Can't some tech firms step up to the plate, or better yet, good old fashioned market forces?

It was then I realized... it isn't my money.

In Knight's defense, it didn't pick San Jose by throwing a dart at a map of the country. Knight funds annual Engaged Community grants in 26 cities, including San Jose, where the now-defunct Knight Ridder Newspapers chain once owned the daily newspaper. Knight's plans will also mesh with the city's latest general plan. And conceptually speaking, the funding fits squarely with Knight's vision of engaging residents with their communities.

So that's that.

Three of the 13 grantees include:

  • CreaTV received $11,250 to expand its "We are San Jose" storytelling campaign that collects video stories of city residents.
  • Wreck Studios received $10,000 to create "The Exhibition District," a project to convert 40,000 square feet of vacant wall space downtown into an outdoor art gallery.
  • San Jose Public Library received $25,000 to reimagine underused spaces through the “Pop-Up Mobile Makerspaces” project with Okada Design.

And in related news, click here for my colleague Kiersten Marek's look at Knight's other vehicle for revitalizing U.S. cities, its Cities Challenge.