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Public Fleshes Out ‘Agrihood’ Character

Walkable. Sociable. Fun for all ages. These are just a few of the phrases that jumped out as desirable themes for the Winchester “agrihood” development.

Members of the public had an opportunity to give input on the “agrihood” development during a placemaking session hosted by Project for Public Spaces on March 25 at the Santa Clara Senior Center. The New York-based nonprofit is working with San Jose developer Core Companies and local government employees to design the concept of the six-acre property at 90 N. Winchester Blvd., which will play host to 160 “affordable” senior apartments and “at least” an acre dedicated to farming.

Mayor Lisa Gillmor also announced that, in addition to helping design the “argihood,” Project for Public Spaces would be working with City employees to overhaul the entire City.

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“This is a new concept for us. We struggle with development in Santa Clara,” she said. “This is going to change things a little bit for us.”

Gillmor said the City Council–which had members Pat Kolstad, Kathy Watanabe, Debi Davis and Teresa O’Neill turn out–is looking to have the public space element as the “anchor tenant” to the property. With Project for Public Spaces involved, Gillmor said the Council is going to “throw old ideas out the window,” which will allow it to “look at the City as a whole” and get more “public buy-in.”

Elena Madison, a vice president for Project for Public Spaces, said placemaking is about “building communities,” calling it a “collaborative process.” She said one of the keys to making the property inviting is to ensure the area has “flexibility in design” and “infrastructure that is fluid.”

To achieve a community hub, the area should “triangulate” needs, making it accessible to people of all ages, making it a place where people can be active but has “contemplative pockets.” Walkability and building a space that has character–a point of “public pride” that honors the community’s heritage–is also paramount, Madison added.

“Our main goal is to attract people and make people happy,” she said.

The session broke the roughly 60 attendees into groups where they brainstormed ideas about what they would like to see at the property.

Philip Winn, another vice president for Project for Public Spaces, encouraged the groups to think about four areas: uses and activities, comfort and image, sociability, and access. Successful public spaces make people eager to “compete to contribute” to the “soul” of the area, Winn said; they elicit moments of joy.

“They are not just consuming what is happening there; they are contributing to it,” he said. “In great places, you see more smiles. You see more people putting their arm around one another. You hear more laughter … the city at eye-level is where we have human experiences.”

Many of those who spoke for the groups expressed interest in seeing the site make heavy use of its agricultural element. Having a farmer’s market came up repeatedly, and others said they would like to see composting, free-range chickens, a petting zoo and classes given by master gardeners.

Still, the focus wasn’t solely on the agricultural side. Those who spoke for their groups also said they envisioned the site as a community hub, complete with public art, cafes, water features, live music, movies, and–of course–food. Several people said the site’s proximity to Westfield Valley Fair and Santana Row will add to the area’s already vibrant character. Many said they would like to see the site become a “regional attraction.”

“We have a blank canvas we can do whatever we want. We have a three-dimensional blank canvas,” said Scott Lane, who spoke for one of the groups. “I want ‘hip’ and ‘Santa Clara’ to be in the same sentence together.”

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