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Soundscape in San Jose

This morning I was walking along South Market Street in San Jose, California. I didn’t see a market on this street in the south end of downtown, but instead a generously laid out linear park, almost the width of a city block, running north for about two blocks from the convention center at its south end. It’s named for Cesar Chavez.

On either side of the park, there are at least two lanes of one-way traffic, northbound on the right, southbound on the left. Paralleling the roads, two walkways run the length of the park, separated from traffic by wide lawns planted with trees. In the middle, there’s another wide swathe of lawn and trees. The walkways are lined with barrier-free benches (meaning: it’s possible to lie down on them).

To the south (where the public toilets are), the benches are populated by men – homeless, sleeping, waiting, listening to radios. In the middle of the park, there’s a ground level water feature consisting of about twenty-two water fountains shooting straight up from the pavement. They create a pleasing, regular (if impermanent) architectural feature. But best of all, they’re a fantastic playground for a growing horde of children on this pleasantly warm day. The parents (mostly mothers) come to the downtown specifically for this, and the park and water feature are clearly a success. Since the fountain is placed in close proximity to the tech museum (which draws school crowds) and the art museum, and is in the middle of a pedestrian thoroughfare, it gets both actual traffic and eyeballs. The latter is very important.

But the reason I really stopped to write about it has to do with ears, not just eyes. San Jose airport is nearby, and the roar of jet engines regularly interrupts the soundscape as low-flying planes descend immediately overhead. Sweetly, the sound of continuously gushing and splashing water provides great aural comfort, and is better than any set of ear plugs.

An ice cream peddler with a pushcart hung with brass bells on its handlebar makes his way to the fountain area. The jingling of his bells is easily heard above the water, children, road and air traffic.

When I pass the fountain again in early afternoon, the peddler is still there, standing under a tree for shade. By now, every social and ethnic group has increased in number: children, adults, skateboarding teens (no anti-skateboarding metal braces on the low walls or steps), tourists, and more people who are homeless, including a few women.

A great public space all around, Cesar Chavez Plaza successfully draws a diverse community together for play and recreation.


  1. Spacing Magazine would love to have you as a panelist for our July 5th event in Victoria. Please get in touch!

    Comment by Spacing Magazine — June 27, 2011 #

  2. Thanks for your comment, Holland, but no thanks.

    Comment by Yule — June 27, 2011 #

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