Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday Wishlist: Christmas in the Park 2.0

Every year, Christmas in the Park gives us a glimpse of downtown San Jose's potential to become an all-ages, pedestrian-oriented district. Despite being one of the most transit-oriented areas in the south bay, pedestrian traffic is very low downtown for the 10th largest city in the country. The crowds are also not quite as diverse as one might hope; there's generally the working crowd during the week and the drinking crowd on weekend evenings.

Christmas in the Park changes that. Parents bring their toddlers and dogs out for the night. Couples (or first dates) visit for date night. Locals go out of their way to stroll through the area to participate o the way to other destinations. Overall, it's the best temporary but sustained foot traffic downtown gets (as opposed to, say, a 3 day business convention).

Christmas in the Park

With that said, in my recent years as a downtown resident, I've noticed that the event is very similar from one year to the next. The games, the displays, the food, and the attractions bring nostalgia and character, but don't give a good reason for people to visit every year. Anyone without kids and not ice skating could easily be "done" with Christmas in the Park within 30 minutes, and I'd guess that most of these would just leave downtown afterward.

I'd like to see the event think bigger in future years, and give people reason to come by every year. Below I've outlined some general ideas of what I'd like to see improved in future iterations.

Add new attractions

Christmas in the Park itself focuses on animated exhibits, the (record breaking) community tree displays, and a community stage. Separately, but closely connected to the experience, are Downtown Ice and a carnival games/rides area. This is definitely a good start, and gives three general attractions for guests to explore. But it can be so much more.

Snow in sunny San Jose

We enjoy mild and sunny weather basically year round. Why not set up an area for kids and families to enjoy snow without driving to Tahoe or Yosemite? Other cities have done it at various scales. Ocean Springs in Mississippi creates a "snow day" with simple snow machines. Hong Kong has a portable snow chamber set up in one of its most central locations.  

Snow chamber in Hong Kong
If you tell parents in the Bay that they could bring the kids here to build a mini snow man, I am sure even more families would look forward to the event every year.

More performances

There are some organized performances already, but it could be much more. I'd like to see local dancers, musicians, and other talent take the stage more often, with a bit more marketing around it. I know, for example, that Super Soul Bros would be a huge hit. I would definitely visit more often if I had specific acts to visit. 

Arts & crafts

Kids love making things that they can bring home and hang on their Christmas tree, fireplace, or refrigerator. Why not give them that opportunity? A booth to create your own ornaments, or decorative stockings, would be a big hit. Add a "San Jose" and "Christmas in the Park" logo to each project, and families can now bring back a piece of the city too. 

Grow beyond the park

The event, and the city, has outgrown the current footprint of the event (and the related attractions). What used to be a large scale attraction for the biggest city in Northern California now looks rather cramped, especially considering the potential for growth.

Photo by Steven Davis

Close off more streets to pedestrians, where it makes sense

Currently, eastbound traffic is blocked off on Park Ave up due the carnival area. It reminds me a bit of how the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest looks, except the festival closes off almost the entire stretch of Market St. A three day festival is certainly different from a 1.5 month event, and I don't expect the same scale of street closures. There is room to expand in the immediate area though. Here are some ideas that can make room for food trucks, local artists, additional exhibits, etc.:
  • Block all southbound traffic on Market.
  • Close one lane of the northbound traffic on Market (the Fairmont needs this).
  • Close the westbound traffic on Park Ave also.
With just these changes, the main park area will increase by a lot, maybe up to 50%. That's a lot more room to grow the number of attractions or community areas. It'll also take a cue from other proven successful events like Viva Calle SJ.

Expand to surrounding blocks

The event started at Plaza de Cesar Chavez, but why is it limited to it? It should always be the nucleus for the event, but the surrounding blocks should complement it and guide people towards it.

Plenty of people walk over from the San Pedro Square parking lot. The lamp posts and trees leading from the parking lot to the park should be decorated with lights and color. Maybe a sign showing people the way to the main attractions.

It wouldn't hurt to have the towers and buildings in the area participate with an urban take on Fantasy of Lights as well. Different displays on each building, or even a larger light concept spanning multiple buildings, would make it a joy to walk or drive through downtown in general.

Add marquee displays and conceptual art

Over the past 1.5 years, we've seen that fun, unique art and experiments make people want to visit downtown. In late 2016, we were treated to Musical Swings in the exact same spot that holds Christmas in the Park. Family and children were in the area every day because it was fun, safe, and different. Right now, the Sonic Runway makes the City Hall look like the single coolest spot in San Jose. I see people just sitting around near it, just take in the lights and colors.

Both of these examples are temporary, which just happens to be perfect for the 1.5 months of Christmas in the Park.

Last year, a miniature model of the San Jose light tower was added, which was a good start. Unfortunately, the tower isn't quite iconic enough for most of the population to really care. Along the same lines though, every year there should be at least one *star* display for the event, so people who have another reason to return another year.

It's hard to come up with specific examples, but imagine something on the scale of the Grinchmas tree at Universal Studios, or maybe a lit up reindeer equivalent of the Guadalupe River mastodon. I'd certainly go just to get a picture or two!

Increase local business participation

As Josh has mentioned, Halloween in the Park would also be a great event for the area, and one of the reasons is because local businesses can participate (i.e. urban trick or treating). Christmas in the Park doesn't really get much in the form of active participation from neighboring businesses.

How about getting nearby dessert/coffee/tea shops involved in a scavenger hunt? The shops can just give out a stamp (and get some foot traffic/discovery in the process), and the park can give out a small souvenir if someone can complete it.

Or perhaps one of the nearby businesses can attract a marquee display of their own, and Christmas in the Park helps advertise it? This is also another way for the event to grow beyond its current borders, and to get the rest of downtown involved.


  1. It is what it is: not much foot traffic downtown. You can blame it on San Joseans: they love suburban lifestyle and don't want to bustle in the downtown areas to hang out or do anything there. San Joseans are the blame for lack of vitality downtown, and the same goes for the whole county residents. More high rises and more density will do very little to increase overall foot traffic in the area. The changing the habbits of local residents will.

    1. Lately I have seen more foot traffic Downtown than at any other point I can remember. I think the increased density and new restaurant options have had a significant effect already and I would expect the current trajectory to continue.

    2. You don't even live in San Jose and haven't so for the last 4 years!

    3. Are you talking to the first Anonymous or me?

    4. You, Joshua, live in Oregon, not SJ anymore and haven't for awhile.

    5. Considering that I have never even been to Oregon and have lived in Santa Clara County my whole life, you clearly have me confused with someone else.

    6. you said you live in Oregon and haven't posted on Skyscrapercity for a long time. Another Joshua Santos?

    7. Again, you are clearly confused. Read the Skyscrapercity post again. I said, and I quote, "I have a question from a San Jose blog reader". I placed his question in the quotations below my comment. The reader asking the question moved to Oregon, not me. I have been in the San Jose metro my entire life and have no plans to move elsewhere.

  2. Ohhh I'd love Halloween in the park! More trick or treating and seeing Dt has to offer!


  4. Whom are you fooling? You live in Corvalis, Ore for the last 4 years with your family on Jose development. Am I missing something here?

    1. Okay, clearly you must be DirtPatch. Yes you are missing something, re-read the Skyscraper post.

  5. You should've highlighted as quote since it looks like you're talking about yourself. It wasn't clear at all. It can be construed as the other blogger or you since there was no quote highlight in a box or shade. No, I'm not Dirt Patch.

    1. Sure, at the same time you can make fewer assumptions and accusations.

  6. It was confusing, you got to admit. Goes both ways, too.