Sunday, February 24, 2008

On the Street Where I Live

Last week I had an interesting conversation with Kevin Park of Concerned Santa Clara about Fairfield's development proposal for the old Kaiser hospital site — 900 Kiely. One of the things that we talked about was the fact that the plan doesn't include any retail space — which we both agreed was a mistake.

One of the surest ways to get people out of their cars and onto their feet is to bring everyday services and shopping into their neighborhoods. From that perspective I have an enviable address.

In the 21 years that we have lived in our townhouse, a lot of people have come and gone. Young people buy here with the grand plan of moving to a free-standing house in a more "residential" area as soon as they can. But to me, this address is a destination.

First, I'm in the City of Santa Clara -- the little city that works.

Second, I'm right across the street from Lucky's, Long's, Starbucks, San Tomas Liquors, Carl's Jr., a pizzeria (not to be compared with Slice of NY, but still, it's right there), a drycleaner, and a sushi bar. Walk another block, and there's a 7-11, Vanna Nails (where I've been going for 15 years and which is one of the most expert nail salons around), 4-5-6 Chinese food, a laundromat, a shoe repair, three hair salons, the Pruneridge golf course, and, if you hustle pool, the Sportsman's.

We used to have one of Santa Clara's best restaurants, Brigitte's, until the building owner jacked up the lease beyond what the traffic could bear. That piece of real estate acumen sure paid off — the space has been vacant for 18 months.

Not only does neighborhood shopping make you feel virtuous about all the $4-a-gallon gasoline you're not burning, it also builds community. You see and talk to people. You get to know something about the people you share your neighborhood with. Sure I wish this was a more attractive, downtown-like spot. But I'll take the cash and let the credit go.

I like having people around me. I like casual conversation — the kind women used to have over the backyard clothesline and neighbors shared sitting on the front porch (we called it a stoop in Brooklyn) on hot summer evenings.

It makes me feel sorry for people living in Los Altos or Woodside. How dull to be cocooned in your one-acre lot and multi-million dollar house, having to fire up the Mercedes just to be able to while away a rainy afternoon with a book and a cappuchino, watching the world go by. Sitting by yourself in your private media room is not the same thing — not at all.

I'll be following the 900 Kiely proposal as it unfolds. And I suspect that, as usual, I won't make any side of the question entirely happy with my coverage. And I'm sure that the final development won't be perfect — like everything else in this less-than-perfect world.

But some shops and cafes would sure make it less imperfect.