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March 7-13, 2007

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Importing Paris Flair

By Joseph Rosenfeld

PARISIANS' joie de vivre is evident everywhere your senses meet the city. Beaux Arts low-rise architecture imposes its storied history at nearly every corner, while parks present places to slow down and contemplate life's natural splendor. The aromas emanating from every epicerie, boulangerie, charcuterie and patisserie fill the air with pleasure. During a recent two-week trip to Paris, I couldn't help but wish that San Jose would improve its own vibe.

Perhaps the closest thing we have to this vibe in San Jose is Santana Row. It's a manufactured facsimile, in a Disney-like format, but it is real nonetheless. The shops are smart, the restaurants are as packed as any on Paris' Rive Gauche on a Saturday night and the traffic can be just as snarled as it is on the Champs Elysées. While many say that Santana Row should have been constructed downtown, I don't agree. Santana Row is fine where it is. If Paris, a walking city if ever there was one, could support at least one shopping district in each of its 16 arrondissements, then San Jose, with a population of local residents and tourists in the multimillions, could support multiple shopping and cultural districts, including the underdeveloped downtown area.

Paris is like a heart, pumping energy into its arteries. Avenue Montaigne is like Santana Row, except that it's a real street filled with top designer boutiques, five star hotels and a performing arts center, and most Paris couturiers call the area home. A walk up Boulevard Haussmann on a weekday reveals that Parisians adore their department stores, while prancing down Rue Faubourg St. Honoré will have you wagging your tongue at Paris' priciest boutiques. Le Marais, one of Paris' oldest neighborhoods, has quaint old buildings filled with tidy residences, restaurants and retailers.

San Jose is full of great areas. Are we expected to be sated by two blocks of shops on Lincoln in Willow Glen, and a one-block Japantown district?

Still, even a fashionisto like me knows that there is more to life than shopping. It's no wonder that Paris museums and parks are so popular. Even in wintertime, Paris parks thrive with verdant landscapes and vibrant people and pets. Every park offers a vista of historical significance and serves as a place to bike, run with the dog or sit and sketch a scene. City planning made Paris become the vanguard of "green" places long before it became hip to get green. Paris parks are certainly as much a celebration of its colorful history as a clear vision for its own future.

Closer to home, my nearest green space is St. James Park. The hodge-podge of tall trees and faulty fountain disseminate a message of disorganization and dilapidation. Adjacent to the former state capitol building and post office, the park, with its spotty monuments of insignificant significance, begs for a new plan. It's not that I wish Paris could be bottled up like a perfume and sprayed out for our own beautification. It is just shameful that a place as simple and humble as a revered local park can't get it together.

Most people living in San Jose, like me, are not from here. We have lived elsewhere, and experienced other places. This is exactly why San Jose is ripe with opportunity to develop thriving centers of community, culture and commerce. We need neighborhood development, not more strip malls. We need safe, green and clean parks that welcome children and pets and play host to events. Our history and cultural diversity need to be celebrated, as much as our region's contributions to the world. We've done so much to help the world develop; it's high time for this city to develop itself as a place built on classic principles and modern ideals.

Joseph Rosenfeld, AICI, CIP, the nation's only male certified image professional, is a men's image mentor based in downtown San Jose. Contact him at [email protected]

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