Fremont, the fourth largest city in the Bay Area, lacks a central downtown. Over the past decade, the city worked with residents and the business community to create a vision for a downtown around the Fremont BART station. The area is occupied by parking lots, government buildings, and low-density retail buildings. Realizing the community's vision—to create a place where people connect, communicate, and celebrate— will take time. In 2012, the city and chamber of commerce started an experiment: every Friday of Spring, Summer, and Fall, it transformed several blocks near the Fremont BART station from a wide stretch of asphalt into a place where residents can experience firsthand the vibrancy of a new downtown. Partnering with the chamber of commerce and local businesses, they created Fremont Street Eats, which brings together music, fresh produce, and a variety of gourmet food refl ecting the city’s diversity with trucks serving everything from French fast food to Indian Nachos and traditional Tacos.
The experiment has exceeded expectations, drawing hundreds of visitors and helping local food startups build the customer base needed to create a permanent business that can eventually fill retail space in a future downtown. The impact of Street Eats goes well beyond a traditional Farmers' Market; it has provided a temporary stage for community members to act out a more permanent future in which Fremont has the downtown it has always lacked. Everyone is welcome in this shared place and a broad cross-section of the community returns every week.
Combined with a stronger economy, Street Eats has helped attract the private investment necessary to realize the community's vision for Downtown—including a full-service grocery store, nearly 500 homes, and new workplaces. It the kind of inexpensive action a community can take to create excitement in advance of more extensive public and private investment.
Interview with Anu Natarajan, Director of Planning
MidPen Housing Corporation