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Stanford Prodigy Channels "Google Mentality" Into $90 Million Plan to Fix Oakland

He's being called "an urban planning prodigy" with "an uncanny sense of how things actually get done in an American city." Daniel Jacobson hasn't yet graduated from Stanford, but he has produced a plan strong enough to catch the attention of a major city.

Last spring, while still a sophomore, Jacobson produced a meticulously researched 140-page plan to restore a blighted patch of the city of Oakland. His idea? Build a streetcar line that would shuttle along a 2.5-mile stretch between Oakland's historic waterfront and a declining district of struggling car dealerships.

"Stanford has such a great culture of entrepreneurship and innovation," Jacobson told Stanford Magazine, adding that he wanted to channel the campus's "Google mentality" into an urban renewal project.

"I just thought, why can't I apply this entrepreneurial spirit to a field that tends to be a little more esoteric," Jacobson adds, reached by Fast Company today. "I definitely think there's room for this sort of entreprenuerial spirit of innovation in all sorts of fields that tend to just be dictated by policy makers."

His plan, which you can find here, made its way into the hands of Oakland's Chamber of Commerce president, and now members of the City Council are actually taking it seriously. "His study has added a degree of public attention to ... why a streetcar matters," Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland's at-large City Council member and a mayoral candidate, told Stanford. And so an undergrad's independent study project could be the subject of a city's $90 million investment. (Oakland's mayoral race is pending; a decision might be announced today, in fact.)

The report makes a convincing case that the investment would soon pay for itself. A revitalization of a defunct district, 24,000 new jobs, $6 million in sales tax revenue, and an influx of 20,000 new Oakland residents could all result from Jacobson's plan, he claims. And for a city with an unemployment rate of 17%, a city that is one of America's most violent but nonetheless has had to lay off 80 cops in a budget shortfall, some urban renewal would come none too soon.

Despite his hard work and continued involvement, Jacobson hasn't been paid anything by Oakland, nor is he asking for it. He was compensated only with a $1,000 independent study research grant, "and class credit," he says. Cities often hire professional city planners to do the sort of work he volunteered. Does he worry that he might be replacing someone else's job?

"You know," he laughs. "I think that a little competition isn't a bad thing."

[Images: Daniel Jacobson]

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  • Shelly

    The shuttle is up and running, and it is, indeed, free. It is a great way to connect the Lake Merritt area and Jack London Square with the heart of the city. My only gripe is that it currently runs from 7am to 7pm, requiring a post-dinner taxi back to Jack London Square when dining around Grand Ave. and Lakeshore, for example.

  • Chris Reich

    Spend time in Oakland and you'll understand how logical this proposal is. The waterfront is beautiful though under-utilized because it is cut off from downtown BART access. The ferries stop running before BART. So if you take a ferry into the city for dinner, you have to take BART back to Oakland. That means a hike through a war zone at midnight or a $20 cab ride to get back to your car at the ferry dock. Connect the transportation systems!

    And make this streetcar FREE. Eliminate the hassle of tickets. Facilitating the movement of wallets throughout Oakland will generate money for the city.

    Chris Reich