What's the idea behind this?
Well, we're a suburb, and a spacious, leafy one at that. Our expectations soar as high as our property values. Developers are clamoring to build here, aren't they? And if we make them space things our way, they will jump at the chance. In fact, they will keep on jumping.
Menlo Park's city manager is quietly warning us not to impose this ground-level space requirement. But never mind. The real issue goes deeper than developers or development.
It's America's anti-urban bias. As a people, historically we have not been comfortable with cities. We like space, or think we do. This idea plays out spasmodically, even in midtown Manhattan. Look at Lincoln Center.
Or look at Menlo Center. There's a lot we can learn from the 25-year-old development that is home to Kepler's and Café Borrone. There's plenty of space. How we feel about that space...well, that's enormously subjective.
Outdoor cafés need space. But Borrone's, however crowded and successful, doesn't need this much. There's a reason why Paris cafés are build out to the street...people watching, urban excitement. Does Kepler's really benefit from its enormous setback from El Camino Real? What about the adjoining furniture store? As for the British Bankers Club...Menlo Center only isolates the historic structure. The B.B.C. looks abandoned and unmoored, for all its parking and terrace access.
As for the aesthetics of the space itself.... Doubtless it must please some passing drivers to find downtown Menlo Park opening into concrete expanses. Not me. As I say, it's subjective. Please, dear readers, do comment.
Suburbia, as we knew it, is waning. There's even more to this than economics or environmental issues. Younger professionals are effectively voting for something else...by living in San Francisco, for example. Or by living and walking to work in downtown Mountain View.