Let’s face it. Palo Alto needs to be prettied up, as in add to the ambience. For some reason, over the years, our city fathers have paid little attention to Palo Alto’s appearance.
For example, several of our small shopping centers seem dilapidated and dingy -- like Midtown and Charleston Shopping Centers. Years ago, the very first column I wrote for the Palo Alto Weekly was on the Midtown area. I complained that it was a mish-mash of assorted bland store fronts, mostly for kids – not adults, that the hub of it was nothing more than a parking lot. There were no flowers and little greenery, even at the entrance -- nothing to suggest this was a nice place to shop. It looked more like a square strip mall.
Guess what! A decade-plus later, it hasn’t changed. It’s still dingy. I know it is privately owned and I presume city officials believe they can’t interfere with the property owner(s), but I would say that it is a public area, built to cater to local residents, so the city could strongly urge the owner to spiff it up.
Consider the way Town & Country Center at Embarcadero and El Camino really redesigned several years ago. The owners worked hard to provide lovely beds of flowers, particularly and the entry ways, and get an interesting group of new retail stores. Soon it was filled with shoppers.
The same can be said of the Cubberley campus. Over the years, those school grounds have been studied by several consultants and restudied by citizen’s committees. to plan for a renovated 35-acre site. Although the restrooms have been improved, the old school is still dingy and needs painting, etc. In other words, a campus overhaul is needed, as some consultants suggested.
However, my first priority in making this a lovelier town is to plant more trees, particularly in south Palo Alto. I once measured tree spacing north and south of Oregon. Quite a difference! The northern portion has significantly more trees which are closer together -- roughly five street trees compared to the three or fewer in the same amount of space on the south side of Orgon. And there are many more long treeless spaces on the south – why, I don’t know. I propose the city plant 200 or so new trees at curbsides EACH year, so this area could also have more shaded streets. An additional perk: These additional trees would be great to assist the CO2-filled environment!
Embarcadero Road is such a lovely entranceway not only to the city and Stanford University but also a pleasant way to view adjacent residential areas. What if we were to welcome residents and visitors by having flower-filled planters border both sides of this street? Some creative engineer could come up with a plan.
Let’s also look at King Plaza, fronting the entrance to City Hall on Hamilton Avenue. are a few benches and an occasional piece of art, which is great. But what if we filled the plaza with little round tables and chairs, typical of an outdoor French café, where we could sit and talk with friends and strangers. Of course, there would be a barista on one of the corners, selling coffee, tea, soft drinks, cookies – and perhaps even beer in late afternoon. What a wonderful place to people-gaze. The redecorated plaza could be a great gathering place and surely wouldn’t cost that much to redecorate. And let’s add a bit of music (live or recorded) in late afternoons.
That same area could be lit with twinkling lights during the winter season to complement Lytton Plaza just a block away and make the downtown a new favorite place to hang out.
Another thing I’d like to see is more flower beds downtown. NYC has impatiens and begonias planted around each tree trunk, circled by a low fence, to keep dogs from tramp-ling on the flowers. Los Altos has surrounded some of their outdoor restaurants with potted green plants bringing soothing greenery into this shopping area. And since many of the restaurants now have indoor and outdoor dining, the shrubs make sense –more pleasant to look at than cars parked in a row.
So, let’s next look at California Avenue, our second downtown in name only, since it never was quite as exciting and bustling as the University Avenue area.
First, since no cars are allowed on the street, the city needs to get rid of those terrible unwelcoming traffic barriers that may cause visitors to wonder about our messaging problems. Why not prevent cars from entering by using potted plants, real or artificial, which can easily be rented?
Cal Ave has now become restaurant row, with diners around lunch and dinner times, but pedestrian-empty at other times. That’s because the existing retail and service shops are hidden behind the umbrellas in front of the outdoor restaurant areas. That can be fixed.
Other areas of the city to consider beautifying: The living wall – a plant-filled wall facing the street at Mitchell Library is wilting – fewer plants. The areas near the adjoining Mitchell Park could have flower beds filled with perennials.
I suspect the Gamble Garden Club members would love to help plan where flowers could be planted in this town.
The median strips and triangular islands on the street could also be filled with perennials – just to make the streets prettier. This is a project the city should take part in -- including funding areas like King Plaza, providing flowers downtown and creating a planted pot barrier on Cal Ave – all to help beautify this city.
I’m sure some of you also have a lot of ideas on perking up Palo Alto. I will send your suggestions to City Hall officials. It would be fun for all of us to get involved!