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Menlo Park Town Square

Original post made by Town Square, Menlo Park: Downtown, on Nov 23, 2007

Circulating around town is an idea to provide a downtown TOWN SQUARE. This could become a gathering place, to talk, to mingle, to hold special events and to just "hang out".

Palo Alto has one, Redwood City has one, even Mayberry had one. Why do so many places have them -- perhaps because they work. At present our downtown area is a row after row of businesses. That is ok for the merchants and their customers. However, it might be special if an area along Santa Cruz Avenue could be set aside for just the people.

Some folks may argue that we have one already at Fremont Park. Yes, that is true, but it is at the "end" of store area, and not necessarily condusive as a centralized location. There is also a nice "meeting" area at Cafe Borrone's, however, this is "private" property and again is at the far end of town in front of El Camino Real.

There is a third place which is fairly new and very nice. It is located near the train depot near Crepes Cafe. It even has a nice statue. However, it is a lost treasure that few know about, none the less utilize. It is also not located in the "central business district".

One idea that could be considered is closing off approx. one-half of Chestnut Street, near Wells Fargo Bank. Access could continue from Menlo Ave. to the Parking Plaza and then be sectioned off for the balance of the street for a TOWN SQUARE. If it doesn't work it could be converted back to a street. However, if it did work, think of what a wonderful place this could be.

At some town squares, music is sometimes played by both free lance individuals and by profesisonal groups. At other times there may be someone on a soap box. Otherwise just relax around a fountain or sculpture, miggle, talk, read a book, nap, day dream, use their computer, PDA, IPOD or cell phone.

For some it may be a terrible idea. Either way, let's hear from you. Should this be pursued, or dropped? You decide.

Comments (13)

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Posted by Intrigued
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 23, 2007 at 9:53 pm

This Chestnut Street idea is really intriguing. I love the idea of a town square in the city's heart, and as you pointed out, what might vaguely be considered Menlo Park's "town squares" are at the extreme ends of the downtown area. Large and small towns and cities in Italy all have town squares -- piazzi -- that pull together the people and create community. I'd like to hear ideas about how the trial closure of Chestnut and the subsequent creation of plaza amenities might be planned and funded.

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Posted by Jonna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 24, 2007 at 6:53 am

Nice idea. But that place is even further than Barone's and across that dreadful street. I like the idea though. Thanks.

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 24, 2007 at 12:13 pm

It’s a great idea. A focus for our town. A major water feature in the center.
Encouraging retail and coffee/food venues around the periphery. Menlo Park does not have sufficient open spaces. Exact location a complicated but not insoluble problem.
Another possibility is one of the parking areas, with underground parking and central square at ground level.

A major reason for finding European towns and cities so attractive is the deployment of town squares and open areas in the old town/downtown areas. It humanizes them.

A related idea is conversion of El Camino into a Grand Boulevard in the European tradition. A center island running the length of Menlo Park down the middle of El Camino with pathway, benches, coffee kiosks, sculpture, water features and arbor canopy, some of which already exists. Converts El Camino from being a barrier to becoming pedestrian friendly and an attractive feature of downtown.

Town square and pedestrian islands, all walking and bike friendly. The creation of a cultural, community identity. Take a look at Santana Row; several good ideas appropriate for transplanting here. Lots of mixed use. Limiting car use into the downtown commercial area.

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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 25, 2007 at 7:28 am


Sounds great and encouraging. El Camino has lots of trucks and diesel vehicles running up and down along with many cars. These cars are the kinds that are passing through. The island thing sounds nice, but since ECR was built for a different purpose, it wouldn't work.

The nice thing about Santana Row, is that it is a planned community where things were built with specific purposes in mind.

I wish we could wipe everything and start over, but that wouldn't work.

The parking lot idea is a fantastic idea I think. We could plant trees and flowers. If anything is to be built or used, it shouldn't be across ECR.

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Posted by charrette
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 25, 2007 at 10:20 am

Sounds like another Jim Lewis/Dick Poe go nowhere special.

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 25, 2007 at 4:03 pm

I’m sorry to get off the track here, but have you noticed that there appear to be two kinds of people who write on these Town Square blogs; the kind that discuss the subject, and the kind that cast aspersions at the kind that discuss the subject? Sometimes this latter kind do so due to their self-perception of inadequacy regarding the subject under discussion, while simultaneously wishing to participate, perhaps out of loneliness. Deprecating others also creates the illusion of superiority. Whatever works for you.

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Posted by Town Square
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 26, 2007 at 8:18 am

In discussing it with neighbors during the four-day Thanksgiving Holiday weekend, I found fairly universal and positive feedback for the concept. One person said that this idea resurfaces every so often, the last time being about ten years ago. Perhaps someone who remembers this might share what happened then.

In the meantime, the focus might be instead of whether to do it or not but what it should look like. Architecturally, should it have any of the following:

1) Fountains
2) Lighting
3) Flags
4) Benches
5) Tables
6) Trees
7) Shrubs
8) Flowers
9) Bricks
10) Kiosks
11) Stage
12) Vending Machines
13) Hi-tech restrooms
14) Umbrellas
15) Lawn
16) Dogs allowed
17) Plaques
18) Statues
19) Fence
20) Lighting

Many of the above features are already at Fremont Park and/or the area near Keplers and Cafe Borrone's. This may be an indication of whether to include them or not. The issue again is "location, location, location", where it would be great to have it in a central part of downtown, or as one person stated above "in the heart of downtown".

Whether it be called a 1) Public Plaza, 2) a Town Square, 3) named after somebody, or 4) other name can be discussed later as the concept develops further.

One big issue is who pays for it? It could be 1) the City of Menlo Park, 2) it could be the downtown merchants, 3) it could be a city-wide fund raiser by those interested, 4) it could be a corporate donation ( such as Google Park, or Yahoo Park, or Apple Park) or 5) a combination of the above.

In any event, food for thought. I'd be interested to learn what others have to say.

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Posted by Art Lover
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 28, 2007 at 7:53 am

A statue -- yes. Let's solicit bids from local sculptors, and have interested residents cast ballots for their favorite concept. But vending machines -- nay. Ditto for a lawn -- a big-time water waster.

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Posted by Kitchen sink
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 28, 2007 at 11:35 am

Jim and Dick,

Your concept sounds a little cluttered. Are you going for a piazza or a souk?

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Posted by Jim Lewis
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 28, 2007 at 1:11 pm

Given the daily popularity of Lytton Plaza in downtown Palo Alto, I'm encouraged that this idea certainly has potential in the City of Menlo Park.

This topic also ties into what citizens want for the downtown area that is currently being discussed by the "Visioning" Committee.

The popularity of the downtown Block Party last summer is another indication on how folks feel about a central "gathering" place.

For my nickel, I'm all for it. Reading the comments above also supports the notion that a Town Square, or Town Plaza, or otherwise a meeting or gathering place has potential.

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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 28, 2007 at 1:41 pm

Maybe a swing set for children and adults? Talk about family time!! That'd be a terrific attraction.

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 29, 2007 at 8:47 am

Beware the gilding of the lily, so to speak. Beware the Disney-fication inclination. Less is more. Here's an urban aesthetic quality to keep in mind: vertical lines stimulate, provoke, create stress, (example: New York City). Horizontal lines are calming, soothing, relaxing. Resist raising building heights. Broaden the cityscape by widening sidewalks; zone for larger setbacks. Seek green space and natural materials, such as with arbor canopies, shrubbery. Menlo Park is suburban; we should keep it that way. This virtual Almanac Town Square should be an advocacy venue for a real Menlo Park town square, or even several.

Large city squares (Times Square; Trafalgar) give focus to commercial retail. London city squares are often pedestrian gardens surrounded by townhouse blocks. It's not just the square, but what's around it.

A very useful source of "homework" for all us amateur city planners is "Principles of Intelligent Urbanism" on Wikipedia. As we launch into our downtown and El Camino Visioning, we all can give voice to thoughtful improvement of our Menlo Park central city.

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Posted by menlo park resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 9, 2007 at 10:08 am

Barrone's is the best and because it is private the homeless and drug addicts cannot loiter there. Palo Alto gives me the creeps, the drug addicts and alcoholic homeless (not the needy, the ones there by choice) loiter everywhere I go in Palo Alto. That would be a big problem for me if it happened in Menlo Park.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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