Local Blogs

By Steve Levy

Planning for the Future in Palo Alto and the Region

Uploaded: Feb 27, 2014

I recently attended two meetings where the future of the region and Palo Alto were discussed. One was a class at Stanford where students presented their summary of Plan Bay Area, which lays out a vision for the region's growth to 2040. The second event was a gathering of interested neighbors in downtown north.

For the most part the people at these events were not "the usual faces" who comment here and at council meetings. They were younger and seemed open to the fact that the region is growing and changing and interested in how we might plan for the future.
I offered my three priorities for planning in Palo Alto and the region:
--providing for an honoring the different choices people make
--being a welcoming community and region
--planning for the future and the growth and change that is coming

Expanding on these themes could take pages so I will share one example for each.
Choice is both about values and about knowing that not everyone wants the same things as each other or as an earlier generation wanted. The most important planning challenge around the choice issue is housing. Providing choice means to me planning for "granny units", allowing smaller housing units to be built, and honoring the choice of people who want to live in denser housing in our core downtown areas. It also means honoring the choice of people who want to live in Palo Alto and those who want to live in Tracy or Los Banos. I realize that there are choices in providing choices but my priority and value is to lean toward accommodating a variety of choices.

Welcoming is both a value but also an economic prosperity foundation. We do well in Palo Alto and the region and benefit from our welcoming of people from other countries, other religions, other sexual preferences and, I hope, a variety of lifestyles. A welcoming attitude attracts diversity and talent and enriches our community and region.

I also think the region and Palo Alto benefit from being a welcoming community for innovation and growth. Growth brings challenges but my experience indicates that regions that are not welcoming to new ideas and the associated growth eventually kill or at least maim the economic competitiveness and attractiveness of the region. That is why, for example, that housing and transportation are economic competitiveness foundations.

Planning for the future in the Palo Alto context (we are starting long-term housing and parking planning efforts) starts with acknowledging that the future will bring growth and change. I think the Plan Bay Area regional forecasts that I developed are about right—perhaps a tad too low but the 2 million people, over 1 million jobs and roughly 700,000 added households is in the ballpark.

Most people who look at this growth and the region's land come to the conclusion that the growth will be best accommodated by concentrating density in selected areas (Plan Bay Area calls them priority development areas) consistent with honoring choices. This implies an increase in density but concentrated along corridors nearer to transportation corridors and concentrations of services.

The change is even more certain. Most population growth will be Asian and Latino. The proportion of population over 65 will increase sharply and in the near term the 25-34 age group will be the other growth cohort. Planning for the future means anticipating what these groups will want. It turns out that the demographic changes support the priority development, concentrate where density goes, scenario,

For me planning for the future also includes my gratitude to the people who did that for me and my family. Besides being good planning I want to continue the generational connection that was given to me and helps me remember to support schools and services for the next generation.

In the Palo Alto planning process all of this means two things—1) make sure that variety of voices are represented by reaching out beyond the regular "stakeholders" and 2) include voices for the future. One example is don't just solve today's parking challenge but include the probability of growth in the planning so we don't see the same problem a few years down the road.