CHALKBOARDS ... THE NEXT GENERATION ... If sometime in January you're confronted by a giant "smart screen" at a local library or community center and questioned about Palo Alto values, don't be confused or alarmed. The big screens are one of three channels that the city is proposing to reach out to the community before the City Council adopts the city's "core values" at its retreat early next year (the other two channels are Open City Hall, a website that allows users to comment on main agenda actions, and a video of Palo Altans talking about values). The outreach was prompted by the council's recent decision to reform its priority-setting process. In the past, official "priorities" included such feel-good-but-hard-to-define items as "civic engagement" and "youth well-being." This year, the council agreed to limit its list to priorities that are "actionable" and that take no more than three years to achieve. On a parallel track, council members agreed to come up with a list of "core values" that would guide all of the city's actions and that would be more permanent in nature, addressing things like environmental sustainability and the government's responsiveness to its citizens. Hence, the giant smart screens, which according to the report would be "50 inch and bigger" and that would "allow users to write on the screen, erase and save their work." Staff proposes to install two or three screens at various locations, including City Hall and possibly local libraries and community centers. The city would be able to later retrieve the entries. If electronic boards prove too burdensome, staff would pursue the cheaper approach known all too well to local startups. "A low-technology alternative could be the placement of traditional white boards at various locations to capture community interest," the staff report states.
PALY GETS PUBLISHED ... Several Palo Alto High School photography students made a splash this month when their photos were published on Lens, The New York Times' photography blog. This year, teacher Margo Wixsom required all of her students to submit photos to Lens for the blog's "My Hometown" contest, which set out to answer the question, "What does America look like to young people today?" The Times asked high schoolers across the country to submit photos of their lives and communities (they were even allowed to use cell-phone cameras). The contest was also linked to a lesson on a photography project launched in the early 1900s to chronicle life in the United States during the Works Progress and Farm Security Administrations. Paly photogs submitted tech-centric photos (one that got on the blog shows a student's parents and siblings all completely absorbed on their Apple devices, standing outside the Stanford Shopping Center Apple store) as well as scenes from the Baylands, local parks, the California Avenue Farmers Market and more. Some students' photos were selected to be archived in the Library of Congress (as photos from the Farm Security Administration project were in their time, too).