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Let's have more creativity in town - from playgrounds to downtown

Original post made by diana diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Jan 15, 2007

According to recent article in The New York Times about children’s playgrounds, no longer will some NYC playgrounds be a mixture of the same old versions of jungle gyms, swings and slides. In an unusual public-private partnership, the city will replace those physical amusements in one playground with things children can “move and build and create worlds with – sandboxes filled with blocks attached to ropes and pulleys, wheelbarrows, milk crates, etc.” The park would be a model for future parks.

I read that and thought, how great. Here are a group of people that are eagerly trying something new – a playground that will help children interact with new play features – water, ramps, sand and objects meant to spur the imagination, not just make the body climb up and down.

And then I thought, we are in Silicon Valley, in a community filled with parks, and maybe we could try the same thing. After all, our parks in town are cookie-cutter molds of playground equipment that has been around for decades. Maybe they are plastic rather than steel jungle gyms now, but each park seems to have almost identical play equipment and they all look the same. They are boring. And if we don’t have creativity to develop new parks, how can we inspire our children to creatively enjoy our parks?

As I write this, I am also thinking about more than parks. I am envisioning a whole new creative process in town that we all could start thinking about, titled, “How do we make Palo Alto a more interesting, more attractive and more creative place to live in?”

But first back to the parks.

Mitchell Park years ago used to be an area mecca because it was such a creative playground with tunnels and water fountains holes in the ground, etc. And Sunnyvale had a Dixie steamboat park theme replete with waterfalls and fountains that was an absolute delight. But the lawyers must have gotten involved because what the kids play on now is safer, of course, but not imaginative.

Why not have neighborhood theme parks around town – pirates, robots, power rangers, and princess parks for our kids? Why not have big sandy areas where kids can have castle-building contests and maybe equipment on hand, a la New York, to haul equipment from one place to the next?

It shouldn’t take a fortune.

As for the adults in town, we could all start thinking about how to do some exciting things in our city that would make it more fun – and prettier. And it need not cost a lot.

A few ideas I had:
• How about turning the plaza in front of city hall into a park filled with tables and chairs, where we could buy ice cream, desserts, coffee and wine and sit around and lick and sip away.

• Why not have colorful banners deck the rim of the park? The banners need not be immense – but they could serve as a visual magnet to City Hall.

• Why not have the city buy one of the old buildings perhaps on Alma Street, and turn that area into another restaurant park? A new park downtown near the Homer Avenue tunnel could reinvigorate that part of town.

• Why not stage a cluster of colorful banners in certain parts of the downtown?

I think that if we all think creatively about Palo Alto, we could come up with a lot of neat ideas that need not cost much. What are some of yours?

Comments (11)

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Posted by KC Marcinik
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 15, 2007 at 7:00 pm

If you've actually been to Mitchell Park lately, you must not have been looking too closely. Eight years ago, when the city had scheduled Mitchell Park for renovation with standard-issue plans and equipment, several neighbors including the sixth grade Connections class at JLS, argued that the original design was unique and shouldn't be scrapped or ignored. The Parks Department, with encouragement from the Architectural Review Board, agreed to re-think the re-design. They even consulted the original architect of the park, Robert Royston.

Many of the best parts of the original design were retained and refurbished, including the tunnels / gopher holes and the unique lanterns. i would say it is still a creative playground.

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Posted by Judy Gittelsohn
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 17, 2007 at 9:23 pm

Hello Diana;

Thanks for paying attention to Parks.

This year Mitchell Park will be celebrating it's 50th anniversary. It continues to be studied in universities around the world for its ground breaking concepts and designs. The landscape architect Robert Royston is still living and a book was recently released on the impact of his work.

In 1999 many of the original features were slated for removal. ( See comment above) Due to community activism important aspects of the park and play structures were retained. Mitchell Park is a marvel in our midst. We need to celebrate and honor its existence.

I agree - the world needs open social and play spaces - and more of them. I hope we can build contemporary thoughtful spaces like New York has done and I hope we can recognize a treasure we've fought to hold on to here.

Judy Gittelsohn

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Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 18, 2007 at 8:42 am

Back when Midtown was being "re-created" a few years ago "they" asked for community input as to what we would like to see there. I and a few others suggested a plaza type area where we could sit and drink coffee with perhaps a small play structure for toddlers, all done with amibience. This idea was ignored and instead we have a very ugly collection of strip malls, with a few tables outside many coffee shops. There is no where for young children to play while parents drink coffee and there is nowhere to eat outside the one sandwich shop (subway) and instead the staff illegally park their cars outside. Now where was any design in all of this I ask you?

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Posted by Diana Diamond
Palo Alto Online blogger
on Jan 18, 2007 at 10:10 am

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Carol - I think a plaza-type area in Mikdtown is a great idea. The entire shopping area in Midtown does need some planning -- including a better parking arrangement.


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Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2007 at 10:46 am

I think more parking is actually needed in the Midtown area, along with serious rearrangement of the lots. How would we be able to fit in a plaza-type area? I'm all for it, but seems like a very challenging issue considering the parking space limitations. What was the original plaza idea? Is there anywhere to see it? Thanks.

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Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 18, 2007 at 1:55 pm

As I remember it, before the plans were made in Midtown, local residents were sent surveys (or it might have been in the Weekly) as to what we wanted. I replied (along with some neighbours) suggested a plaza type area. We heard nothing and so supposedly it was ignored. This was before Safeway was redone and before Walgreens, and at that stage, if Walgreens was moved to where its parking lot is, something creative could have been done without affecting the number of parking spots. From my experience, there is always plenty of parking behind Walgreens that no one uses, probably because it is felt that it should be for Walgreens customers only.

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Posted by KC Marcinik
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 18, 2007 at 4:14 pm

Did the parking behind Walgreen's replace the community garden that used to be there (when the Walgreen's was the Co-op? That would be a good place for a pocket park that would serve the surrounding neighborhood. It's not very visible from most of the shopping center, but that neighborhood, bounded by Oregon, E. Meadow, Louis and Middlefield, is one of the largest areas of Palo Alto without a park.

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Posted by KC Marcinik
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 18, 2007 at 4:30 pm

In Scottsdale and Tempe, AZ, over the last 20-30 years, they have changed all of the former concrete flood channels and dry creeks into a more or less continuous series of parks and open space areas. The space is attractive and in constant recreational use, and noone suffers property damage during the floods. It's probably too late to do this in Palo Alto, but there is a section of Matadero Creek that runs alongside the Winter Lodge property (parking and second driveway). It would be great to see a more natural treatment of the creek at that point, that would also serve as park area.

Like this comment
Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 18, 2007 at 8:31 pm

The word among moms in my group is that the main draw to Mitchell is the bathroom. Although the kids play there just as happily as anywhere else that has rocks, dirt, and leaves, for moms Mitchell can be a trial because of the location of the different play areas and lack of shade. I'm glad they didn't get rid of the cool tunnels, but I do think it could have been improved...

However, Dianna, your point is taken about creativity. Creativity is a good way to get better quality of life without spending money.

Like this comment
Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 18, 2007 at 8:36 pm

I'd have to see this proposed design in New York. Anything that isn't nailed down at parks tends to walk away. That leads to greater maintenance costs (or parks quickly seem dilapidated).

The redo of Briones Park has been judged a success by kids and grownups. The only thing they could have done better, by all accounts, is add a bathroom!

Like this comment
Posted by Bert
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 24, 2007 at 9:21 am

>• How about turning the plaza in front of city hall
>into a park filled with tables and chairs

How about adding a "speaker's corner" (like Hyde Park in London) to this to get some entertainment while sipping?

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

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