Navigating through the endless sea of homes in suburban Palo Alto, one neighborhood stands out from the rest. The Fairmeadow community, affectionately called "The Circles" by its residents, breaks from neighboring areas neatly lined in a grid, and instead, features concentric streets. The circular layout and retro homes, built by Joseph Eichler in the early 1950s, makes Fairmeadow a quirky vision of never-ending roads and flat roofs.
Len Filppu, lead organizer for the Fairmeadow Neighborhood Association, notes that the unique layout makes for more than just interesting architecture; it's a specific attraction and experience.
"You can't say you've lived in Palo Alto unless you've got lost in 'The Circles' at one point," he said.
In addition to a fun layout, the loopy roads of Fairmeadow also serve a more practical purpose by effectively ensuring slower traffic patterns throughout the neighborhood.
"The circles keep the traffic low even though we are close to the intersection of Alma and Charleston," Fairmeadow resident Ramji Digumarthi said. Digumarthi, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1981, observes that the resulting calm traffic and quaint vibe is a major selling point for Fairmeadow, attracting a diverse range of families seeking safer streets.
"It is a very cosmopolitan community," he added.
Families are also, in part, drawn to the area because of Fairmeadow's close proximity to many distinguished schools within the Palo Alto Unified School District.
"Having elementary and middle schools very close is wonderful," Digumarthi said. "It is great for my kids."
There are also various community amenities within walking distance, such as the YMCA and the Mitchell Park branch library. The new library, which is currently under renovation and slated to open in November, will feature spacious, environmentally sustainable rooms intended to meet the growing needs of the neighborhood.
Residents will say, though, that the best part of the Fairmeadow experience is the tightknit community.
"The Circles are just totally awesome because we have this fantastic area of kids, a very big cul-de-sac where kids can play out on the sidewalk and the street and go to each other's houses," resident Ulfar Erlingsson said. "It's like we're living in that sort of suburban ideal that only exists on TV."
Through strong communication, using social-media platforms such as NextDoor.com as well as email lists, Fairmeadow residents keep in contact to organize gatherings or to send alerts.
Their biggest event, last summer's "Circle's Party," was funded by a generous Palo Alto neighborhood grant and saw approximately 300 residents of all ages turn out.
"We had money for pizza, bouncy tents, snow cones, and even one of the fire trucks from the East Meadow and Middlefield station stopped by," Filppu said. "The kids loved it, and the adults did, too. It was a really nice neighborhood event and something we'll try to keep doing because we want to continue to reach out to the entire Fairmeadow neighborhood."
Another neighborhood collaboration is the Fairmeadow emergency-preparedness network, a volunteer program that is run by the citywide Palo Alto Neighborhoods organization. The goal of the network is for appointed "block captains" to notify surrounding residents in the case of an emergency. Erlingsson, who is one of the two block captains in Farmeadow, observes that though not every block in Fairmeadow currently has a captain, they are in the process of seeking more to train.
"The idea is to get a block captain for every major street," he said.
With rising house prices in the area and a market frenzy for rare Eichler homes, residents still cherish the simplicity of Fairmeadow. The neighborhood is, they say, first and foremost a great place to raise a family.
"One of the best things is going out in the morning and seeing all the kids leaving their homes and walking to school," Filppu said. "Just being part of the neighborhood is great."
CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (nearby):
Besse Bolton Kids' Club, 500 E. Meadow Drive; Covenant Children's Center, 670 E. Meadow Drive; Ellen Thacher Children's Center, 505 E. Charleston Road; Hoover Kids' Club, 445 E. Charleston Road; Palo Alto Infant Toddler Center, 4111 Alma St.
FIRE STATION: No. 4, 3600 Middlefield Road
LIBRARY: Mitchell Park branch, 4050 Middlefield Road
LOCATION: Bordered by East Charleston Road, East Meadow Drive, Alma Street and J.L. Stanford Middle School and Herbert Hoover Elementary School
NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: Fairmeadow Neighborhood Association, Len Filppu, lead organizer, 650-857-1031
PARK: Mitchell Park, 600 E. Meadow Drive
POST OFFICE: Cambridge, 265 Cambridge Ave.
PRIVATE SCHOOL: Challenger School, 3880 Middlefield Road
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Fairmeadow and Hoover elementary schools, J.L. Stanford Middle School, Gunn High School
SHOPPING (nearby): Charleston Center