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Palo Alto Weekly 25th Anniversary
Editorial:
Looking forward to the next 25 years

Palo Alto residents reflect on life in our town over the past quarter century, and feel "fortunate"

As we looked back on the Weekly's first 25 years of publishing, we decided it was important to look below the surface of today's Palo Alto and ask residents themselves to be our guides.

Hence the cover story that delves into the lives and perspectives of a number of Palo Alto residents, both long-timers and newcomers, who dwell in four distinct parts of Palo Alto.

Two of the block-size neighborhoods we selected were profiled in the Weekly's 10th anniversary issue, a section of Greer Road and of Hamilton Avenue. We added two others: the more rural-feeling Barron Park area and a portion of Ramona Street just south of downtown Palo Alto that is undergoing a major transition.

For each person featured in the story, we interviewed several others, individuals and families, and selected those whom we felt were more representative of their age and position to share with the readers.

As expected, our staff found a number of changes -- people who sold, or died -- replaced by more recent residents as the cover-story package shows. We found people coping well with the wealth of Palo Alto in its various aspects: financial, educational, intellectual. More than one person pointed out that they don't "feel wealthy" in Palo Alto -- they feel "fortunate."

We found significant changes in how people live their daily lives, partly due to changing demographics of age and partly because of an intensity of work lives and a focus on family outside of work.

It was heartening, even heartwarming, to hear from residents about how much they care about and value their community. Some expressed regret that there isn't as much open neighborliness as there once was. Others explained how they try to sustain or recreate such an environment.

There also were areas of concern. Some felt the loss of "traditional community values" in terms of a slower pace of life and a more modest lifestyle.

We found a comment from one longtime resident, Ed Hillard (featured on the cover) from 1983, in which he predicted then that Palo Alto was "going toward an Atherton." High housing costs at the time were "making it a narrower, less diverse community of wealthy, older people." Since then the median household income has nearly quadrupled and median home prices have soared from under $150,000 to more than $1 million.

But younger families are moving in, and some, like the Oh family, express a desire to share in the traditional community values Palo Alto has been known for: an emphasis on family activities, quality public schools.

The residents selected do not reflect all of Palo Alto. Their perspectives do not represent renters who have given up on the dream of home ownership, the commuting "daytime Palo Altans" who double the population of the community each workday. Those are reflected in past stories in the Weekly, and are valid in their own right.

And the observations in this issue do not reflect the broad future trends studied by sociologists, demographers and anthropologists.

But an anniversary is a good time to look both directions, forward as well as back, and we at the Weekly are as aware as anyone of the great amount of unfinished business facing the community. We anticipate the opportunity to call attention to those challenges in our news coverage, columns and editorials, as we have for the past 25 years.

One such challenge is sustaining the quality of the public educational system that many credit for the high housing values in the community. Another is working to maintain as much diversity as possible in the face of the astronomical housing costs, which have been exclusionary to so many.

Traffic congestion and transportation alternatives are a core element of whether Palo Alto's fortunate economic situation can continue over the long run, and whether the city should enter the "fiber age" with another city-owned utility service has yet to be decided.

An aging infrastructure -- from libraries to storm drains -- needs continuing attention and dollars in a community where many older residents feel land-rich but cash-flow poor.

Opportunities to solve these challenges abound in a community as affluent and educated as ours, and we look forward to being a part of the next 25 years of dynamic change in this unique place.

 

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25th Anniversary • 1979-2004

 

 

 

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