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Time to refurbish Lytton Plaza, with or without the Egg

Original post made by Sunny Dykwel, Downtown North, on May 30, 2007

I have worked in downtown Palo Alto since 1992 and have witnessed many changes in the shops and services that have ebbed and flowed and altered the business atmosphere.

As a Palo Alto resident, I enjoy the many services downtown offers and would like to see more members of our community have a stronger connection with their downtown.

I became an active member of the Chamber of Commerce and am one of the founding directors of the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association. I participate because I see the value such organizations can deliver to our business and residential communities alike.

Bringing these entities together strengthens both. Public space and facilities are logical connections between them.

Lytton Plaza has a wonderful history as a place for free speech and public expression. It's a meeting place for kids to go after school where they can engage in risk-free socializing. It's a place for music and dance. Do you remember the infrequent times when a group of local young people would plug in their instruments and give a free concert?

The plaza is a sunny spot for having take-out lunch with friends or a place for "quiet" rest. It's a place for strollers and games; for chatting and coffee; for reading a book or newspaper; for just plain people-watching.

Yet Lytton Plaza is a community asset that is begging for rehabilitation. The tree planters are old, dingy and overscaled. The concrete is dirty and decrepit. There are no tables on which to eat or play games and other outdoor activities.

However you feel about the "Egg" as public art, it is overlooked in a space devoid of character. This plaza has deteriorated; and in a city where space is a premium it is a blatant example of under-utilized and neglected urban space.

It is not a pleasant site.

So what opportunities are available for this valuable public space?
A survey conducted by the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association revealed that the community wants downtown to be a more welcoming place for families.

Specifically, the survey results showed a desire to create a multi-use community gathering space for Lytton Plaza.

We have a real and timely opportunity for a collaborative effort to improve this space. The city has insufficient resources to redevelop the plaza on its own. But in April 1994 the City Council adopted a public-private partnership policy which has been successfully used in the past to provide improvements to the Children's Theater, the new Heritage Park and future possible improvements to the Junior Museum and Zoo.

We have an opportunity to use that cooperative mechanism today to turn Lytton Plaza into a unique locale for the citizens of and visitors to Palo Alto.

The Downtown Business and Professional Association is collaborating with the Friends of the Palo Alto Parks as the key players, along with the city, in an important and desirable civic improvement.
The proposed improvements envision the use of water, greenery and seating to make the plaza more inviting. We want to encourage pedestrian use of downtown spaces, which is important in our quest for increased sustainability of our city and resources.

It should be clear that the purpose of improving Lytton Plaza is not to benefit any single business but to enhance the overall area and make it a truly useable space and a family destination.
There are plans to create a one-day promenade and show movies at the plaza this summer. Future activities could include coordinating community and complementary business events.

Updating Lytton Plaza will be an important step in which to make downtown an inviting and vibrant place to walk, linger, play and socialize by ensuring the revitalization of what could be a signature community asset. Let's make Lytton Plaza attractive, welcoming and worthy of Palo Alto!

(The above appeared as a Guest Opinion in the May 30, 2007, edition of the Palo Alto Weekly).

Comments (5)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2007 at 11:30 am

Read the thread about University Avenue being weekend pedestrian/bicycle precinct and make Lytton Plaza part of this type of pedistrian scene.


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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 30, 2007 at 2:57 pm

I love downtown PA and would frequent it more often both with and without my children if:

1 - there were more child friendly destinations (we miss Kiki's)
2 - There were no panhandlers
3 - There were no drunk people (at least noisy rowdy ones)

I love the idea of closing University on weekends
I'd love to utilze the City Hall plaza too!


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Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 30, 2007 at 4:03 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. You are knowledgeable about the area and have reasonable ideas. Good suggestions and thoughts in all respects. My immediate suggestion is to get rid of the dreadful, sterile-looking egg and making sure the downtown region is family-friendly by enforcing existing laws and keeping things clean. Anything threatening is not going to draw people in to downtown. Personal safety and a pleasant environment draw patrons. Personally, I find downtown Mountain View to be a good example for Palo Alto nowadays.


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Posted by once was one
a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2007 at 5:09 pm

Does the "risk-free" place include the teens NOT smoking in the plaza any more?


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Posted by Carol Brouillet
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 1, 2007 at 9:08 am

Lytton Plaza-

I have been holding a Listening Project at Lytton Plaza every Wednesday from 11 am to 1 pm. We put up banners, signs, tables, give away free cookies, bread rolls, literature, ask people questions, right down their responses, engage in dialogue on issues important to us. Lytton Plaza is conveniently close to Congresswoman Eshoo's office and is also the site of rallies, we have held many, many rallies, then marched to Eshoo's office to deliver our message. Most recently we have held monthly impeachment rallies from 1- 2pm on the second Wednesdays of each month (following the Listening Project). We have had great musicians, singers, as well as speakers, and with all the activity, I have never felt the need to "get a permit" or go through bureaucracy to get permission to exercise our First Amendment Rights.

I am concerned that a "gentrification effort" would stifle future use of Lytton Plaza for those who consider one of the few "visible" free speech areas left. I was almost arrested at a local park recently because I was collecting signatures on an impeachment petition and told that I was in violation of the municipal code- I was outraged that the municipal code could trump the First Amendment in my local park- the one I take walks through regularly.

The insidious attacks upon peaceful dissent and freedom of speech are what concern me about a joint business/government venture to transform Lytton Plaza. Will that destroy or curb my ability to reach the public and press visibly, as I have been doing on a regular basis since October 2001, when the government passed the PATRIOT Act, invaded Afghanistan and ramped up a War of Terrorism against freedom and democracy worldwide.


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