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).