Autos are prevented from entering all or part of these streets. At the two ends of California Avenue, sit ugly street barricades, in the midst of which are a muddled mishmash of multi-colored-restaurant umbrellas and assorted bushes, which certainly do not serve to visually attract shoppers.
At the Sept. 11 council meeting, the agenda topic was what to do about these parklets – should they be more regulated?
Council member Greg Tanaka opened the discussion with his view that "Right now, you go there, whether it's Cal Avenue or University Avenue, and you see all these temporary barriers.” He likened it to a "temporary carnival" and suggested that the aesthetic chaos puts Palo Alto's downtown districts at a distinct disadvantage when compared to commercial strips in surrounding cities.
I couldn’t agree more.
At the end of the discussion, the council unanimously agreed to adopt a group of new parklet rules and to introduce fees for restaurants with parklets on University Avenue and along portions of California. These include limiting parklet sizes to 350 square feet, requiring that barriers next to parklets be anchored to concrete foundations; requiring enclosure railings to provide visual cues for drivers; and increasing the height of the enclosures around parklets from 38 to 42 inches, according to the Weekly story.
For me, those seem more like structural changes rather than changes to improve the attractiveness of the area.
I suggest that we need council attention on more than just parklets. I want council to think bigger and better: Beautify the entire two shopping areas. I am talking about planters with evergreen bushes uniformly placed in front of store fronts; filling street corner sidewalks with new blossom-filled gardens, and planting lots of perennial long-blooming flowers throughout these downtowns.
We could also give a garden facelift to King Plaza in front of City Hall, the centerpiece of our town, but lacking visual splendor. The city could also put little white lights in the trees along Lytton and Hamilton Avenues, to echo those on University Avenue. Those twinkling lights figuratively warm up the downtown and make the area sparkle.
As for those fees for parklets? Yes, of course, I say facetiously, because the city wants to make money wherever it can. But this city has almost a $1 billion budget, and if you look at the council’s weekly consent agenda where, without discussion you will find the council approves typically tens of thousands of dollars for consultants, contractors, for city works, and maintenance.
I can only wonder why a hundred thousand of that money can’t be saved for beautifying the city once in a decade or so. How much do flowers, containers and bushes cost? And don’t we already have Public Works staff who job is keeping up the parks and streets in our town? They could devote a couple of days spring and fall to spruce up our downtowns.
Perhaps this is a gender issue – well, I really mean a male problem. Most men have more interest in machines and equipment and making things work, and less n plantings and flowers and the ambience of the community.
I’ll use my husband as an example, with his permission.
Last spring, I had spent one day filling the blue ceramic planters in our front yard with annuals – lots of impatiens lobelia and alyssum, and adding three new azaleas into the rectangular planter on our front porch.
When he came home from work, I asked him how he liked the front yard.
“Front yard?” he queried. “What about it? Something new? I didn’t notice it. Why do you ask?”
Because it’s full of new plants, I responded. “Oh, I’ll go out and look. New plants in our front yard?” Yes, I replied.
He liked the plants!
Another planting tale from about 10 years back: I had just returned from my annual love trek to NYC, and had taken a number of photos of how well-landscaped the city was. I showed those photos to two Public Works landscapers, to inspire them. NYC had flowers and greenery around many street trees, ivy and impatiens, protected by low 5” open-aired fences. It had plantings all around the streets and parks in the city, which brought a lot of greenery some of which was placed in front of the tall buildings lining the street. Central Park was a spectacular array of gardens.
The men looked at the photos, nodded and smiled.
“We can do something like that,” they said. And indeed they did.
They stated with the University ‘Avenue entryway to the city at El. Camino, and put in lush foot-high grasses in the median, and then in that triangular garden near the train track, they filled it with red roses and perennial day lilies. I’m not sure those two plants belong together, but they grew well, and provided a nice flower bed entryway to the downtown. They groomed the greenery around City Hall, and added flowers here and there.
We don’t have to look far for examples of street landscaping. Menlo Park does a nice job, and Los Altos downtown is filled with flowers and small landscaped gardens. and she streets are attractive and well-groomed, suggesting people care about their town.
Palo Altans do care too, I am sure. Council members also do as indicted by their discussion on parklets. We don’t need a consultant agency – Stanford Shopping Center hired Katsy Swan years ago and she planted all those year-long flowering pots that makes the center a very special kind of garden exhibit
So, let’s get prettied up!