Tricia Dolkas moved to Palo Alto's Downtown North neighborhood 30 years ago as a student at Stanford University and is lucky enough to have married and even raised her children there.
She was drawn to the "many different things" the neighborhood has to offer, including its proximity to University Avenue and its history as one of the oldest neighborhoods in Palo Alto.
Downtown North is located between between San Francisquito Creek and University Avenue, and Alma Street and Middlefield Road. It was originally Palo Alto's first working-class neighborhood, according to Dolkas. In the more recent past, it was a popular neighborhood for graduate students since it's so close to Stanford. Today, however, Downtown North is largely comprised of families and young working professionals.
Dolkas and her husband, who raised their now college-aged kids in the neighborhood, live near Johnson Park on Everett Avenue. Growing up in Downtown North shaped her children's childhoods, Dolkas said.
"I was part of the group of neighbors that helped the city when they built (Johnson) Park, which was in '84 or '86," Dolkas said. "The kids very much identify with the park, which is right across the street and growing up, that was a really cool thing for them."
Elaine Uang, who has lived in Downtown North for the last 6 1/2 years with her husband and two young daughters, moved to the neighborhood from downtown Mountain View, which "didn't have the same atmosphere," she said.
"I love that everything is so close. We can just walk out if we need to run an errand, and sometimes for special occasions, we can go get breakfast and come back in time for work and school," Uang said, adding that her daughters "have a good sense of where everything is" as a result.
Uang and her husband bought their house so they could be close to downtown Palo Alto, she said, noting that her family's favorite places to frequent on University Avenue include Cafe Venetia and the Stanford Theatre.
Uang, an architect who bikes to work on High Street each morning, said another one of the reasons her family moved to Downtown North was that "the bike infrastructure" in Palo Alto "was better than anywhere else at the time," but that it could use some updating now.
"I would love for the city to prioritize bike infrastructure and make it safer to use it as a transport option," she said. "Living here should allow us to go about our daily lives in a healthier way and a greener way."
Peak-hour commute traffic that runs through the neighborhood has been an issue for its residents. The city put in traffic controls and implemented a parking permit program to mitigate the effects of both rush-hour traffic and nonresident workers parking in the neighborhood. The traffic controls "have been a positive change," said Dolkas, who described the previous traffic conditions as "very dangerous."
Neilson Buchanan, a 25-year resident of Downtown North, said before the parking permits were implemented, "commercial parking flowed in like a tide: coming in in the morning, and going out at night."
In Buchanan's time living in the neighborhood, where his daughter also lives with her husband and their two sons, Palo Alto has remained largely the same a hub of people and business. Buchanan moved to Downtown because, in some ways, it reminded him of Greenwich Village in New York, near where he had been stationed in the Navy. He liked the mix of homes and businesses, he said, but sees the need for a diversification of retail and restaurants, perhaps replacing some of the large corporate businesses and banks on University Avenue.
"There aren't people living here to support retail and other services," he said. "You can't run, for example, a Moroccan kitchen with native chefs paying Manhattan-level prices to live nearby."
Uang also expressed a desire to see a wider range of eateries on University Avenue, but said in general, "the neighborhood is really great," and that there have been a couple new establishments that have "popped up in the last year."
Though Downtown North is one of Palo Alto's most popular neighborhoods, there is a fair amount of turnover among residents, which Uang attributes to housing costs.
"There is some amount of transience, because families are unable to buy in and become a deeper part of the community here," she said. "I would love it if there were ways that people like early childhood educators and librarians and nurses (could find affordable housing options here)."
She pointed to the cost of living in the neighborhood as a potential deterrent, and said she sometimes receives inquiries regarding affordable housing in Downtown North. However, the existing community is full of "people who are fantastic, intelligent and really nice.
"We have great parks, a great walkable neighborhood, and a lot of really interesting people who still live here," she said. "On the whole, new families that I meet on the playground are happy and excited to be here. They see the amazing wealth of resources and opportunities and fun things to do, and that's what makes the neighborhood great."
Sarah Klearman is a former intern at the Palo Alto Weekly.
Location: Between San Francisquito Creek and University Avenue, Alma Street and Middlefield Road
Child care and Preschools (and nearby: Discovery Children's House Montessori, 437 Webster St.; Downtown Children's Center, 555 Waverley St.; First School, 625 Hamilton Ave.
Fire Station: No. 1, 301 Alma St.
Library: Downtown branch, 270 Forest Ave.
Parks: Cogswell Plaza, Lytton Avenue between Ramona and Bryant Streets; El Camino Park, 100 El Camino Real; El Palo Alto Park, Alma Street at El Camino Real; Hopkins Creekside Park, Palo Alto Avenue from El Camino Road to Middlefield Road; Johnson Park, Everett Avenue and Waverley Street
Post Office: Hamilton, 380 Hamilton Ave.
Public Schools: Addison Elementary School, Jordan Middle School, Palo Alto High School
Shopping: University Avenue, Stanford Shopping Center