Real Estate

Downtown North

Neighborhood draws people who want vibrant community

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

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


19 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 9, 2015 at 10:20 pm

Not sure if this is a promotional article for Eric and his PAF group or a real estate ad to attract buyers to downtown north. Either way, I completely disagree with Eric's view on the current livability and quality of life in downtown north. Downtown north was much nicer before the over development.

20 people like this
Posted by Another resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2015 at 11:19 pm

I agree with #resident. The choice of that fellow as representative of the neighborhood is strange. He advocates for development downtown and I do not believe that is a popular view with downtown residents.
The pleasure he takes in walking to his new job for a multinational billion dollar company located downtown, which advocates for more downtown housing, is not a coincidence.
These neighborhood profiles are done for the Real Estate section of the paper.

24 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2015 at 12:01 am

The most telling quote from Eric is at the end of the article: "So much about the neighborhood is great. People are overly obsessed with parking," he added.

Eric is on the Planning & Transportation Commission - I don't think he can represent the residents with this type of attitude & opinion.

32 people like this
Posted by Non-residentialist
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2015 at 12:23 am

Ok, we get it. You residentalists hate development, and the traffic it must inevitably bring. And I'm sure the 80s or 90's when you moved to Palo Alto were sooo much better.

And you distrust people who disagree with you, including, I suppose Eric Rosenblum. But you guys aren't the only ones who live here, and it may be shocking, but not everyone agrees with you.

13 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 10, 2015 at 12:31 am

I don't remember so many cars getting broken into during the 80s or 90s.

8 people like this
Posted by Non-residentialist
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2015 at 1:16 am

@musical, Let me see your unrelated comment with one of my own - I don't remember so many bike lanes back in the 80s.

16 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 10, 2015 at 10:45 am

mauricio is a registered user.

We are not against growth, w are against over development. Palo Alto has been scandalously over developed and it's time to stop. Is a nutritionist against food when she advises an obese client to stop binging? The developers and their allies are trying to turn Palo Alto into a human sardine can, and the residentialists are trying to stop, or at least slow them down.

Eric Rosenblum had spent 10 years in China, where immense population density is the norm, and he doesn't seem to be bothered by it. PAF is completely misplaced. The life style they seek exists just 35 miles up 101, in a city called San Francisco [portion removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 10, 2015 at 11:38 am

Is anyone surprised that Palo Alto is more suburban that Asia's high-density cities?? At least for now.

There's another city that's just south of here, San Jose.

19 people like this
Posted by non-residentialist
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2015 at 2:06 pm

I didn't spend 10 years in Asia, and I am also not bothered by the density.

Also, if you're inviting Eric or me to move to San Francisco, I might similarly invite you to move to Los Altos, or Springfield, Mo, or whatever sleepy little town you pine for so longingly.

26 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Mar 10, 2015 at 2:22 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

I live downtown. I work downtown as does Eric. I have been here fifty years, never been to China and don't want to live in SF or San Jose. I guess Eric doesn't either.

I like downtown. There were very few housing choices downtown that met our needs when we were looking. We are grateful someone had built our condo building and I am sure the other 16 households feel the same way none of whom are young childless tech workers.

No one told us we could not live downtown. If it feels like a "sardine can" to some posters, they can stay away or try Los Altos as the previous poster suggested. They seem to have no problem telling other people what to do so see what it feels like.

As to density housing advocates including myself are calling for what is considered medium density. If we wanted to live in 20 or 40 story towers, we are free to do so but are choosing to prefer Palo Alto with its mixture of single family homes and a slowly growing number of medium density developments.

21 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2015 at 2:53 pm

Eric Rosenblum is a registered user.

Hello everyone...

I do love Downtown North. For the record, I think that I said something like "people overly index on parking", which is product manager speak for "parking is one of many things to care about. It's not the only thing. It's certainly not the most important thing. But it is one thing."

I used to live in a neighborhood where parking was plentiful (in South Palo Alto). If you asked me what I liked best about the neighborhood, though, I wouldn't have listed "convenient parking" as one of my top 10 considerations.

Below is an exercise that I sent to Neilson Buchanan. I'm really interested in how some of you would respond-- I think that it's good to understand how parking relates to "neighborhood quality/ neighborhood happiness". I realize that my own answers may be different from many, but I'm curious to see the range of perspectives.

If I had to make a formula that calculated my happiness with my neighborhood, the individual variables that went into it would be something like:

a = friendly, diverse neighbors
b = physical safety/ property safety
c = walkability/ bikeability
d = nearness to services
e = overall attractiveness
f = availability of community resources (parks, libraries, etc)
g = convenience and availability of parking
h = nearness to work
i = nearness to schools
j = quality of nearby schools

I would then assign weights to these factors, something like

f(neighborhood happiness) =~ (10a +10b + 9c +9d + 8e + 7f + 6g + 8h + 8i +10j) (I'm just making up the weightings, but they're reasonably close to how I actually feel).

So, I completely agree that "convenience and availability of parking" is a very important issue. It's definitely one of my "top 10 issues contributing to neighborhood quality and happiness"

however, it's important to note that this is a PERSONAL metric. this is what matters to ME. It's possible that someone else's formula is (2a + 9b + 2c +2d + 8e + 1f +10g + 0h + 0i +0j) ==> this would be someone who wants a safe, attractive neighborhood that is very quiet, and who is less interested in the local school community, and who doesn't care about local jobs.

What do the rest of you think? Are there additional factors that are important to you? how do you weight them?

4 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 10, 2015 at 3:04 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

24 people like this
Posted by resident for vibrancy
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 10, 2015 at 3:16 pm

the #1 reason that my family moved to Palo Alto is because it was the closest location to both of our jobs that still had a happening downtown. We both lived and worked in PA, so living in SF or SJ didn't really make sense for us. Our quality of life is high because we don't spend hours everyday in a car - we get to spend it at home and with each other. We were ok with paying a premium for not having to commute- whether that meant commuting to work or just to go out to dinner. So, being able to easily walk or bike to places, and of course, having places to actually go to was our top priority. If we had to cut down to one car in exchange for more restaurants/retail and an extended urban downtown, then we would make that trade-off. It becomes an easier trade-off to make the more stuff there is to walk to! We hope that the streets on either side of University start seeing some vitality- more restaurants and retail on ground floors and less office and we hope that the Cal Ave area gets some more hangout spaces - a late-night coffee shop/wine bar with live music would be great. Too much of Cal Ave is closed in the evenings right now for it to be a good neighborhood hangout spot in the way that Castro St is. We're hoping to see PA become a place where there are more community-oriented spaces- where neighbors can meet and spend time together in a nice atmosphere - listening to music, poetry, sipping some wine under the stars, etc. That social aspect is really important to us. If we were looking for quiet suburbia, it would have been a lot cheaper to get it in Menlo Park and Sunnyvale.

22 people like this
Posted by Josh Lehrer
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2015 at 3:40 pm

We moved from midtown to downtown north several years ago and what we love most is being able to stroll, bike or scooter with our kids to parks, shops, cafes and restaurants. The neighborhood is unique because it is quiet and residential but is also practically downtown. Being close to a vibrant downtown brings lots of benefits and some challenges (like parking) but on balance is a huge plus. Otherwise it would just be suburbia.

21 people like this
Posted by Elaine
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2015 at 3:51 pm

Downtown Palo Alto is delightful. There's always something to do, something to see, and it's wonderful to be able to bump randomly into people. As a parent of young children, there's a lovely convenience about having so many things close at hand - the drugstore to run to when your kid is sick, grocery store and convenience shop when you run out of milk or eggs, the Day One center for kids activities, the park for the playground, the library for storytime. And I love that all these things are in walk/bike distance.

I've been a South Bay/Peninsula resident for 15 of the last 26 years. As a teenager growing up in Cupertino (which lacked a downtown), downtown Palo Alto was the cool city to hang out in. As a college student, Border's, Swenson's (now Cream) and Torrefazzione (now Venetia) were the places we went to escape "the Stanford bubble". Now there are more coffee shops, eateries, restaurants, and lots more people working downtown, but it also makes for a very interesting and lively scene. I love hearing the many languages being spoken on the street, I love hearing about the ideas people are sharing and pitching to each other, I love the energy that people exude. Downtown Palo Alto has a highly enviable mix - livable neighborhoods with great amenities on either side and the central public, commercial core.

Certainly many things about downtown Palo Alto have changed, there are some impacts (like crazy drivers and difficulty finding daytime parking) and there are things that I'd like to improve (safer biking, wider/smoother sidewalks, retail options like a mommy cafe like Bumble, a ramen house, a bookstore that's open late, live music). But on the whole Downtown North is a great place to live. I think the vibrancy Eric talks of and the greenery Geoff highlights both exist in a wonderful way. Thanks to both for sharing their stories!

7 people like this
Posted by Pseudo-science
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2015 at 3:56 pm

[Post removed.]

15 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Mar 10, 2015 at 4:39 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

For Eric's survey, I would rate

c = walkability/ bikeability
d = nearness to services
h = nearness to work

as the top qualities for where we live

e = overall attractiveness
f = availability of community resources (parks, libraries, etc)
a = friendly, diverse neighbors

as the next highest group of qualities

We have underground parking (included in the cost of the condo)
and do not have children in school

We have felt safe both when living on Edgewood and now downtown.

6 people like this
Posted by Pseudo-science
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2015 at 5:32 pm

[Post removed.]

13 people like this
Posted by Citizen 7
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2015 at 5:44 pm

This kind of "advertorial" belongs in the real-estate section. The real-estate advertisers were probably whining to the Weekly's ad sales manager about all the bad press Palo Alto livability was getting, so the Weekly did this puff-piece as "make good".

15 people like this
Posted by ummm...
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2015 at 7:23 pm

@ Citizen 7: "This kind of "advertorial" belongs in the real-estate section"

It IS in the real estate section (you have to click on the link to see the full article. That will show you what section it is in). I hope that makes you happier.

@ Eric Rosenblum: I'll play:

Most important items:
a = friendly, diverse neighbors
c = walkability/ bikeability
d = nearness to services
j = quality of nearby schools
f = availability of community resources (parks, libraries, etc)

The things that you missed: Caltrain! Stanford!! Those are huge benefits to us in DTN

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2015 at 8:27 pm

I prefer not to play the game. This is not solving anything and this article was written so PAF could have another discussion about what he believes Palo Alto should be.

14 people like this
Posted by @ resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 10, 2015 at 9:07 pm

This is bizarre. The article (in the real estate section, about what it's like to live in DTN) goes up on March 9. There are no comments for a day. You then post a comment (anonymously) attacking Mr. Rosenblum and PAF. Your "friends" (or just you writing under different names) seem to anonymously agree.

A bunch of actual people using their real names start responding to tell you that they are pretty happy with Downtown North, and aren't so concerned about parking.

You then complain that the whole article was for "him" (who?) to promote PAF? No one mentioned it until you did. And, the only people naming themselves are people that you don't agree with. All of the critical people are not using their names. For all I know, it could all be the same person who really hates cars (and PAF).

On the side of "named people who live in the area and think that there is more to life than parking", we have Elaine, Eric, Steve, and Josh. There are a couple of additional anonymous posters. Of the "pro-parkers": all pseudonyms.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

After experiencing harassment, owner of Zareen's restaurants speaks out about Islamophobia, racism
By Elena Kadvany | 28 comments | 7,206 views

Don't Miss Your Exit (and other lessons from an EV drive)
By Sherry Listgarten | 14 comments | 2,395 views

Goodbye Food Waste!
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 2,307 views

Premarital and Couples: Tips for Hearing (Listening) and Being Known
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 840 views

Is racism also a local problem?
By Diana Diamond | 24 comments | 633 views


Register today!

‚ÄčOn Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More