The Palo Verde neighborhood in south Palo Alto in many ways epitomizes the changes that the city at large has experienced over the past decade.
Located south of Loma Verde Avenue and east of Middlefield Road and identified as tract 5108.1 on the U.S. Census map, the largely residential neighborhood has seen relatively solid growth between 2010 and 2020, with its total population rising from 5,290 to 5,999 residents, a growth of about 13%.
Despite the influx to Palo Verde, the neighborhood has seen virtually no housing development over the 10 years — a statement that can apply to the vast majority of Palo Alto neighborhoods — though it has grown in both average age and racial diversity.
The number of Palo Verde residents who identify themselves as "white" has fallen from 2,927 to 2,524 over this period of time, a drop of about 13.8%. But like other tracts throughout the city, it has seen significant growth in its Asian population, which increased from 2,045 to 2,802 between the two censuses, a rise of 37.4% that roughly mirrors the citywide rate.
Data from the 2020 census, which the U.S. Census Bureau released last week for Palo Verde and every other tract, offers a snapshot of a city that continues to undergo steady — if uneven — change. In some areas, populations have remained remarkably flat between 2010 and 2020. Numerous neighborhoods, particularly in the northern half of the city, have seen their numbers stay stable or, in some cases, diminish. Virtually no new housing has been built there over the past decade.
The new data shows that Palo Alto has become increasingly diverse between 2010 and 2020. Palo Alto's population grew from 64,403 to 68,572 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Despite this 6.5% increase in Palo Alto's citywide population, the number of census respondents who identified themselves as "white alone" dropped between 2010 and 2020, going from 41,359 to 34,191 — a decline of 17.3%.
For the first time, residents who identified themselves as "white only" made up less than half of the overall population: 49.9%, according to the census.
Meanwhile, the number of those who marked "Asian alone" on their forms went from 17,461 to 24,317 over the 10-year period, a jump of 6,856 people. Asian residents now make up 35% of the city's overall population, a rise from 27% in 2010.
The city's Hispanic population grew from 3,974 people in 2010 to 5,091 in 2020, a 28% increase. Meanwhile, the population of residents marking "Black alone" remained almost unchanged, going from 1,197 to 1,225 between 2010 and 2020. Black residents make up about 1.8% of the city's population, according to the census data.
A growing number of residents now identify as being of "two or more" races. That number more than doubled, from 2,631 in 2010 to 6,481 in 2020. Of those, 2,615 in 2020 identified as being white and Asian.
When it comes to the age of residents, the census numbers also show that, compared with 10 years ago, the proportion of children in Palo Alto declined. Those who are 18 or older made up 78.25% of the overall population in the 2020 count, compared to 76.5% a decade prior.
These demographic trends are in evidence in Midtown, the large neighborhood just south of Oregon Expressway, which covers two census tracts, 5109 and 5110. The section of Midtown that is west of Middlefield Road (tract 5109) has seen the percentage of residents 18 or over go from 73.3% to 77.4% over the past decade as its overall population declined from 5,454 to 5,404. Of the respondents who identify with one race, those who marked "white, alone" dipped from 3,311 in 2010 to 2,479 in 2020. At the same time, this Midtown tract has seen a boom in its Asian population, with those who marked "Asian, alone" going from 1,540 to 2,102, an increase of 36%.
On the adjacent Midtown tract (5110), which stretches east from Middlefield toward Greer Park and the city's eastern limits, the growth in the Asian community has more than offset the falling number of white responders, whose population dropped from 3,391 in 2010 to 2,766 in 2020. The Asian population, meanwhile, went from 2,313 to 3,166, driving an overall population increase from 6,402 to 6,939 (8.4%). While the eastern Midtown tract had added 69 new residences over the 10-year period, raising its housing stock from 2,489 to 2,558, the western tract added zero and remained at 2,101.
Much like a decade ago, it is the neighborhoods south of Oregon Expressway that were at the forefront of change in the city over the past decade. To the north, the population of Old Palo Alto, a wealthy neighborhood between Embarcadero Road and Oregon, has remained nearly the same over the 10-year period, with tract 5114 (which includes Old Palo Alto) adding just 10 new residents between 2010 and 2020.
Similar to other neighborhoods, the number of white residents in Old Palo Alto shrank, dropping from 2,801 to 2,163, while the number of "Asian alone" responses rose from 629 to 1,037. The tract's proportion of children has dwindled somewhat: Old Palo Alto residents who are 18 or older made up 74.6% in 2010 and 78.7% in 2020.
Similar trends are evident in Crescent Park (tract 5112), which has seen its overall population drop from 4,849 to 4,706 between 2010 and 2020 and its proportion of residents 18 or older go from 72.1% to 76.5%. While the Asian population went up from 773 to 1,123, that was not enough to offset the decreasing number of white residents, which went from 3,718 to 2,949 over the 10-year period.
Although the city's population grew a modest 6.5% over the decade, its housing growth did not keep pace. Palo Alto added 688 units, or 2.4%, to bring its overall housing stock to 28,904, according to census data.
In some tracts, the quantity of housing actually decreased: Crescent Park lost 18 housing units between the two census counts, going from 1,866 in 2010 to 1,848 in 2020.
Crescent Park wasn't the only north Palo Alto neighborhood, however, that has failed to contribute to the city's much talked about housing shortage. Despite the City Council's efforts to encourage more residential construction in the transit-friendly, service-rich downtown area — a key goal of the city's Comprehensive Plan and numerous zoning reforms — even neighborhoods closest to downtown's commercial core have seen a dearth of new housing. The neighborhoods of Downtown North and University South (tracts 5113.02 and 5113.01, respectively) collectively saw a net total of 18 new residences between 2010 and 2020, according to census data.
Even in areas that have seen more housing growth, construction has been relatively modest when compared to the council's goals. Tract 5117.05, which includes portions of College Terrace, Stanford Research Park and Stanford University, shows 186 new residences between 2010 and 2020, an increase driven largely by Stanford's recent construction of faculty housing in the area.
Outside Stanford, the biggest contributor to the city's housing stock has been Ventura, which is in some ways the polar opposite of Crescent Park. The population of tract 5107, which includes Ventura and Charleston Meadows, increased by about 15% between 2010 and 2020 and the area added 222 housing units.
The census information released Thursday is the federal agency's first batch of data pertaining to the 2020 census. The data is used to, among other things, redraw congressional, legislative and local district boundaries and determine the amount of funding jurisdictions get for health care, infrastructure and other spending priorities. The agency plans to release more detailed data, including household statistics, in the coming months.