'Mayor's Challenge' takes on neighborhood unity | March 16, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 16, 2012

'Mayor's Challenge' takes on neighborhood unity

Residents could meet and find new connections at the first citywide athletic tournament

by Sue Dremann

What if the mayor issued an invitation — and nobody came?

On March 25, the Mayor's Challenge — a series of athletic events designed to bring neighborhoods together — will kick off with an open-play table tennis competition, which will take place at five venues around Palo Alto.

The challenge came out of discussions with Palo Alto Neighborhoods (PAN) leaders who said residential relationships have shifted toward less discourse and less interaction, Mayor Yiaway Yeh said.

As of Thursday, out of the city's 64,000 residents, only 15 people had signed up for the inaugural event, according to Stephanie Hannah, director of communications for the Palo Alto Family YMCA.

The table tennis tournament, the first of the mayor's challenges, is focusing on five locations throughout the city (see map). The challenge is open to all age groups and there is no age limit.

So far three neighborhoods are represented — Barron Park, Green Acres and Triple El — and Hannah said she hopes there will be many more signups, even on event day. Yeh lives in the Evergreen Park neighborhood.

Some residents said they thought the challenge is a good idea, but others seemed uncertain about whether it would create a strong incentive to be more connected.

Neighborhood building, in whatever fashion, is an asset to crime reduction and way of life, residents said, but the means for achieving connection seems as varied as the city's 34 neighborhoods.

"I like the mayor's plan to engage neighborhoods with each other; it's always a good idea to increase contact and meet others within one's community," Southgate Neighborhood Watch coordinator Jim McFall said.

"I believe getting to personally know the people on your block is one of the best ways to build community on a macro level. Getting to know your neighbors is also an effective way to address crime; witness the recent incidents where observant Palo Alto neighbors have noticed unusual activity on their streets, contacted police and helped to solve recent burglaries," he said.

Triple El resident Laura Lombardi said she and her family will attend at Jordan Middle School.

"As our kids go into new experiences, new schools, graduating on to middle school, high school, there is a huge benefit to know someone, even if it is just by recognition or first name. It adds to feeling more comfortable going into those new situations as opposed to feeling alone, unknown or out of place. True for us adults too," she said.

"It's a great idea to organize it at community centers, local school gyms, etc. It's flexible, (you can) show up when you can. It's very non-threatening. It's not necessary to come up with conversation or talk a lot unless you want to."

Barron Park resident Bob Frost said he had signed up to play at Terman Middle School.

"I will probably watch as much as I will play," he said. "It just sounded like fun."

Frost said it would be interesting to see if people come out. But for others, the challenge fell flat.

"I personally would not go to a neighborhood pingpong tournament, mainly because I have too many scheduled events and parties already (one of which happens to be a pingpong tournament) from our school community at Addison," Downtown North resident Corrie Sid wrote in an email.

There are other challenges on which her neighborhood focuses its energy, she said.

"The struggle with traffic in our neighborhood has left parents unwilling to leave their children to play on their own, even in their own front yard. ... If the mayor really wants our neighborhood to come together, we should block off some of the streets again ... I think we'd have many more opportunities to come together naturally, just because folks would be outside more often than today.

"Perhaps a block party would entice more interest, ... make it more social, versus an activity that forces folks to know a skill or how to do something other than say, 'Hi, I'm your neighbor,'" she said.

George Browning, Charleston Gardens Neighborhood Association leader, said he did not think many in his neighborhood would participate in the pingpong tournament.

"Neighborhood building will be difficult, since the neighborhoods are quite far apart — physically and economically. It will take a lot of work to find common ground — probably achievable in some areas but not others," he wrote in an email.

"This can be done with small beginnings in local neighborhoods, not the entire city. Journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step. He's trying to make a giant leap for mankind," Browning said.

Some residents said they could not discount the importance of personal, face-to-face connections. In Greenmeadow, the association has had a neighborhood meeting house, park and swimming pool since the 1950s — all were built by developer Joseph Eichler as part of his community concept.

"I'm glad Mayor Yeh is being proactive about this. Having fun together is a great way to build relationships. That has been Greenmeadow's philosophy for about 50 years," Penny Ellson of the Greenmeadow Community Association said.

"I think stable, happy communities are like stable happy marriages. Building relationships, understanding each other, happens when we make time to be together," she said.

"A friend of mine used to say, 'Love doesn't just happen. It's a habit. The habit of acting in a loving way makes love happen.' I think community is a lot like that."

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.


Posted by david m, a resident of Duveneck School
on Mar 17, 2012 at 5:10 pm

just signed up. looking forward to ping pong next weekend at the Y. nice thing the mayor's initiating to enhance community. Reminiscent of Siena's Palio - w/out the horses. Palio Alto.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2012 at 7:01 pm

So, where do you sign up?

Posted by Ping Pong in the Parks, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 18, 2012 at 11:54 am

The Neighborhood Challenge is a great idea... and reminded me of the outdoor ping pong tables in Paris and New York that are in constant use. Wouldn't it be fun to have these tables in our parks?

Web Link

Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 18, 2012 at 2:25 pm

I'm keeping things in perspective here, I know we have to invest in community, but at what cost to the tax payers? Our elected officials and city leaders have decried our current financial state and budget deficits for years now. Is this the time to set a bad example with what could be more frivolous spending? So how much is this event going to cost? My opinion personally, whatever the cost, our city leaders should be spending more time setting some financial priorities and then backing up the rhetoric with some real action. I don't want to hear anymore about creating new tax measures to pay for vital infrastructure and public safety needs due to their own poor planning, mismanagement, and frivolous spending on non-essential, niche projects and services. This isn't the time to be playing ping-pong. Get a clue.

Posted by Monica, a resident of Professorville
on Mar 18, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Hi Anon,

To sign up or to get more information, please go to:


Stephanie Hannah, Director of Communications
Palo Alto Family YMCA
3412 Ross Road
Palo Alto, CA 94303
(650) 650-842-7167 or shannah@ymcasv.org.

This event will be hosted at 5 different locations: Jews Community Center (JCC), Jordan Middle School, Terman Middle School, Cubberly Community Center and YMCA.

Posted by I'm In!!!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2012 at 10:28 am

This looks like fun! I just signed up.

Posted by Denese, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2012 at 10:35 am

May I suggest you hold athletic events that are in line with what is offered in your Palo Alto middle and high schools…. Soccer, basketball, volley ball, badminton etc. How many cultures or people really (young people) play table tennis?

You have a great idea! Just wrong sport.

Posted by TimH, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2012 at 11:00 am

This is an admirable project, but it's not surprising that the City has only 15% enrollment to date. The series of events may have higher participation if the "challenge" was removed - why does this need to be a contest? Every kid that ever played "work ups" baseball will tell you that games are more fun when the adults and rules are removed. Too many rules and competitions really drain the fun out of sports, or any group event.

Palo Alto, like many affluent areas, has a lot of community-style choices for families, such as social clubs, athletic groups, church groups, neighborhood hubs and simply family/extended family/friends. This can create a busy life that doesn't always include more than a "hello" for neighbors. Growing up in Palo Alto, our "Old PA" neighborhood did not have block parties, as they had in some cul-de-sac streets over by Jordan. We didn't have any formal organization but still managed to connect with neighbors of all ages in casual conversation and occasional plans together. Our street did spend time outdoors in the Summer months, too. Our homes were of the old design and did not have the massive footprint that many homes feature today, with little lawn and garden area.

Competition seems to be a popular theme today, as much of our mainstream entertainment has sadly replaced storytelling with face off. The true challenge is to create a city that has neighborhood awareness. We cannot roll back the clock or change people, but we can all agree to be friendly and acknowledge that we live around each other and not in “family siloes”. Good luck in this new endeavor!

Posted by Disgusted in College Terrace, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Playing Ping Pong. Yeah, that's the ticket. Reminds me of Yoriko Kishimoto's effort to get people to ride bikes, and Peter Drekmeir's effort to Go Green! to benefit the world. This while Palo Alto burns. Look at our infrastructure. We need elected officials to come up with this idea? Sigh.

Posted by george browning, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 19, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Tim H. That was 15 people, not 15%, signed up.

And why competitions? I would think many, if not most people, don't do competitive sports any more as they "mature". Isn't Palo Alto now 25 or 30% over 60 years of age?

Face to face contact as done in Greenmeadow is the best way to know your neighbor as mentioned in the article. But their success is still within a single neighborhood, and is not set up to interact with other neighborhoods which is what Mayor Yeh seems to have in mind. (This year Greenmeadow is seeking enrollment for their swim facilities, but that's primarily a commercial approach, not a social one.)

I give Mayor Yeh full marks for trying to foster a broad feeling of community within Palo Alto, but he needs other ways to do so. Can anyone offer him other ideas to achieve his goal?

Posted by local mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2012 at 10:43 am

Tim H. is right. There are very few to no opportunities for kids to have informal (yet organized) team sports, like baseball "work ups". There are no intramural afterschool sport leagues in town.

I think the Mayor has the right idea and I think the problem is just getting the word out and understanding how it's going to work. I wanted to send out information on my mom's list, but I was confused myself about how it works and haven't yet signed up my own family!

It may work, it may not, but I think this is the kind of thing where it's worth giving it a try, and it could grow or change into something better. The point is that the Mayor is trying to help foster community interaction, and I think that's wonderful.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Why is there a charge for this?? I'm not sure how I feel about a charge, but I'm usually a lot more open to one if it's advertised up front!

Posted by Susan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2012 at 8:47 pm

My kids play ping pong with their friends from Jordan Middle School after school and over the weekend for fun. Unfortunately we missed the date. We'd be looking forward to the next neighborhood tournament. I think it's a great idea!