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Kids and a sense of community, Palo Alto vs. LAH

Original post made by Peninsula Dweller, another community, on Apr 17, 2007

Playing pickup ball and roaming the neighborhood with the kids who lived nearby are some of my fondest memories from childhood, and I always thought that our own child, who now is 2, would experience the same things.

However, all the parents of school-age children we know tell us that times have changed, and that as a results of heightened concerns about child safety these days, kids only play together during parent-supervised playdates or organized sports events.

First of all, I would like to hear from PA residents whether they've found this to be true in their own neighborhoods. And if this is true, does this mean that the sense of community in neighborhoods has been seriously eroded--to the point where kids
get much less benefits than in the past from living in a traditionally neighborly place like PA?

Related to this, it seems that there is a marked discrepancy between what one gets in terms of dollar value between PA and Los Altos Hills--essentially similar sized houses, but with huge 1 acre lots in LAH and much smaller ones in PA. I've always thought that relatively isolated enclaves like LAH would be much less fostering for children than towns like PA with sidewalks, closeby neighbors, lots of kids, etc.

But if neighborhood kids don't even play together these days and are driven everywhere, is this discrepancy between the isolated enclaves and the formerly closely-knit neighborhoods even true any more?

As one who lives in a nearby town who is contemplating a move to your community, I'd be very interested in hearing people's thoughts on this. Thank you!

Comments (17)

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2007 at 8:50 am

There is truth in the fact that kids nowadays only get together for organized playdates or organized sports. However, much of this goes on in random fashion. For example, many playdates are arranged as school gets out and parents agree on whose house and for how long. Also, many kids play together in school playgrounds while parents chat. Organized sports are of course big and during a sport season, there are so many commitments that the kids don't have much time for pick up games. However, on the many days off from school, some of the more enlightened kids do organize (extrememly well) pick up games at a local park. This of course happens at holiday weekends and during school vacations usually on an ad hoc basis.

I think that you will find that there is a community in Palo Alto and if you and your family move here and get involved in school and sports you will find that this is a community, albeit a different feeling community to what you were used to as a child. It is done differently now, but that does not mean it has gone away. The parents of a team sport do get to know each other over the years and the chatting of parents at an event often means that we "miss" our child's star performance because we weren't paying attention.

Don't feel that Palo Alto is a place where you will move and feel like an outsider. That is not the case. Just get involved at whatever your child's interests take you and voila, you will find your community.

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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 17, 2007 at 8:55 am

I think you'll find it varies from neighborhood to neighborhood - how many kids are in close proximity to each other, is there a park near-by, a neighborhood with smaller lots, closer together homes will probably have more young kids who play together,street with little traffic promotes more freedom than Embarcadero...

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Posted by teresag
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 17, 2007 at 9:07 am

I agree with Palo Alto mom. It varies. Our neighborhood happens to have a park, relatively quiet streets and a lot of kids. My kids often going tearing out of the house and down the street to their friends' houses. There are lots of impromptu sleep-overs and play dates due to the proximity of the other kids. I also agree that the organized activities (e.g. sports) result in a lot of community building.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 17, 2007 at 9:34 am

I'm older than you (original poster). You bring up a good point: When your kid becomes interested in playing with other kids, good luck doing that casually - everything must usually be formally scheduled nowadays as people are importantly busy. Each child must have a calendar, too. This is true in educated communities. One memory I have from years ago is my daughter having regular play dates with a boy (from age 3 through about age 7) who went through at least four nannies during that time span, so I had to deal with all those people.

There are several points:
1)the hyper-competitiveness of many parents here is the reason why children are booked into numerous time-consuming scheduled/supervised commitments/activities, even at a pretty young age. Be sure some of these are competitive, not just "drawing." The belief is that the child may have a hard time catching up if this (competitive coaching/practice/learning) isn't started early.
I believe the child should have some personal choice about these, including unstructured time, but I seem to be in a minority about this.
2)concerns about child safety, to SOME extent, mean your child won't wander off with neighbor kids and climb a local tree (that was fun, but then I'm going back to about 1970). We got a lot of exercise though we were not in sports, everyone was slender. We got dusty and muddy, had scrapes. That said, the biking is good in Palo Alto (be defensive, though), a lot of kids bike around and this should be promoted even more. The Palo Alto mayor is doing a good job on this.
3)the wired/electronic/unwired (cell phones) media - massive screen time has a major impact/influence on kids now. Your kid is too young, but wait until later. When there IS unstructured time available to kids, it is usually spent indoors nowadays hour after hour messaging multiple friends. How about seeing them face to face?? I am so grateful that video/computer games never appealed much to my kids. Yes, they message a lot - it's necessary to be social - there are pluses and minuses. Kids usually have multiple screens going.
I strongly oppose games and I think games are a waste of time and often trashy. On the other thread about the Virginia college tragedy, someone wrote that the shooter was likely an avid "gamer" who practiced with violent games -let's see if that is true as more details come out.
Sure, I think parents should encourage their kids to engage in worthwhile activities, with the idea that "worthwhile" can sometimes include skateboarding around, reading a book selected by the child, etc., hanging out with friends. Parents are very concerned with their child's college prospects and don't like to see kids "waste" time(yes, it is a competitive time with admissions), but we may end up with a shortage of poets and creative types in the current generation (if anyone cares).

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Posted by Mother of 2 in Palo Alto
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2007 at 12:14 pm

I live on a short street, about 20 houses, where a lot of kids of compatible ages live, mostly now in their teens. When they were in elementary, their after-school calendars chopped up casual play opportunities. If my kids were home, the neighbors' kids were out, and vice versa. Sometimes I felt very disappointed, even cheated in a way--so many kids nearby, but so often no one to play with unless we imported kids from school, sports teams, Sunday school. I didn't want to have my kids programmed every day, and even if I could afford all the lessons and activities, I didn't want to be chaufeuring kids all over town (they never went to the same place at the same time together). Another complicationl, it's parents who chose their kids' friends when transportation is involved.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Apr 17, 2007 at 12:29 pm

You are paying for convenience by smaller lots in PA. If you have kids, there are pluses and minuses.

Plus of staying in PA - CONVENIENCE, CONVENIENCE, CONVENIENCE. Lots of local kids and activities and stores. Lots less driving. Kids can become more independent, sooner.

Plus of living in LAH - serenity, land, paths.

Negatives of PA - noise, hearing your neighbors fight, small lots, traffic and crowded.

Negatives of LAH - who is my neighbor? haven't seen any of them in months. Where are the kids? never see any outside. Have to drive your kid to a playdate only 2-3 "blocks" away because that is 1/2 mile and on streets where nobody is watching from the houses so your kid is very vulnerable to whoever is driving by. community? how do you spell that?

good luck deciding. if I could do it again, i would live in PA for the child years, and move here for pre and post children years.

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Posted by bikes2work
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Apr 17, 2007 at 6:07 pm

We live in the Crossings in Mountain View. Web Link Thanks to Los Altos Hills wanting a "neighborhood" school, LASD is considering moving our neighborhood away from our neighborhood school (Santa Rita) to Covington School that is over twice as far away. The Crossings neighborhood is truly a neighborhood. My 8-year old regularly goes outside and plays with other neighbor kids completely on his own. Like I remember doing in my youth. I know more neighbors here than I ever did anywhere else that I've lived, and I could truly give up my car if I wanted to. I really only need it for vacations and weekend trips.

So they are going to take the tightest neighborhood around and deprive them of a neighborhood school so the completely un-neighborly LAH can have their own neighborhood school. Talk about taking from the have-nots and giving to the haves.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Apr 17, 2007 at 11:23 pm

No, don't blame the Hills. The Los Altos School District proposed, and got, a tax increase from us, then immediately closed our only school. That is all the Hills wanted, to keep the only school left to them open, and not have to bus/drive yet further away. One school left anywhere near us. Ummm, that is what started it.

The result has been long and bitter. Lots of bad feelings. Obviously still happening. But, you can't blame people for wanting to keep what you are wanting to keep.

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Posted by no name
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2007 at 11:27 pm

Well, all of the above is true. True that kids are overscheduled with structured activities and classes, true that they play video games too much, and true that it is hard to find a mutually convenient time for playdates.

I will add in my neighborhood (a small quiet street with a number of young children), parents will pick and choose which kids they will allow to play with theirs, and rule out a number of potential playdates based on such things as the size of the house they live in, or their nationality... in other words people that they deem different from themselves (think "inferior") will be rejected.

Not a big loss not to be involved with those people. However it does tell you about Palo Alto. It is not such a nice place after all.

That is also the sad truth about Palo Alto.

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Posted by bikes2work
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Apr 18, 2007 at 8:26 am

Resident of Los Altos Hills,

How will you feel when LASD sends all the Mountain View apartment dwellers to your new Bullis-Purissama school? I plan to be at all the meetings to fight for that exact scenario if they won't let us continue at Santa Rita. Bullis will be our third closest school. If we have to drive all that distance, we might as well get the newest school with the smallest class sizes.

I do blame the LASD for the most part. They shouldn't have given in to your demands to reopen the school in the first place. Demographics and geography mean you have to drive! We can safely bike to Santa Rita. Many families in the apartments even walk. They are probably your housekeepers and gardeners.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Apr 18, 2007 at 11:24 am

I advise you to research all the facts and history before you stand up and talk about things you do not know, or you will just embarrass "your side".

As for your comment implying that we wouldn't want "all the "apartment kids" coming"..if you really think that is how we think in the hills, you have no clue who we are, and are already trying to turn this into a "class" battle.

good luck!

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Posted by bikes2work
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Apr 18, 2007 at 2:45 pm

My education about the issue is fine. Educate yourself about the current process by reading the recent LASD Attendance Advisory Committee meeting minutes available here:

Web Link

Now imagine yourself in the neighborhood North of El Camino. "[It] needs to be split into at least 3 schools" Your logic is that *everyone* deserves a neighborhood school. That is my logic too. But we are the ones who always have to move (and probably even be split up). The Crossings has been moved to different schools 4 times in the last 10 years.

Someone on the Committee is already assuming this is a "class" issue. They don't want us to go to Bullis-Purissama because they think the LAH people will then not send their kids to it. They specifically changed scenarios that originally had apartment areas going to Bullis-Purissama.

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Posted by Peninsula Dweller
a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2007 at 6:00 am

Peninsula Dweller is a registered user.

Thanks, everyone for the thoughtful and informative comments. The last few seem to show that the LAH elementary school issue is a sensitive one...but if anyone has any more thoughts on my original question, I'd appreciate it!

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Posted by Resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2007 at 2:34 pm

Looking at this thread, looks like you should check out which school district you want to live in ( LASD or PAUSD) also, if you decide on LAH. One already has a charter, the other is probably having one come to its district. 1/2 the Hills go to one, the other 1/2 to the ohter.

I think the way the 2 districts are funded is different, though, so that a Charter creates more wear and tear on one than the other, but I am not sure if this is true. The point being that going to the District that is not hurt as much by a charter might be better for your kids in the long run so that their "share" of District funds remains constant, and you don't lose your right to choose a school because someone else has taken with a Charter.

Correct me, anyone, if I got this wrong! I have been trying to follow all the politics of the area because I am thinking of moving "up" in the world also, for the schools, but starting to wonder if I am just as well off staying in Mountain View and buying a bigger house!

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Posted by Duveneck Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 30, 2007 at 9:31 pm

I think Palo Alto is a great place to live in the Bay Area. I don't know about Los Altos in comparison.

Palo Alto has a lot of people that care about education and children. People are fairly down-to-earth despite the wealth. In my 20+ years I haven't run into any people that don't let their kids play with kids with small houses, only parents not wanting their kids to play with kids that get their kids into trouble (which has its own issues)! People seem to look out for each other, and there is the possibility of creating a community of friends in theBay Area, where community is hard to find.

I heard from a friend who lives in another popular Bay Area suburban city that he thought Palo Alto was big enough that there were multiple "groups" of people, yet small enough to know people and have community (when comparing Palo Alto to his smaller city which seemed to have one group of people that lived there a long time, and which was hard to "break into" - i.e. he thought his town was more snobby). I am sure lots of people think that PA is snobby, but I can't believe it is more snobby than LAHs (but, I haven't lived there).

Good luck!

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Posted by Pennsy resident
a resident of another community
on Jun 6, 2007 at 4:40 pm

Hello - we are considering a relo to PA. Have 3 children, ages 13, 11 and 6. They are currently in small, private schools here in suburban Phila. Your public schools are all top-rated online. Plse, any advice on neighborhoods/schools that would be most welcoming ?? (I'm concerned about the class sizes and seemingly over-crowded classrooms I see alluded to here on the chats.)Anyone really love their schools and can give me a good overview of the type of kids who go there/thrive there? Trying to make the best descision for our family -- Many Thanks!!!

[looking for a "sense of community", kids having independence yet feel safe to allow them to go places alone, knowing you can know and trust your neighbors. Unfort. we also drive/plan/control too much here as well]

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Posted by KCM
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 6, 2007 at 7:44 pm

I’d say you could find what you’re looking for pretty much anywhere it Palo Alto; it’s just not that big. People (especially on forums like these) tend to magnify tiny differences and gripe about small problems. I guess it’s a natural tendency for humans to sort themselves into tribes, but most neighborhoods here are similarly laid out - small homes on small lots (6000 - 10,000 square feet), one and two story detached single family homes. Some neighborhoods were built before the war in Victorian or Craftsman styles, others are post-war ranch or California Modern (yay Eichler, our own indigenous architectural style!). Apartment and condo buildings are also not large and are pretty well integrated into the neighborhood fabric.

Parks and schools are distributed throughout town, and while people are concerned about schools becoming crowded, the elementary schools have 20 max. students per class. Coming from the land of bricks and mortar, you will probably be shocked at the appearance of our stick and straw-built school buildings, but I doubt you’d think them over-crowded.

Seriously though, Greenmeadow is the best community neighborhood.

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

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