A quick weekend trip to my husband’s high school class reunion in Palo Alto gave me an opportunity to compare a few issues that have some commonality with Mason District and Fairfax County. Stormwater, tree canopy, and education were foremost but, as we drove through neighborhoods, I yearned for our bright blue and white street signs at each corner that tell you exactly where you are. California jurisdictions could take a lesson from Fairfax and install some visible and readable signs!
Stormwater and sculpture are not usually considered together, unless you are at the beach building sandcastles. At Stanford University, however, the sculpture – a casting of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais – sited on the Quad near Memorial Church, attracted so many visitors that the soil became compacted and no longer absorbed rainwater. To rectify the problem, the university redesigned the area, created new platforms for the bronze figures, and threaded the ground underneath with storm water structures to handle the run-off. Many visitors were disappointed to find the statues wrapped in blue quilts and surrounded by an opaque chain link fence, but the work should be completed later this month, in time for the rainy season.
The Stanford campus has thousands of acres of native trees – eucalyptus, live oak, palms, and red-barked madrone are spectacular. Many adjacent neighborhoods are lined with street trees of similar nature, along with London plane trees, tall spiky Italian cypress, and a species that looks a little like our redbud. Like Fairfax, tree canopy is important to these Bay area residents, providing welcome cool shade for their sunny Mediterranean-like climate. Medians are especially attractive, with Japanese zelkovas and ornamental grasses that don’t require mowing. We saw no advertisements in the medians there, except for the police signs directing Stanford football fans that night.
At Palo Alto High School (Paly), historic preservation combines with ongoing construction and 2000+ students dashing between classes every day. The gorgeous 1918 Spanish mission-style original building, complete with bell tower, still is in use, augmented by many newer buildings, all in terra cotta and sandstone colors, crowned by tile roofs. Both Arnie Lim, the personable math teacher who acted as tour guide, and Barb Mitchell, vice president of the Palo Alto Unified School District Board, noted that Paly students start school at 8:15 a.m. The later start time means they are more alert and receptive to learning, something still under discussion in Fairfax County. Block schedules allow students to focus in-depth on chemistry experiments, math concepts, even complete a movie or a PE game, because the alternating periods are longer. Our guides also pointed out the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of bicycle racks in the yard. Ms. Mitchell told me that only students from other jurisdictions are bused; everyone else walks, bikes, or drives. Paly also is an open campus, so it is not unusual to see a few hundred students crossing Embarcadero Drive about 11:30 a.m. to grab lunch at the shopping center.
It’s often enlightening to travel, and compare how other communities live. But there’s no place like home, is there?