Fred Kent, an authority on revitalizing city spaces, led a “Community Conversation” Jan. 27, with 110 participants envisioning what a revamped Los Altos community center might look like.
The Los Altos Forward-sponsored event was held a day before the Los Altos City Council’s discussion on the civic center. At their meeting, councilmembers opted to re-engage Anderson Brulé Architects to facilitate workshops and public meetings over a 10-month period to develop a new plan for replacing the dilapidated Hillview Community Center. Two of the five councilmembers were present at the Kent event.
The center, comprising 50-year-old buildings that once housed Hillview School, is part of the 18-acre civic center complex that includes the library, the Los Altos History Museum, city hall, athletic fields and the police station.
Kent, founder and president of Project for Public Spaces, introduced possible elements a high-functioning community center could feature. He broke participants into eight groups, each focusing on a specific interest, ranging from the senior center to a skate park.
“People were coming up with amazing ideas,” Kent said after the meeting. “They were realizing what could be done.”
Some improvements could be incorporated in the short term without major expense. Among the options, Kent suggested realigning walkways to provide better connectivity between the library and History Museum. The parking area in front of the library could be converted into a plaza that encourages people to walk around and mingle. Even small changes like strategic placement of tables and chairs could make a big difference, participants discovered. Some changes could be installed within three months, Kent said.
Kent’s philosophies include the beliefs that a community’s residents have better ideas about placemaking than architects, and that often elements must be turned upside down before they can be set rightside up. He urged participants not to limit themselves in their visioning.
At one point, event organizer Event organizer Kim Cranston asked participants for a show of hands as to how many would support a community center three stories or higher. All but two of the 110 attendees raised their hands. Supporters contend that a higher-density community center could consolidate functions, cost less and allow more open space.
Groups were asked to weigh in on what they like and don’t like about the current community center.
Gary Hedden, a member of the Los Altos Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, said his group, assigned to parks and recreation elements, appreciated the trees at the center but noted that Hillview has a “run-down look.” He came away from the meeting encouraged that “things can be done without spending a lot of money.”
Karina Nilsen was so inspired by the Kent presentation that she attended the city council meeting the following night to suggest ideas for the community center, including adding a dog park and creating a prominent fountain or water element that brings people together.
For 13-year-old Dre Ortiz, the Kent presentation was his first public meeting. He attended to lobby for a permanent skate park at Hillview. The Blach Intermediate School student said a skate park similar to the one at Burgess Park in Palo Alto would be used by “tons of people.”
The next Los Altos Forward “Community Conversation,” featuring former Los Altos City Manager Arne Croce, is scheduled 5:30-7:30 p.m. today at Main Street Cafe, 134 Main St. Croce’s topic is “Life After Dark: Let’s Go to the Movies! An Epic Tale of Downtown Resilience.”
Los Altos Forward is a project of the Los Altos Community Foundation.
For more information, visit losaltosforward.org.