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By Steve Levy

Planning and Investing for Whom

Uploaded: Jan 10, 2014

Recent planning discussion in Palo Alto has centered around development issues with many residents dissatisfied with the pace of housing and office growth. One rallying cry has been "let's do what's best for the residents". I think our planning and investment decisions should take more constituencies into account than just the current residents and this thread explores that idea.

Palo Alto is and was a university town long before any of us moved here and will be so after we are no longer residents. Although some residents moved here before the regional research park, medical center and shopping center were developed, the same reasoning applies.

Many key city services and planning/investing decisions serve these groups of people and organizations in addition to serving new businesses. Our police, fire and utility services serve many people besides current homeowners and renters, Our traffic and parking challenges are created by the continuing growth of Stanford and the regional centers mentioned above--more so than the increase in downtown activity, which is also important for planning and investment decisions.

How do these voices get heard and factored into our planning and investing? Their decisions certainly have an impact on the city.

Then there is the question of which residents we should be planning and investing for.

The first point to acknowledge is that planning and investing inherently requires taking a long term perspective. Infrastructure investments are supposed to last for 30 years or more. The impacts of our decisions on planning for growth will mostly be felt in the future.

Many residents are here temporarily. Some are here for a long time. Many active participants in recent growth and investment debates are older as I am and will not be here in 30 years.

How do we include the voices of those who are yet to come? How do we include the voices of younger residents? I am going to a Leadership Palo Alto meeting next week and will present to a group that includes many younger residents. I will be asking them for their views on growth, planning and investing.

For it soon will be their city.

Planning and investing is for the future so how do we take that into account.

I read posters arguing that everyone wants to live the way they do or did but I find that is not true for our children. My son and his wife do so many things differently than we do, it is hard to keep track.

I see his friends and other young people having different preferences for living space and transportation as well as all smartphones and related activities that we used to do differently.

My view is that I have both a generational obligation to carry on the investments and planning done by the generation that gave our family a great city to live in AND acknowledge that I knowingly moved to a city that is a great university and regional tech center town AND try to anticipate what kind of city the next generation might want, remembering that I am now over 70 and should be listening to the voices who will live here in future years.