Change abounds as the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley” grows into the future
The evolution of a modern city depends on the commitment to what lies beneath it. In one of California’s most distinctive metro locales, a dedication to smart growth is revitalizing its city center for a new generation of Silicon Valley aspirants.
The birthplace of Facebook and current home base to Tesla, Houzz, and dozens of other cutting edge firms, Palo Alto is one of California’s most forward thinking civic innovators.
A 31-mile dark fiber ring network powers the city’s high-speed internet. In 2015, the city opened a Civic Technology Center to incubate innovation for the community’s IT services. The city’s parking sensor network shows open parking spots in real time. A local pedestrian and bike counting program used sensors to monitor traffic as part of its “Safe Routes to School” program.
Palo Alto is the only city in California to own and operate six essential utilities, and is the first utility agency in Silicon Valley to earn accreditation from the American Public Works Association. The agency, Palo Alto City Utilities, operates electric, fiber optic, natural gas, water, and wastewater services.
The city has provided 100% carbon neutral electricity to its residents since 2013, and since July of last year, provides 100% carbon neutral natural gas.
Last year, the American Public Power Association (APPA) named the city’s public utility group as a diamond level Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3). The RP3 program recognizes community-owned, not-for-profit public power utilities that exhibit operational excellence and demonstrate leading practices in reliability, safety, workforce development and system improvement. The diamond designation is the program’s highest award.
The utilities group recently received an APPA grant to help fund a project designed to provide information and tools to support public power utilities in evaluating the feasibility of deploying local electricity networks known as thermal microgrids.
And did we mention that the city’s purchasing department is paperless?
Purchasing is one of the most paper-intensive departments in any corporation, much less in a city of 66,649 residents. Palo Alto’s purchasing department is responsible for buying everything from vehicle fleets and professional services to heavy machinery, as well as the materials required for the city’s upkeep and essential services provision.
The drive to go paperless was fueled by the city’s “cloud first digital city” approach. As we’ve seen where cloud-based processes have been successfully implemented on a company level, no doubt Palo Alto reaped tremendous benefits in efficiency and error reduction by making the shift away from paper.
Strengthening the City Center
Never mind the hype around “infrastructure weeks” that amount to vigorous horn blowing and little else — Palo Alto gets the importance of supporting its vitality with strong infrastructure.
The latest project to underscore that commitment is Upgrade Downtown. Launched in 2017, the project is making a series of critical upgrades to the city’s streets, utility pipes, traffic signals, and parking facilities.
The sweeping $16.4 million initiative includes widened sidewalks, over 16,000 linear feet of new gas pipes, and roughly 2,750 linear feet of fiber optic conduit, which will help the city provide high speed internet services for years to come.
The star of the project is one that critical infrastructure geeks will love and city residents will benefit greatly from: the replacement of water and gas mains with pipes made from high-density and medium-density polyethylene, respectively.
According to Palo Alto Online the change will “eliminate leaks in the project area through the fusion of joints, increase the reliability and protection of the water and gas distribution systems, increase required flow and pressure for fire protection, make the system more resilient against corrosion and earth movement, and reduce energy costs."
In all, 26 blocks of the downtown area will be affected. The project is scheduled for completion in 2021.
While it may not seem to be the most alluring undertaking in a city known for its futuristic bent, it speaks volumes about the city’s commitment to staying vibrant, relevant, and livable. That’s not just smart — it’s beautiful.
Palo Alto is a city in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. It’s part of Silicon Valley and home to Stanford University. On campus, Cantor Arts Center’s broad collection includes a notable group of Rodin sculptures. University Avenue runs through downtown Palo Alto and has casual and upscale restaurants, plus well-known chain stores and independent boutiques.