Thursday, 18 October 2012

Palo Alto: In a city of the future / It is difficult to concentrate

The subtitle of this post is from the 'Palo Alto' by Radiohead - one of my all-time favourite songs from my favourite band - you can see the lyrics here.  (There's more on my musical taste here).  There's a great line in that song about how "everyone is made for life" - I've just been at the house of the person who wrote the original code for what became Yahoo! Mail - it certainly was an impressive space.  

I always intended to spend some time in Silicon Valley and I had some good meetings set up but it was primarily intended as bit of a staging-post for my trip to Yosemite National Park.  So I only planned to be here for two nights.  I'm now regretting that a bit as I've really loved the brief time that I've been here and I could make it a longer stay.  Oh well, put it on the list for a return visit...  I particularly love the sense of confidence and progress that was what made me like Chicago but the amount of green space and community minded activities is also very attractive.  Now if they just could get some public transport going...

It's been really interesting to spend some time with my Servas hosts Joyce and Chris and their two children - my last Servas hosts of the trip actually so I'll be sad to lose that part of the experience.  Their home is lovely and I was made to feel very welcome including being invited to a local author's book reading (hence the visit to the Yahoo! Mail home).  

The meetings I had set up were not until around lunchtime so in the morning I took the opportunity to walk 'The Dish' a local park (named for the large radio telescope at the top of the hill) and joggers' paradise that's actually part of the Stanford University campus (and sits just over the Stanford Linear Accelerator - the predecessor of the Large Hadron Collider).  We set off about 9am and it was already very hot - a couple of shots below but they don't really capture the attractiveness of the location very well. 

I then had a lunch meeting with a couple of people from Cupertino City Council.  Cupertino is famously the home of Apple (hence the shot at the top of the page) and it was a very interesting chat.  Headlines;

  1. California's Proposition 13 is crushing investment into schools and other desirable activities for cities by limiting increases in property taxes (much like our own Council Taxes) unless the house changes ownership.  A crazy piece of legislation that the state is still paying the price for more than 30 years later.  This drives a lot of the decisions and context that the city has to operate in.
  2. Apple run a highly comprehensive commuter bus service for their employees as far San Francisco.  This is essentially of course a privatisation of what should be a public service.  (Healthcare, anyone?)
  3. Cupertino doesn't really have a 'downtown' so the Council and the Chamber of Commerce are jointly working on a 'Main Street' project to create a focal point and broaden the tax base of the city.   
Swiftly following this I was back to Palo Alto and a meeting with their Economic Development Manager.  Thomas was a great guy, highly engaging and knowledgeable and I was desperately scribbling down as a much as I could during our couple of hours together.  Loads to take in and digest still but a couple of key points;

  1. Palo Alto has a working 'dark fibre' network with nodes all over the city - this is exactly what Nottingham wanted to do with its (sadly unsuccessful) Super Connected Cities bid.  I got some details and the contact name which will be really useful for the team back home to enable us to press on with this project.  
  2. The City is using its high level of tech and IT people and businesses to run 'Hackathons' to bring together people to collaboratively solve local problems using the City's data and policy objectives. 
So for a couple of days that I squeezed in in between Seattle and Yosemite I think there's a lot there to digest and think about.  I am however hugely excited about the trip to Yosemite - hoping that the good weather holds and I get some good walks in - can't wait to fill my lungs with some fresh mountain air. 

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