Blocks w/ Spontaneous Play in Palo Alto or Menlo Park

Blocks with spontaneous play are very, very hard to find in Palo Alto or Menlo Park.

On October 17, 2005, I sent out an inquiry to the Palo Alto / Menlo Park Parents Club email list asking if they could recommend any blocks with spontaneous play in Palo Alto or Menlo Park. I copy that inquiry and the summary I created from the flood of replies I got below.

The inquiry elicited a great number of replies, including many recommendations. However, my wife and I have still yet to find the house we’ve been seeking. It’s been over two years now, and our second son was just born three weeks ago. So, we’re still clueless regarding where those “kid heaven” blocks are in PA and MP, and the Playborhood Survey results indicate that we’ve got lots of company.So, *please* post your recommendations as comments to this article. I have some recommendations from Playborhood Survey respondents that I will share on this site shortly.

Also, of course, please comment on anything else that strikes you about the inquiry and summary of responses…

The Inquiry: blocks w/ spontaneous play?

My wife, 15-month son and I are currently living in San Francisco, but we’re looking to move to Palo Alto (preferably) or Menlo Park. The number one motivation for moving by *far* is quality of life for kids.

We’ve talked to a lot of parents in PA and MP who say that their kids’ lives are totally ruled by appointment calendars – you know, piano lessons, sports practices, play dates, etc. We’re *horrified* by this prospect.

Sooo, we’re making a concerted effort to find ahouse on a block that has lots of babies and parents who want to have more kids (to be friends w/ our future kids – we’re trying for more), and an atmosphere of outside spontaneous play. You know – playing kickball on the streets, hide-and-go-seek from yard to yard, and basketball and hopscotch in driveways.

Do any of you live on blocks like this? Do you know of anyone else who does? Where are these blocks? Better yet, do any of you know of available large (4+ BR, 3000 sq ft +) houses in these blocks?

Yes, we’re fishing, but we definitely need help.

Thanks in advance…

– Mike Lanza

Summary of Responses

Boy, this has been a very interesting topic!!! It has certainly generated a lot of responses.

The picture I get is that totally scheduled lives for kids are the norm in the Palo Alto/Menlo Park area, especially as houses get bigger and house prices go up. This seems very weird to me, since I always thought that people with money had more choices in life to do what they want. Apparently, they’re not choosing for their kids to have maximum fun, to learn to be creative (remember making up games???), to acquire excellent social skills, and to be physically fit. I don’t get it. [If anyone wants to discuss this topic in particular, I have a *lot* to say.]

The reasons that people gave for the lack of spontaneous play are:

  1. competitive parents (leads to full schedules)
  2. materialistic parents (?)
  3. not enough young kids in the area
  4. houses that are too big and comfortable (smaller houses force kids to go out and play)
  5. big back yards (keep kids in their back yards rather than their front yards)
  6. too much homework (do kids who don’t go outside have more homework?)

Also, note that almost 90% of recommendations were in Menlo Park, with the balance going to Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, and San Francisco. Since “Palo Alto” is half of the name of this group, Palo Alto made a *very* poor showing. Does this mean that Palo Alto is a really bad place to live if you want your kids to play outside? I fear this is the case, but I hope not…

My wife and I had been prepared to pay for one of those higher priced places, but we may end up in a “lower rent” area where kids play in the streets because we think that’ll be better for our kids.

Of the thirty or so that I’ve received, about six or seven people are looking for the same thing we’re looking for (a house in a block w/ babies & spontaneous play in the streets, front yards, and driveways). The rest gave me advice about where to look.

So, below is a list of some areas that were recommended to me, in descending order of the number of mentions.

six mentions: The Willows neighborhood of Menlo Park, which is between Willow and the creek, on the 101 side of Middlefield. This neighborhood was mentioned by six different respondents, three times more than any other neighborhood! It must be a great place for kids!

two mentions: Vintage Oaks in Menlo Park, which is by Middlefield across from USGS. his area seems to have larger homes than The Willows.

one mention

  • Linfield Oaks, Menlo Park
  • Flood Triangle, Menlo Park
  • Suburban Park, Menlo Park
  • Oakdell, Menlo Park
  • area 3 mi W of 280 on Sand Hill, Menlo Park
  • area behind Stanford Golf Course off Alpine Rd., Menlo Park
  • Midtown, Palo Alto
  • College Terrace, Palo Alto
  • Southgate, Palo Alto (behind Paly, before Alma)
  • Guinda between Forest and Hamilton, Palo Alto
  • Covington School area, Los Altos
  • Whisman Station, Mountain View
  • Cole Valley, San Francisco. One respondent told me that there’s a lot more spontaneous play outside her house in Cole Valley than there was outside her former house in Old Palo Alto.
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3 Responses to Blocks w/ Spontaneous Play in Palo Alto or Menlo Park

  1. Anonymous says:

    We live on a short street called Greenwood in Community Center (nestled between Eleanor Pardee & Rinconada Parks in Palo Alto). The older kids play basket ball, ride scooters, skate boards and the like regularly. We are organizing a series of summer play dates to establish friendships among the younger kids. Many parents are insular but there is a growing network of parents who want their kids to play.

    Last weekend there was an open house on our street. My kids and the neighbor next door set up stores to sell rocks and pencils to passers by. Age seems to be a major factor. At 5 the kids are starting to play outside on the street. Before this age, kids need supervision.

  2. zoemount says:

    I live on a cul-de-sac in Midtown, Palo Alto. We have a good ‘gang’ going– starting at 8, we hit every year down to the newborn next door. My son (5.5) was the first to try ‘just knocking'[ on some’s door. The mom told me later her son asked, ‘What did he want?’ and she explained that, when she was a child, that’s how you did it– you just rang someone’s bell to see if he wanted to play. Now it’s caught on and doorbells are rung regularly. I’m sorry nothing’s for sale on our block right now, but I’ll keep you posted. A.though the retirees don’t agree, I figure we can never have enough kids on our block!

  3. Mike Lanza says:

    Thanks for the bright spot note, zoemount. Please do let us know if there are any homes for sale over there…