Saturday's all day design scrum in Menlo Park has interesting ramifications. 75 architects and designers held a gathering for the purpose of re-designing downtown Menlo Park. Two obstacles were identified, the way in which the CalTrain tracks and El Camino Real create a barrier between areas of town. Left unsaid in the page one article was any mention of what such design improvements would accomplish--beauty, harmony, functionality?
I missed the event--my qualifications would hardly rate an invitation. However, that doesn't prevent the Squirrel from having a whack at this nut. My solution? Create an elevated railroad tack made up of the sort of early 20th century steel construction typically found in older cities. The uglier the better.
Here's how it would function. First, it would amplify train noise. All the hiss, groans, sparks and squeals would be felt from above and beyond. Train whistles would become unnecessary but people love noise so long as its connected to nostalgia.
Second, streets below the tracks create the possiblility of urban like settings--smelly bars, rowdy motorcycle hangouts, off-track betting parlors, flop house hotels. People seek out real urban texture. It would also re-couple the city.
Third, it would provide a context in which to view other overhead development along El Camino Real and leading towards Santa Cruz Avenue. The bulk of city revenue comes from sales taxes on business. Opportunities to grow the base of business is limited in the downtown area unless vertical options are considered. A 'back to the future' theme would create a significant visual separation between competing communities.
The re-design effort has real potential. Next we should offer volunteers the opportunity to re-do other aspects of city life. These might include city government, libraries, parks, roads or your neighbor's house paint choices.