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By Monica Guzman                Follow East Palo Alto Today on
East Palo Alto Today                        Facebook    Twitter         Blog              
February 4, 2019                          EPA Today Facebook page Follow epatoday on Twitter EPA Today Blog Icon


Meetup group participants  Photos by Jerry Chang  Meetup participants make sketches
Meetup participants sketch their ideas during the The Future of East Palo Alto sessions that were held in the city in January 2019.


Markers and blank name tags sit on the tables inside the Lewis and Joan Platt East Palo Alto Family YMCA’s community room. They await participants, who are attending a “meetup” group called, The Future of East Palo Alto. As the meeting attendees enter, they are instructed to write their names on a blank tag and draw a scene which represents what brings them pride and joy in East Palo Alto.

The meetings are part of a much larger civic project to design a new East Palo Alto city hall, They are organized and led by Jerry Chang, who is a FUSE executive fellow. FUSE fellows partner with local governments to work on a range of issues to design yearlong strategic projects.

Chang oversees the first phase of East Palo Alto’s Facilities Master Plan, which will determine what the future of East Palo Alto is in 30 years.

“If we just look at [what East Palo Alto is] today, we will design a building for the past,” Chang said.

Chang created the “meetup” group to connect with East Palo Alto community members to help identify what the city’s current identity is and what it might become in the future. “We want to make sure the new building is designed with the community, not to the community,” Chang said.

The meeting on Monday, January 21 was one of several January meetups intended to understand the community values of East Palo Alto. Chang takes a creative approach during the meetings. Some of the activities, during the meeting, included a brainstorm of the pros and cons of the city and a collaborative drawing of an ideal community.

Chang asked all the contributors to keep an open mind, since the nature of the work is to explore several ideas, regardless of how eccentric they are. According to Chang, the meetups are a work in progress, but he wants to make sure that everyone, who is interested can participate.

Federico Andrade, a resident of East Palo Alto for five years, likes the fact that the meetup brings people together and promotes civility. “The internet allows for the worst to come out in us,” Andrade said. He added how online discussions and social media community groups can become negative and people attack each other’s ideas instead of working together. 

“The City of East Palo Alto is changing, and we don’t need to fight what’s coming. Instead, we should understand and embrace the change to somehow control it to our favor. As a resident, I’d like to be part of the group that controls the change in the city,” Andrade said.

Court Skinner, a resident of 30 years, attended several of the January meetups. According to Skinner, some recurring local themes include an interest in commerce, specifically locally owned retail, along with affordable housing, education, jobs, gentrification, and transportation.
Skinner commended Chang for his ability to bring the community together. “We need something better than what we currently have. City hall is a place where stuff happens and we need to get the community involved to properly design an efficient building,” Skinner said.

Chang has received valuable insight from the Meetups which gives him the confidence to share what he has learned with the architects and city leaders. Chang said that he hopes this work will help strengthen the relationship residents have with their city and the ownership they feel about it.

“The process is not what will happen, but what is possible. We are developing a menu of what we can choose from,” he said.

The building’s design is the second phase. Chang hopes that the second phase of the city’s Facilities Master Plan, the building’s design, will merge both the work done within the meetups and the work done with the city. The last phase is the program and structure of the new building. According to Chang, the new city hall project might take five to ten years to complete.

For more information, see the Future of East Palo Alto on Facebook.


The author of this article, Monica Guzman, can be contacted by email at epatoday@epatoday.org