First Our Palo Alto Event Focuses on Changing Demographics
Who are Palo Altans? How is the City's makeup changing and what do these changes mean for the future of Palo Alto? These questions and more on the City’s ever-evolving demographics and economics were answered at the inaugural Our Palo Alto event on April 23.
Fueled by input and participation from citizens, Our Palo Alto is a community conversation about the City’s future. These conversations will create opportunities for dialogue around Ideas, Actions, and Design. Together, the City and community will discuss important ideas and programs, tackle the issues the community cares about, and design a long-term plan for the future.
"Tonight is the start of what we hope is the first of many discussions," Mayor Nancy Shepherd said. “Ultimately, our goal is to engage citizens of all walks of life about the future of Palo Alto.”
Several dozen people attended the first event held at the downtown library and moderated by former Mayor Sid Espinosa. A panel of experts, including Steve Levy, Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, David Evan Harris, The Institute for the Future, and Ann Dunkin, Palo Alto Unified School District, discussed how the changes in Palo Alto’s demographics and population will affect the City’s future.
“Sometimes there are misconceptions in the community about the makeup of our citizenry—the professionals who work here during the day, as well as the people that live here,” Espinosa said.
Levy highlighted several ways that Palo Alto differs from neighboring communities. First, Palo Alto is a much older community with 17.1 percent of the population over 65, compared to 11.1 percent for the county. With baby boomers getting older, Levy said the number of seniors will continue to rise.
As far as growth goes, Levy stated that virtually all of the City’s growth in the past 15 years has been from the influx of foreign born residents.
“We have seen the growth primarily by Asians and Latinos, and that is going to continue,” Levy said.
According to Elliot Margolies of Made Into America, one third of the population in Palo Alto is made up of recent immigrants and nearly half of the workforce is foreign born.
The foreign born influence is very visible in the Palo Alto Unified School District, Dunkin said.
“Palo Alto schools are becoming more diverse every year. Starting with the 2010/11 school year, the Palo Alto Unified School District became a majority/minority, meaning that there are more minority students in the district than white students,” she said.
The diversity is an amazing opportunity for students, she said, adding that 46 languages are spoken by students in the district.
“It’s given them the opportunity to learn about other cultures and really grow,” she said. “They live in a way more diverse world than any of us grew up in and that’s great for them. It makes for a much more interesting place.”
The tech community is also dominant in Palo Alto bringing with it a large number or jobs, helping to give the City the largest number of jobs for a city of its size in the state, as well as a large number of people who commute in every day for work.
And with all the people moving to the area to be a part of the booming tech industry, Harris said that there are not just changes in demographics but also in culture and values.
“Palo Alto, in addition to having all of these great startups that are doing incredible innovation also has these long standing institutions and people who are more deeply committed to the character of the City,” Harris said. “I think there is an interesting and important counter cultural current that is happening right now.”