Three simple reasons why Palo Alto, California is like Reston, Virginia

Palo AltoBusiness travel often takes you to places you normally wouldn’t visit. I’d never plan a vacation to Peapack, New Jersey, for example, and London, Ontario is another that surely won’t make anyone’s “bucket list.” The upside, however, is that you get to see places you’d never visit otherwise. And, you remember that “off the beaten path” – the goal very committed traveler – isn’t necessarily sexy. This is what I’m seeing right now as I sit in Palo Alto. The conference I attended is behind me, and I’m killing some time before catching a flight home.

What I can’t shake, a feeling that’s been with me since I arrived in town on Tuesday, is that I’ve been somewhere like this before. I spent a couple of months in Reston, Virginia on business back in 2003, and the parallels stood out immediately.

Are Palo Alto and Reston brothers from another mother? I think so, and here are three simple reasons why:1. They are immaculate: when I was in Reston, I was blown away by the absence of litter … and the absence of dirt. The place is frighteningly clean (in a creepy, Monaco-esque way), and I wouldn’t be shocked if you could do surgery on the street with no fear of infection. Palo Alto is no different. I feel like I should take my shoes off before crossing University Avenue.

2. Planning is crucial: Both Reston and Palo Alto carry the ethos of a planned city. The seductive curves of Boston’s narrow streets are not to be found, and centuries of mismatched architecture – of the sort you’d see in Manhattan – have no home in Palo Alto or Reston.

3. These cities are purpose-driven: Reston, of course, arose as something of an enclave for employees of the federal government. There are some businesses in town, and they have effectively become part of the purpose. For Palo Alto, subtract “government” and add “Stanford.”

It’s eerie, right?! A country separates these twin towns, but the connection, if only spiritual, will never be severed!

[photo by richardmasoner via Flickr]