The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about many changes, but one that doesn’t usually come to mind is the shift in the way we interact with our physical surroundings—both the built environment and the natural environment. This isn’t unique to the pandemic; external obligations often keep us from having the opportunity to reflect on our experiences. But, it’s about time that we understand and appreciate Milpitas as a city, because so many aspects of living in Milpitas were stolen from us during the pandemic. Yet, it’s also important to explore how citizens are adapting to this sudden change, often spending more time appreciating the outdoors.
As a teenager, I know that we like to joke about Milpitas’ smelly landfill, but secretly, we adore the city. I was born in Hong Kong and lived there for a few years, but although Milpitas doesn’t seem as “exciting” on the surface as a bustling city like Hong Kong, I appreciate Milpitas’s suburban experience. Milpitas feels very tight-knit and small, despite having a growing population of 80,000 people. The city feels like the right size—not too small to the point where it’s dull and suffocating, but not so large that everything is horrendously spread out and far away from everything else. Due to this, Milpitas still seems to retain its iconic character through businesses like Foster’s Freeze and landmarks like the Ed Levin County Park. The city is small enough for these places to stand out and contribute to the overall culture of Milpitas.
Although Milpitas doesn’t have a downtown area, there’s no shortage of entertainment here. I remember going to Great Mall after school, which is more affordable—and therefore more practical—than some other Bay Area malls like Valley Fair. The theaters at the Great Mall are also easily accessible and provide an easy Friday night hangout with friends. If I’m really reaching into the depths of my memory, I can recall roller skating at Cal Skate Milpitas before it closed in 2011. And don’t even get me started on the abundance of restaurants in Milpitas. There’s Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Mexican, Indian, Cuban, and even more cuisines represented here. And although I think the amount of milk tea shops present in Milpitas is excessive, I appreciate that they provide hangout spots with friends. Many restaurants and cafes are walkable and situated near pedestrian-friendly areas, such as Milpitas High School. There are so many restaurants and cafes here that people from other cities come to Milpitas to enjoy them.
People from other cities also flock to the Milpitas Library, which is a favorite among many Milpitas High students like myself. Yes, it does sound a little odd to be so excited over a public library, but a lot of kids my age practically grew up at the library. I remember reading books in the beanbags in the first floor children’s section, and I now study for AP Physics tests on the adult floor. The library is also a fun place to book a study room and work on a project or study for a test with a group of friends. Often, the library ends up being a crossroads; I run into people from school, but sometimes I randomly see friends that have moved away or transferred schools at the library. It’s always nice to talk about our shared experiences and reconnect there.
As suburban as Milpitas is, one aspect of the city that is underrated is its aforementioned outdoor environment. Even local parks such as Cardoza Park are spacious and welcoming for families, nestled neatly near schools and residential neighborhoods. Larger parks like Ed Levin County Park offer ideal walking trails, beautiful views (and sunsets) of the Bay Area, and biking opportunities.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic has made many common Milpitas experiences unsafe, I took to social media to understand what aspects of Milpitas people miss the most and how they are adapting to the pandemic.
Hidden Lake Park and Ed Levin County Park were favorites for those looking for safe ways to socialize or enjoy nature. One person said that the relative seclusion of Hidden Lake Park is ideal for her walks and runs. A couple others said they enjoyed taking photos for special occasions at the park. Some students explained how they enjoyed exploring new walking and biking trails at Ed Levin and just relaxing in a quiet place. Many others replied that local parks in their neighborhoods were ideal places for socially distanced picnics or gatherings with friends.
When asked what they missed most about Milpitas, there were a lot of less conventional answers. Some liked how everyone feels like just a five-minute drive away from each other; others enjoyed the relative peace and quiet of Milpitas. One person said she enjoyed people-watching as they took evening strolls after dinner. Some Milpitas High students missed football games because they brought the community together. Honorable mentions go to the Milpitas Sports Center and Ocean Supermarket, which feel like community staples.
While it may have taken a global pandemic for us to realize it, Milpitas is actually a unique town with a tight-knit feel and activities for every age to enjoy. Although our streets may be less lively, I hope that we can take the time to reflect on the community we live in and pursue similar experiences outdoors—whether it’s finding new hiking trails or just having an outdoor picnic.