As we enjoy Fourth of July weekend we have much to be proud of. It’s hard to believe that when those original patriots were laying down the keel of our country, our city was just sand dunes, still a century away from being born. But in the subsequent decades our City, like our nation, has prospered and today we stand on the shoulders of countless citizens, commissions, and councils that have made Santa Monica such a wonderful place to live. But why is it so wonderful? Everyone has their list, here’s our ten best:
1. Culture Reigns supreme: From Stairway of the Stars to our own Symphony Orchestra, from Bergamot Station to the Broad Stage, from the oldest Carnegie Library in Ocean Park to the newest in Virginia Park, from beach musicians to KCRW our City invites everyone to enjoy and participate in the creative contributions of an endless variety of artists.
2. This City Moves: From kelly green bike lanes to the Big Blue Bus with its quixotic new bus stops, from our newest bright orange (or is it red?) parking structure to the approaching EXPO line, this City, while mired in traffic, is moving steadily forward toward a diversified transportation system that can regain our urban mobility.
3. Our favorite color is green: Its no secret that sustainability is the City’s mantra. From our proactive recycling program, to Heal the Bay, to our incentivized LEED building codes, to our water conserving gray watered parks and planting areas. Santa Monica is doing its part to make the world a cooler place in the face of the real challenges of global warming and a severe and possibly permanent drought. No wonder the National Resources Defense Council put its southern California office in Santa Monica.
4. High Tech-Low Tech: From Uber and the world capital of Prii to skateboards and roller skates, from Silicon Beach and Rand Corporation to farmers’ markets and performers on the 3rd Street Promenade and every level in between, our City gives us countless first class experiences both virtual and real. All we have to do is reach out and select from the many options. Very few Cities have this spectrum of simple and sophisticated jobs, residents and pleasures.
5. Low Rise Paradise: To get that level of sophistication and diversity in one city, you would think we needed a density of New York or Miami, but fortunately this is not the case. We still have courtyard housing. Our downtown is still 70 percent one and two story buildings. Our streets and sidewalks are still mostly under our control, our skyline is still palm trees instead of high rises. We have afternoon breezes, blue skies and sunlight. No wonder everyone from all over the world wants to visit here.
6. A City with a big heart. Our City does not just cater to the wealthy that can afford to visit: it has many charitable and service organizations. From the Ocean Park Community Center to Step Up on 2nd, to Community Corporation (the largest landlord in Santa Monica) to name a few, who ably serve all those who do not fit the 1 percent demographic. Renters (3/4 of the population) have benefited from the exceptional decades long stability provided by SMRR. The City will always have a big heart and open its arms to the less fortunate.
7. Education doesn’t just happen. Those same engaged residents have consistently backed, by volunteering and funding, an exceptional education system. From preschools on public property, to Santa Monica High School (one of the top 250 public high schools in the US) to the 34,000 student Santa Monica College (the best Jr. College of the 112 in California and perhaps the nation), our residents benefit from the consistent and dedicated efforts of hundreds of teachers, staff and volunteer. This is not surprising since an astounding 2/3s of our adults have a bachelor degree or higher.
8. Education is not enough. The Santa Monica’s formal education system is surrounded by a galaxy of sports, arts and disciplines whose long-term purpose is to instill the lifetime habit of continuous activity. From Pony League, to the YMCA, to the 1,500 children playing AYSO, to the City’s Rec program, up to the Emeritus College classes at SMCC and countless other organizations, there is no reason to stop growing or participating in sports at any age in Santa Monica.
9. The City, as you know it, will be around for your grandchildren. While our City since its inception has had its real estate ups and downs, its residents have consistently protected its historical icons and along with it its quality of life. There are over 100 landmarks from the Pier to an airport beacon in our City. In fact our relatively tiny City has three organizations (Santa Monica Conservancy, Santa Monica Historical Society, and the California Heritage Museum) actively preserving Santa Monica’s (and California’s) physical and cultural past. This collective memory is valuable to current residents, returning residents and visitors who all hopefully feel at home here no matter how long they have been away. This is one big reason we love Santa Monica, it moves forward while also honoring its heritage: thus it’s always recognizable.
10. Finally Our Authentic Beach Culture: From fishing off the Pier to amazing athletes at Muscle Beach, from morning surfers to evening strollers, from kite fliers to Segway riders, Santa Monica Beach is the real thing. Not something that is staged just for tourists or for weekend Angeleno visitors. It acts as a breath of fresh air for all visitors and residents alike. The beach is and always has been and always will be our most important asset.
Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA for Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow
Ron Goldman FAIA, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Bob Taylor AIA, Dan Jansenson Architect, Sam Tolkin Architect, Thane Roberts AIA, Phil Brock Chair, Recreation & Parks Commission. SMa.r.t. is a group of Santa Monica Architects concerned about the city’s future. For previous articles, please see santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writings.