SM BEACH While many people believe the Santa Monica Beach, along with its landmark Ferris wheel, is one of the greatest places on the west coast, now it’s official.

The American Planning Association named Santa Monica Beach one of the 10 great places in the U.S. for 2008. The mayor and other city officials gathered to announce the proclamation and celebrate the honor in a press conference next to the pier Wednesday.

“We already knew we were best of beach, but we’re very proud to have the recognition of the American Planning Association,” City Councilman Kevin McKeown said.

In choosing the winners, the association looked for places that demonstrated community involvement, cultural and historical interest, and a vision for tomorrow.

City officials applied for the honor and the beach was chosen based on its environmental stewardship, commitment to accessibility, historic preservation and the ability to maintain a distinctive character.

McKeown and city planners credit changes made in recent years for making the beach better than ever. Grassy knolls, public art like the giant oversize chairs where people can sit and listen to the wind, and a police officer exclusively assigned to the beach have all improved it.

“The cool thing about this is that everyone worked so well together because we knew it was an asset we needed to protect,” Misti Kerns, president of the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau, said.

Many people have been involved in past beach initiatives, from preservation groups to commissions for art, and recreation and parks, to the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau.

There are also many people involved in the day-to-day operations like food and lifeguard services, Barbara Stinchfield, director for Community and Cultural Services, said.

“We all march to the same beat,” Stinchfield said.

City planners and officials will continue to look for ways to improve the beach, said Kerns, coming up with ideas like adding a tram to carry people along the 3.5 miles that extend from Venice to Malibu. Kerns hopes that this new project will introduce more people, including locals, to the wonders of the north stretch and will also encourage beachgoers to park in the southern lots that are presently under-used.

Santa Monica Beach joins Central Park in New York City and Union Station in Washington, D.C. in sharing the honor of one of the greatest places of 2008.

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