As a graduate student studying Clinical Psychology with an emphasis on Applied Community Psychology, I essentially study what makes a city livable, how to integrate community members into their municipalities, and how to empower communities-in other words, my interest lies in what makes a city a happy city. As a second generation Santa Monican who loves my hometown, I’ve followed the city’s current events with great fascination. The municipal issue du jour is, without a doubt, development. There is undeniably a divide in public opinion about development in our city; some seeing increased development as a benignant proposition, others fearing it with a malice usually reserved for issues of war or other great national controversy. Seeing as I study psychology, I look at the issue of development through that very lens. Communities have personalities just like people do, and, like people, communities can develop personality problems. Personalities can become strident, defensive, mistrusting, and ultimately, dysfunctional.
In terms of specific emotional problems, some portions of Santa Monica’s public exhibit classic anxiety symptoms over development. That anxiety leads some people to become strident and defend their position (tenable or untenable, as the case may be) beyond the point of reason. Like treating a patient suffering from anxiety disorder, we have to separate anxiety from fear. Anxiety is free floating worry, whereas fear is legitimate and carries real consequences of harm. Once we are able to separate anxiety from fear, we can then take action to protect the patient from real fear-if there is such a thing, in that case.
Next, some Santa Monicans suffer from approach/avoidance conflict when it comes to development. A fraction of Santa Monicans are fundamentally conflicted about it. They want the indisputable benefits to the city that development brings (such as increased affordable housing, city revenue, and a more bikeable and walkable urban center) yet have anxiety about feared consequences such as increased traffic and degradation of city character. How do we deal with conflict? We utilize conflict resolution. We begin by identifying the two parts to the entity that seems to be at war with itself. Next, we ask each side what it is wiling to give up in order to live harmoniously. Furthermore, rather than indulging in fears and anxieties, we research the facts that can either validate or dispel such concerns. For example, thoughtful examination of evidence shows that transit-oriented development-in which more people are able to live where they both work and recreate-traffic is actually decreased even as the population density rises. Thus, through mediation we can find both resolution of conflict and abatement of anxiety.
Next on our list of personality issues, we have abandonment. A segment of Santa Monicans worry that an evolving, developing Santa Monica will leave them shut out in the cold-in other words, abandoned. “I’ve lived here for forty years,” is the common refrain. “Santa Monica is changing, and it’s not for the better.” “Will we even be able to recognize Santa Monica in ten years?” What is the common thread here? It is fear of abandonment, that the world will keep turning, keep changing, keep evolving, and some will be left behind.
Finally, we have an element of paranoia thrown in for good measure. There’s a considerable amount of suspicion and distrust about development-paranoia about traffic, of course, and also paranoia about how inclusionary housing policies will lead to “too many people,” will tax our public infrastructure, and turn Santa Monica into “Miami Beach,” as if building more affordable housing will suddenly turn us into Sodom and Gomorrah.
To deny the inevitably of development is akin to psychiatric patients denying the inevitability of change. They can throw a fit and slam themselves against their padded walls, but it’s going to happen, whether they embrace it or not. The attempt to deny change prevents any chance they have of exerting control or a positive influence on that change. In the case of Santa Monica, by refusing the Hines development and shutting it down, we lost the opportunity to create a better outcome for our city. Instead, the former Hines project has been replaced by a development far worse for our community, lacking the benefits that Hines would have brought such as affordable housing, open space inclusions, and traffic mitigation measures. Hines wasn’t perfect, to be sure, but then again, nothing in life is ever perfect. As Voltaire once warned, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”
Just as a therapist helps their patients learn to navigate change in the healthiest way, to attempt to ensure the most positive outcomes for future wellbeing, we as the leaders of Santa Monica need to help our city’s populace learn to negotiate development in a constructive manner. If we spend all our time trying to prevent development from occurring because we don’t want the extra traffic and population, we lose the chance to plan for and mediate that increase in traffic and population that simply will come by virtue of our rapidly growing global population. The world is only going to become more and more populated, not less, and Santa Monica is not the only community that will have to face that inevitability. And thank goodness for that — the other option is to become like Flint, Michigan, with a declining population and a decaying city.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I can’t help but wonder if we can help our community’s personality problems the same way we treat patients with personality disorders: through restructuring its cognitions, helping it develop more realistic core beliefs, increase its affect regulation, modify its destructive reactionary behaviors, and — if all else fails — send it to a really good psychiatrist.
Simone Gordon is a Santa Monica resident.
Wonderful article –
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DUH????? Psych 101 with a huge overlay of zzżzzżzzzzzzzz and not accurate- this has been going on for decades and is pretty typical in many communities – this writer suffers from high self- esteem- perhaps some therapy and a writing class would help
“How do we deal with conflict? We utilize conflict resolution. We begin by identifying the two parts to the entity that seems to be at war with itself. Next, we ask each side what it is wiling to give up in order to live harmoniously.” -Simone please come and help conflict resolution the peace of 12th Set/Euclid St resident with the monster Pluralistic #1 School. They just SH$t on this neighborhood, year after year and don’t want to give that up.
IF Santa Monica has a personality disorder, it may (IN MY OPINION) be in part the result of decades of legal work by Attorney Chris Harding, whose firm boasts on its website of having helped promote the Ellis Act eviction of tenants. Here is what the firm’s website says:
“Javidzad v. City of Santa Monica, 204 Cal. App. 3d 52 (1988), and City of Santa Monica v. Yarmark, 203 Cal. App. 3d 153 (1988)
We successfully defended property owners’ use of the Ellis Act (a state law allowing owners of rent controlled properties to go out of the rental housing business). At the time, use of the Ellis Act was contested by a local government asserting that the law was unconstitutional and did not preempt rent control provisions restricting the removal of properties from rental housing use. In two published decisions, the Court of Appeal upheld the constitutionality of the Ellis Act and determined that the Ellis Act preempted the Santa Monica Rent Control Law insofar as it restricted the removal of properties from rental housing use.” It is my OPINION that after efforts to help destroy affordable housing in Santa Monica, Chris Harding’s WIFE (and remember that California is a community property state) is now a leader of Santa Monica Forward, the group that appears to want to replace the rental units lost to the Ellis Act.
Bravo. Santa Monica needs to start accepting and controlling reasonable development before more businesses leave and the empty decaying former assisted living home in my neighborhood on the corner of 17th and Broadway that has been completely empty for YEARS and has become a squat for homeless people who are cooking up heroine on the porch and sleeping and urinating in the balconies (and the police never do anything about it despite numerous calls) becomes the norm.
i have to say as a 3rd generation santa monica resident i have seen many changes. some good some not so good. if you travel through out the u.s you will find we really don’t have it so bad in the way of parks! we have the best! and we have some that are inclusive! look at the real facts!
The author has missed the point. The fact of the matter is, whether one likes it or not, that Santa Monica has significantly more people per square mile than the City of Los Angeles, the City of Pasadena, Culver City, the City of Torrance, etc. That is per the census data; I am not making up that FACT. An additional FACT is that Santa Monica has, per population, built more housing, including affordable housing, in the past ten years than any of our surrounding cities. The FACT is that Santa Monica does not have enough parks for the people who already live here; it is a FACT that Santa Monica has less than 50% of the Quimby Standard for parks and open space. It is a FACT that families who live in apartment buildings or condos need park space for birthday parties and play because families living in apartment buildings or condo have no back yards that can be used for these things. It is a FACT that there is a water shortage. People like me are NOT stagnating. People like me support affordable housing, but we are not willing to add one more hotel room or one more office building in order to get fees for affordable housing. People like me want to use the property owned by the City of Santa Monica at 4th & Arizona and build two and three story senior and affordable housing, and we want to use City of Santa Monica General Account funds to build this housing. We want longtime Santa Monica residents to have priority in deciding who gets to live in these units. No one is opposed to affordable housing per se; we are opposed to those who would bring affordable housing to Santa Monica through developer fees instead of using city owned land and city money to build affordable housing. The daytime population of Santa Monica swells to 300,000. All the proposed new development would cause the daytime population of Santa Monica to swell to 350,000 or 400,000. Let’s skip the proposed new hotels and the proposed new office buildings and let’s use our resources to build affordable housing — without hotels and without new office space — on land which the city already owns free and clear.
Well said, life is about change. If you aren’t changing, you’re stagnating.
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