Aristotle understood the role of the city 2,300 years ago: “While coming into being for the sake of living, it exists for the sake of living well,” he wrote. Today, our own Santa Monica City seal is emblazoned, “Fortunate people in a fortunate city.”
Surprising, then, that cities haven’t had a very sophisticated method of determining whether their governmental policies actually led to their residents’ “living well.” For thousands of years, we have relied on compassion and good intentions to create wellbeing.
Here in our Santa Monica, that is about to change, in a way that may profoundly transform effective governance for all cities, and perhaps for other levels of government as well. We will now actively evaluate wellbeing, and use what we learn to shape public policy.
For well over a year, we’ve embarked on an extensive study to help us identify, define, and measure wellbeing among Santa Monicans. We directly surveyed over 2200 residents. We’ve had the help of wellbeing experts from around the world, and the financial support of the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, where we were the only city of our size to earn such an award.
The study has yielded a new snapshot of our community, a Wellbeing Index, that provides an unprecedented high-resolution portrait of how well our policies and programs work, and to what extent they are creating the positive progress we intend.
We’re announcing the baseline findings of our Wellbeing Index, and setting course on imagining a Santa Monica where ongoing wellbeing assessments become key indicators for allocation of resources and direction of effort. What will this mean for you?
I’ve lived in Santa Monica almost forty years. During that time, as a life-long renter, a public schools technology consultant, and a five-term member of our City Council, I’ve seen our community change and evolve.
One constant has been our ambition to become a better place, protect our environment, create housing security, keep our streets safe, serve our residents, and nurture our young people while respecting our elders. We have struggled together with economic, social, and political issues. Despite challenges and disparities, Santa Monica continues to succeed in areas where other cities fall short, or don’t even try.
For us to do even better, we should welcome new 21st-century tools. Being able to make a direct and measurable connection between our best efforts and the desired result – public and personal wellbeing – can only improve our efficiency and amplify our effectiveness.
Our Wellbeing Project has led us to observe and evaluate information that cities have not previously included in community decision making. For example, we’ve harnessed new technologies making it possible to identify trends on social connectivity, and how Santa Monicans rank in physical and emotional health. We gain new insights from data to which we simply didn’t have access before, such as whether residents feel they have enough time to do things they enjoy, how much stress residents are experiencing, and what activities might best counter loneliness and alienation.
All this information gathering can be accomplished by being newly observant, not intrusive. Indices of health, housing, employment, and such already exist, ready to be combined with newly developed survey responses and ongoing statistical analysis of new indicators like public social media postings. We have the ability to go far beyond the traditional economic evaluations, and begin to measure and develop goals for what our community, and the individuals who compose it, need to flourish and remain resilient.
Once we have this newly integrated data and the insight into wellbeing it will provide, we can better coordinate and collaborate with community partners to strengthen our social connections, provide greater opportunities for growth and learning, and ensure equitable availability of resources, support, and encouragements to improve all Santa Monicans’ wellbeing. As a community, we can support more successful and fulfilling life trajectories, as already pioneered in our Cradle to Career and Creative Capital initiatives.
In other words, we can work toward becoming even more fortunate people in an even more fortunate city. Aristotle would be proud.
Please take the time to review the new Wellbeing Index. Join us in the effort to better understand ourselves, each other, and our community needs. Imagine, with us, a city that embraces our individual and collective wellbeing as a key, crucial, and quantified criterion for decision making.
We stand together at the threshold of an exciting new level, driven by data on wellbeing. Santa Monica is leading the way to create more effective and responsive local governance. I’m grateful to be in service to a community so capable, so visionary, and so fortunate.
Kevin McKeown is the Mayor of Santa Monica.