In an annual tradition the month of July was celebrated nationally as Parks & Recreation month. From their inception, parks were created to serve the people – to give them a place to appreciate nature, exercise, socialize and have fun. Last month this tradition reminded all of us of the enduring importance of parks and recreation throughout the world. Our City Council joined in with a city proclamation and the staff of Santa Monica’s Community and Cultural Services Department created special activities in our parks all month to add an exclamation point. We know that Santa Monica’s residents love our parks and that each minute spent in a park is celebrated with activity, contemplation, a thirst for wellness and a love of nature, in our densely populated urban environment.
It’s clear to the SMa.r.t.group that we need more parks. Even with the addition of Tongva Park, the additional parkland that will be added to Stewart Street Park and the City Council’s welcome commitment to twelve more acres at Airport Park, our city will remain among the least green of all comparable cities in California.
From the need to add to our community forest canopy, to insuring that each resident walks no more than ten minutes to local community green space, Santa Monica has work to do. The long-promised additional space at Memorial Park and the Civic Center Multi-Purpose Field will help satisfy the need, but only if proposed plans are realized at these locations. Additional identified locations for mini parks, parklets and a view park at Mt. Olivet Reservoir will help fulfill neighborhood park requirements.
Scientific studies show that trees are essential to our physical and mental health. An increase of ten or more trees to each block in our city will lead to increased longevity for our residents, reduce mental health issues and lead people to increase exercise time. Even though we’re in a drought, our community forest canopy is an asset that must be maintained to support the health of our city’s residents. We are suffering a decline of trees in both our community forest and our parks. Even historic Palisades Park has suffered a decrease in trees that won’t be fully reversed for five years. That’s unacceptable. Our City Council must reverse this trend by allotting more budget dollars to strengthen our tree-planting program. Local companies, service organizations and individuals can join the effort by helping to purchase trees for our parks and streetscape.
As one step toward increasing community health, we can emulate other cities on the west coast by establishing a series of small community orchards that offer free fruit for all. As we plant trees to enhance our urban forest canopy, some should be fruit trees. A network of community gardens can be established on street corners throughout the residential areas of our city. A current example in our vicinity is CommunityHealingGardens.org. This organization places boxed vegetable gardens on street corners throughout Venice. The food grown is shared among the immediate neighbors and donated to others in need of fresh fruits and vegetables. Their goal is to plant 999 fruit trees and place 400 edible garden boxes in Venice in 2015. That’s a sound idea worth implementing in Santa Monica.
We support the fulfillment of the 2005 Civic Center Specific Plan by adding a two-acre multi-use field in the land now occupied by the Civic Parking Lot. The over 3000 students at Samohi have always had a deficit of green space. We can fix that need. Generations of teens will benefit if we provide an athletic area that can be used by our entire community for both sports and special events. Through an opportune development, we could see a return of ice hockey and ice-skating to our city – in a facility with a community sports field on its roof. Imagine the benefits of a partnership that would lead to the facility being constructed at no cost to our taxpayers in what is now an asphalt parking lot.
The former Fisher Lumber yard was purchased by the city with the intent of adding it to the acreage of Memorial Park. Instead, it’s become the open space management parking lot, with one section now being carved into temporary metered parking. Our city’s current athletic facilities are overflowing with need. We can’t afford to let promised parkland become a parking lot when our children and teens have no place to practice or play. It’s time to find another place to park our city’s vehicles and fulfill an earlier City Council’s promises to our youth.
Adding mini parks and pocket playgrounds in our neighborhoods will help residents in a city teeming with apartment houses. Over 70 percent of Santa Monica residents live in apartments. Parkland therefore becomes a critical piece of the urban puzzle. Neighborhood parks make living in an apartment without a scrap of grass bearable and the urban density of Santa Monica passable. Our planning department and the Planning Commission must consider how important open space is for every development. Enjoyment of the sun, the open green space and the trees on each private property leads to higher residual land value and a healthier, happier Santa Monica.
Achieving increased cooperation from SMMUSD for shared athletic facilities at our schools is a necessity and should become a priority. The swimming facilities at Lincoln Middle School and Santa Monica High School must be available to relieve the competition for space in our municipal pool. Preparing the Lincoln Middle School field for increased use by our youth in afternoons, evenings and weekends will reduce traffic, allow children to play in their own neighborhood and reduce the burden on both Memorial and Clover parks.
As we seek out additional park space we should not forget our seniors and those with special needs. Ken Edwards Center is the wrong location for our senior center. Locating our seniors’ gathering place in the middle of one of the most crowded blocks in our city isn’t conducive to mental or physical health. WISE services does a commendable job each day, yet when advocating for more park space in Santa Monica we must remember that our senior facility inhabits a building surrounded by concrete and traffic. South Beach’s Universally Accessible Playground was Santa Monica’s first play area to accommodate all children in our city, regardless of ability. A follow up playground at Sorrento beach will be a welcome sequel in 2016. However, we shouldn’t rest until each of our city’s playgrounds is accessible to all of our children.
Finally, the best use of city-owned land must be for the creation of additional parks in our densely populated town. Santa Monica has many parcels of land that we, as residents, own. Rather than create more density on this land, should we not explore the most benevolent use of our community’s land – to designate it as parkland to be used evermore for the community good, both present and future? Once we allow a city owned parcel to be developed that land would never again have a community use. In a city that is so densely populated let’s always consider open space a constant, precious, irrevocable priority. Let’s consider it a right not a privilege, for all people in Santa Monica to have safe, healthful access to our parks and their recreation opportunities.
Our parks help achieve social equity, improve health and wellbeing, provide an economic stimulus and are vital to the wellbeing of our city. Championing our community’s parks is a great prescription for each of our residents. Side effects of this prescription may include happiness, laughter, and improved health and wellness.
Phil Brock for SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)
Robert H. Taylor AIA, Thane Roberts AIA, Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Daniel Jansenson Architect, Samuel Tolkin, Armen Melkonians Civil & Environmental Engineer, Phil Brock Chair, Parks & Recreation Commission