Ocean Avenue during sunset. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

London. Paris. New York. Denver. And Dallas. Each city has its own emotional pull. The architecture, the food, the nightlife and the day life all the great cities of the world have a vibe. An emotional and artistic foundation that is instantly recognizable  as “that city.”

When I’m in London it’s well dressed people, tea at the National Portrait Gallery and polite salespeople. Being in London is intoxicating with the history and the buildings that command their place in the world.

Paris is glorious for a foodie like me. Memories of the seafood tower at one dinner are flooded out with the dreamy pastries at another breakfast. Anyone who has been to Paris will have a story of the spectacular chocolate croissant and espresso they had at the delightful corner patisserie.

The theater and the chaos that is New York seems almost redundant. Winding one’s way through the crowds of people, all trying to get somewhere immediately because they are very, very important people, is always an invigorating, if sometimes annoying experience.

Life in the mountains of Colorado is all about clean living and outdoor activities. Denver is known as the Mile High City for a reason, the elevation is over 5, 000 feet above sea level which is why it takes me a couple of days to acclimatize and be able to walk without wheezing.

Dallas is an art lover’s city – I know I didn’t think so either! But there are galleries, museums and public art all over the place. I thought it was all JR and Sue Ellen, but there’s more to Texas and Dallas than a bad 70s television show. It has an air of sophistication and down home hospitality that I was not prepared for.

So where does that leave us? How do we stack up here in the little city by the bay? We’re amazing, and changing, and we have some things that are wonderful, and some that are in dire need of attention.

Santa Monica, the former sleepy beach community that was a haven for crazy liberals, surfers and potheads, granola eaters and peaceniks has evolved. We’ve become a city that has some great restaurants, lots of middle market ones, and a few that should be shuttered. Our architecture is changing as rapidly as the developers can push something new through a bloated bureaucracy. And our public art is meh.

I’ve been watching the unfolding of the new building on the Santa Monica College campus with a bit of glee, some hopeful expectation and a bit of sadness. On the one hand, it’s a gleaming new blue behemoth of a structure. It adds huge amounts of color and passion to an otherwise rather gloomy and boring campus of beige buildings. It’s been a delight to see some bold and bright colors being used in mass. The glass has gone up on most of the building at this point and it’s really taking shape as a unique outcropping of design. I’m sad on the other hand at the loss of space that could be used for parks and greens, to allow light and air to flow.

For a campus that is primarily inward facing this new building is surprisingly open to the boulevard and the city. I hope that it becomes the focal point and entryway to what should be a community resource.

I am seeing the community change rapidly due to the complex develop that is happening across the city. From the new apartments/condos on Pico that sport a wood siding look to the white monolithic blocks on Lincoln with their splashes of yellow as a bone throw to design, the city has a mishmash of sometimes wonderful, but usually uninspired design. I hear that it is a result of the crushing demands by the Architectural Review Board, the city planning and zoning requirements and the need for developers to maximize their return on investment. It’s a shame I think that we don’t have more of an emphasis on a long term design that embodies and exemplifies our city.

Basically we’re known for a Ferris Wheel, an arch over a pier, and a fast fading history. It remains to be seen what the next incarnation of our little burg by the bay shall be. I hope it will be as inspirational and aspirational as some of the other world class cities we could compare ourselves to.

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  1. We definitely have a n identity crisis here. There is no heart beat, it’s a mosh posh of blue collar tourists who can’t afford to shop, older men and women who look homeless living on primary real estate protected by rent control preventing the owners to ‘fix up’ the properties, HOMELESS and riff raff. The beach in the summer is 100% Tijuana near the pier. Where are all the locals? Where is the fashion? Where is the culture of the community? What is Santa Monica? There’s no soul here, there’s no community feeling. Shops are going out of business because the locals and tourists who do want to shop and will spend the money don’t want to go near the craziness of the third street promenade. Have you ever really looked around the promenade? Have you ever REALLY paid attention to who is walking past you? People are in and out and the streets are covered in transients who don’t even live here making Santa Monica unsafe, dirty, grimey and empty feeling. There is nothing special here but the ghetto pier, and the dirty beach and that is what we are known for.

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