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A Comfortable City for All

Picture this: a concerned citizen takes to Facebook to ask about the mysteriously vanishing benches and chairs on the Promenade. Turns out, they were supposedly being repaired and would be back soon. But for our beloved senior citizens, those benches are more than just a place to rest their weary legs—they’re essential for catching their breath and enjoying the city. Too bad those benches were never replaced.

Now, this Facebook post sheds light on a bigger issue facing Santa Monica. Poor planning, inconsiderate design, and weak communication have made it tough for residents to navigate our city’s man-made environment. We’re talking about parking structure signs blocking our view of oncoming traffic, misbehaving bus benches, unenforced noise regulations, and infrequent bus service (although it is improving now, to be fair). It’s a mess that affects folks of all ages, not just seniors.

Did you know that over 40% of Santa Monica’s residents are baby boomers? They’re dealing with their own challenges, like mobility issues, vision impairments, and slower response times. Sure, the city has made efforts to cater to seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income folks, but it’s not enough. We need a user-friendly city that benefits everyone.

So, how do we make Santa Monica age-friendly? The World Health Organization has some great suggestions. We’re talking clean, secure streets with limited noise and unpleasant odors, well-maintained outdoor seating in parks and public spaces, separate bike paths, reliable and frequent public transport (including nights and weekends), conveniently located and well-equipped transportation stops, unobstructed roads, and housing designs that integrate older people into the community. These are the ingredients for success.

Now, Santa Monica has embraced some of these ideas but has failed to implement others. It’s time for a systematic effort to ensure our physical environment matches the needs of our residents—those who are aging themselves or taking care of their parents and children. It should be a no-brainer for our competent planners!

Here’s a to-do list for the city to get started:

  • Join the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities. Their guide and checklist can be our roadmap. Check it out here.
  • Assign a planner to create an aging-friendly checklist and dedicate monthly hours to implement it across the city, considering all projects from parks to bus stops. No more isolated bureaucratic silos!
  • Update zoning to convert two-story apartment buildings (known as “dingbat” buildings) into small assisted living facilities. Some of these buildings are perfectly suited for this purpose, with staff spaces upstairs and resident care rooms downstairs.
  • Enforce noise, litter, and smoking laws. The downtown bus stops have turned into outdoor smoking zones, posing health risks to everyone, especially those with respiratory problems. Let’s also crack down on noise pollution from muffler-less motorcycles and other offenders that disrupt peace in our neighborhoods and make sure the parks are clean and safe.
  • Fix the bus stops citywide, provide shade where possible, and increase service frequency.
  • Address the height issue of parking structure signs downtown that obstruct the view of oncoming traffic.

These steps are just the beginning of our journey toward an all-ages city. Santa Monica should affiliate with the WHO Global Network and take inspiration from New York’s Aging Improvement Districts. Check it out here. Let’s plan and design a city that’s comfortable and enjoyable for everyone, no matter their age. Imagine a place where clean streets, accessible seating, reliable public transport, and well-lit walkways become the norm. A city that truly values the well-being and comfort of its residents, regardless of their age. Together, let’s transform Santa Monica into a city for everyone.

Daniel Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission.
Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow: Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Dan Jansenson, Architect & Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect & Planning Commissioner, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA & Planning Commissioner, Michael Jolly, AIR-CRE

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