In our last column, S.M.a.r.t discussed the future we might want for our City 50-75 years from now; see the S.M.a.r.t column Four Futures. The discussion revolved around the concept of core competencies. Core competencies are activities that a city does better regionally or even internationally than other cities. Think Atlanta for logistics, London for finance, and Los Angeles for entertainment. Some cities have several core competencies: think New York for both finance and entertainment. Our City currently has four significant competencies: beach tourism, retail shopping and services (the 3rd Street Promenade), health (2 major hospitals), and automobiles (Santa Monica Blvd car row).
But over time, core competencies change: some increase, some decrease, and some even disappear. For example, in the early sixties, we lost a significant competency, aviation, when Douglas Aircraft moved their factory to Long Beach. Looking ahead, we see substantial challenges to our existing core competencies. During the 77-year life of our youngest citizens, they will see the vanishing of our beach due to sea level rise. With our wide beach sand and parking lots gone, our beach will look like the seascape just south of where Sunset Blvd meets PCH. There is surfing there, but not enough beach to support our continued full-fledged beach tourism core competency.
Likewise, our next core competency loss is already here with the collapse of the 3rd Street Promenade winged by Amazon’s dominance, Covid’s office diaspora, the constant presence of people without homes, and cinema’s long fade. Fortunately, our health core competence seems stable into the next quarter century with the presence of many resident and regional boomers (seniors use a lot of health services in the last quarter of their lives). Finally, the private automobile sector (sales, parts, gas stations, repairs, parking, driving schools, smog checks etc., etc.) will start to shrink for all the known reasons: increasing car purchase costs, parking problems caused by no parking requirements in new projects, and the advent of self-driving cars.
In short, of our four major core competencies, one is strong (health), two are staggering (beach and cars), and one is dead (retail), so we need new competencies to propel our City for the rest of this century. Two weeks ago, S.M.a.r.t proposed four new competencies for your consideration.
- PARK PARADISE:
Santa Monica could be the center of a large regional park replacing the airport. In this way, we could retain our role as the lungs and open space source for the residents of the increasingly impacted Westside and San Fernando Valley. Naturally, this park would need to be funded by Federal, State, County, and local City investments because our City does not have the funds for a new 220-acre park.
2. WELLNESS MECCA:
The City already has a strong medical establishment (2 Hospitals, Amgen, Emperor’s College, John Wayne Cancer Institute, etc., etc.) but could further expand its health infrastructure, e.g., laboratories, clinics, and doctor’s offices, to meet increasing demand if the Westside densifies, though, in spite of the excessive development we are currently experiencing, there is currently a decline in the local and statewide population. The City could also shift from crisis-oriented medicine to a City emphasizing healthy living: yoga, tai chi, meditation classes, and countless other activities of direct benefit to its residents. Finally, pollution reduction in all its forms would be another wellness fulcrum.
3, CITY OF FESTIVALS:
As our beaches shrink, our hotels, restaurants, and other tourist infrastructure could be refocused to serve a series of festivals, conventions, shows, and competitions. Our City would be organized around a series of monthly, quarterly, and annual festivals. The kind of festivals would only be limited by our imagination and the ability to insert them gracefully into our urban fabric.
4. LA’s BEDROOM:
Alternatively, we could become just a bedroom community for LA like Simi Valley or Palmdale, only closer and without home ownership. The difference from those suburban cities is that they have lower land value and have room for families (e.g., backyards) and ownership, while Santa Monica’s development has consistently destroyed family housing, and there is no new plan incentivizing ownership. We would continue to pack in new wealthy residents in multistory econo boxes but with a slightly better school system than our surrounding City of Los Angeles.
The next two candidate core competencies for your consideration this week could be built around higher education and ecology:
5. CAMBRIDGE OF THE WEST:
We could make Santa Monica a higher education node by raising our College to university status or creating a whole new university, say at part of the vacated airport, should that ever occur. Triangulated between Pepperdine, UCLA, Otis, Loyola, and Mount Saint Mary’s College, a new university might focus on high-tech skills, information science, and the arts or focus on what is not being provided adequately by those other schools. Naturally, the value added of such an endeavor would have to be studied carefully since universities are now on the ropes due to the incredibly high cost of higher education. Such a City would have to provide dormitories on campus or off and would have a cyclical invasion of students in the fall followed by emptier facilities during the summer, although this could be compensated by the balancing increased summer tourist trade.
6. ECO TOWN:
A final core competency to consider would be a city that can provide all its own needed water, power, and food. For water, we would continue to ramp up our recycled water infrastructure and our stormwater storage capacity and continue to reduce our internal water consumption so as to not draw down our own water table. With State mandates for building unnecessary housing, this, of course, would be a difficult task to manage. If the City grew beyond those sources, desalinization would have to be considered and planned for. For power, we could require all new buildings to be net-zero (provide all their needed power on-site) with either shared battery capacity or surplus battery capacity provided by buildings that could not reach net-zero for any reason, e.g., bigger than 3-4 stories or are shaded by other existing buildings or trees.
Offshore windmills (or at the airport, in lieu of potential parkland) could also provide the power needed for our City and the surplus sold to LA City. Our public schools would be designed as cooling centers for the inevitable killer heat waves. Finally, food could be provided by a combination of interior vertical farming or open farming on vacated airport land that isn’t possibly occupied by college expansion or a desalinization plant. It’s unclear how big the population could be if it were limited by the capacity to grow our own food, and this would require more study to see if this is a realistic criteria. Our City would be an exemplary, sustainable (able to function in perpetuity) and resilient (able to survive the inevitable earthquakes and tsunamis) city. It would not contribute to global warming or global pollution.
We are now transitioning from our City’s core competencies (beach tourism, retail, health, and cars) of the last seven decades to the competencies for our next seven decades. The possible competencies suggested here are to expand our thinking and identify both opportunities and conflicts. Because preparing new competencies on an urban scale takes time, we should start that discussion now and then preposition the elements needed for their realization. Such prepositioning would require a master plan that everyone has had a chance to contribute and buy into. Notice two things. First, the core competencies are not mutually exclusive: perhaps several, but not all, could exist simultaneously. Second, notice how many of the candidate’s core competencies involve needing to use the last of our large open space, the remarkable asset of our airport land. Because the discussion of the airport’s future is already here, we should have a community discussion of our aspirational core competencies before committing to a specific airport master plan.
By Mario Fonda-Bonardi for
S.M.a.r.t Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow
Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect & Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect & Planning Commissioner, Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA Michael Jolly, AIR-CRE.
For previous articles, see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing