Santa Monica gets its first ‘sustainable living street’

  • Longfellow Street

    Longfellow Street

    Longfellow Street, in Santa Monica, uses textured pavers, landscaping elements, and lighting features to enhance the streetscape experience for all users.  Image provided by AvantLand.

  • Greening the streetscape

    Greening the streetscape

    Landscape elements are important features of sustainable living streets.  Along with providing shade, they perform ecological functions, calm traffic, and contribute to the aesthetic quality of the neighborhood.  Image provided by the Borderline Community Group. 

Better! Cities & Towns

Until recently, Longfellow Street, a four-block stretch in Santa Monica’s Borderline neighborhood, was not very welcoming. The area devoted to automobiles consumed nearly the entire streetscape, leaving little space for pedestrians. Lighting was inadequate, and the street was a magnet for drug-related activities.

Realizing that enforcement alone was unlikely to solve the problems, the Borderline Neighborhood Group (BNG) sought to identify physical improvements that could make the street more beautiful and less of a magnet for criminal activities. City council authorized the hiring of a team of consultants led by Nelson\Nygaard to come up with a plan. The finished result, inspired by “shared space” and “woonerf” design principles, was unveiled in a grand opening March 30. (New Urban News reported on this plan in October 2008.)

The so-called “sustainable living street” does not incorporate the usual practice of segregating motor vehicles, pedestrians, and other road users through the roadway, curb, sidewalk, and planting strip. Rather, it features differentiated textured pavement, plantings, and lighting to integrate walking, cycling, socializing, and driving cars throughout the street. The new street was also designed to act as a “front living room” to the tiny Borderline Neighborhood parcels, many of which are only 25 feet wide.

“This is much more than a street beautification project,” says Dennis Woods, chair of the BNG Improvement Committee and an urban and transportation planner by trade. “It puts more eyes and feet on the street by creating a park where people want to gather, play, walk their dogs and generally enjoy the neighborhood while the street is still open to vehicular access.”

Prior to implemention of the redesign plan, parking on Longfellow Street was a problem, with motorists sometimes leaving cars in front of residents’ driveways. Colored pavers now identify parking areas, eliminating confusion and reducing enforcement issues on the part of authorities.

By incorporating new landscaping, creating new park space, improving access to transit and commercial areas, Longfellow Street is helping local residents take greater ownership over their community. Borderline residents are now considering additions to the Longfellow Street Corridor that further enhance the experience of users, such as additional traffic calming and public art.

City leadership and BNG members are hoping to expand the sustainable living streets concept into other areas of the city as well as other municipalities.

“No other city that we know of has done this,” added Woods. “I hope it serves as a model.”

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