There has been a lot of finger-pointing and hand-wringing of late about the sorry state of State Street, but there has been a disappointing dearth of interesting ideas. Well, I have one, and gosh darn it, I am going to share it with you.
First, a quick question: When was the last time you drove on lower State Street?
Unless you are lost, drive a taxi/Uber, are delivering goods to a retail store in the middle of the night, or want to show off your fancy rental car, why on earth does anyone drive on State Street between Carrillo and Gutierrez (and De la Guerra from State to Anacapa)? There is just no good reason.
So why don’t we sentient human beings conspire to reclaim that most central strip of our community from totally unnecessary automobiles?
Let’s create a more authentic Santa Barbara experience for visitors. Let’s provide budding local entrepreneurs and artisans high-profile venues to display their talents. Let’s give locals and tourists alike the opportunity to meander among street performers, listen to impromptu concerts where car engines used to idle, discuss ideas in newly created civic spaces, and — just maybe — buy some stuff.
Places like Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade and Boulder, Colorado’s Pearl Street have managed to garner high interest (and sales tax revenue) from locals and tourists alike for decades now. New York City’s Department of Transportation recently published a report showing that after Brooklyn turned Willoughby Street into Willoughby Plaza by closing it to motorized traffic; the improved site significantly outperformed three comparable neighborhoods. The data I have seen indicates that strategically closing streets to cars works. Why aren’t our enlightened civic leaders already emulating these successes?
I can hear you opponents of 21st-century urban design sharpening your knives, so let me assure you that yes, you could continue to drive across State Street, and yes, emergency vehicles could still enter, and yes, we would still allow nighttime deliveries to storefronts, etc. This stuff isn’t rocket science; it is basic human centered design. In fact, we already close lower State for several hours every Tuesday afternoon for the Farmers Market — and it is great, isn’t it?
Downtown Organization — would you be willing to convene a community design charrette around this big idea? Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce — can I get an amen? Hey, Visit Santa Barbara — won’t it be fun to promote Santa Barbara’s new “State Street Promenade?”
We can continue to make Santa Barbara even better, and it starts with reclaiming lower State Street for human beings.