Reimagining Our Downtowns
Moderator Katie Lichtig, left, Santa Monica’s chief operating officer and assistant city manager, San Luis Obispo City Manager Derek Johnson and David Martin, Santa Monica’s planning and community development director, participate in the “Reimagining Our Downtowns: A Slow Fade Or a New Dawn” presentation Thursday in Santa Barbara. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Officials from the cities of San Luis Obispo and Santa Monica who participated in reinvigorating their downtown areas discussed their challenges and successes at a free presentation in Santa Barbara on Thursday.

San Luis Obispo City Manager Derek Johnson and David Martin, Santa Monica’s planning and community development director, spoke of their efforts to make their downtowns welcoming, livable and economically prosperous during an event titled “Reimagining Our Downtowns — A Slow Fade Or a New Dawn.”

Topics covered during the evening included the process for revitalizing a city’s downtown area, the importance of revamping a downtown to stay relevant, engaging community input and the value of public-private partnerships.

Speaking on the second floor of the former Macy’s building at Paseo Nuevo, Johnson said that downtown San Luis Obispo is a diverse and mixed-use district that is the focus of local and regional government. Downtown is the center of festivals and activities, and a place where residents go for entertainment, work, live, dine and meet.

He spoke of the Downtown Concept Plan, the community’s long-range roadmap that guides both public and private investment for the downtown vision. 

The plan includes a broad range of public engagement, Johnson said, and describes the vision for each block in the downtown area.

With people living and visiting downtown San Luis Obispo comes the need for parks, public art, shopping and diverse range of entertainment. Johnson noted the city’s weekly farmers market and how public art such as Bubblegum Alley, a tourist attraction, can reveal the character of a community’s identity. 

He also spoke of the challenges the city faces.

“We experience the same challenges that Santa Monica and Santa Barbara experience in terms of homelessness and the upkeep on the wear and tear,” Johnson said.

Martin outlined Santa Monica’s Downtown Community Plan, a vision for guiding the evolution of downtown, which includes a 229-acre area by Wilshire Boulevard and Interstate 10, and between Lincoln Boulevard and Ocean Avenue.

Housing is encouraged to accommodate residents, he said.

“A focus of this plan is housing,” Johnson said. “Santa Monica has a lot of office development … we developed a plan that allows housing development and mixed-use.” 

Another priority of Santa Monica’s plan is preserving historic buildings in the downtown area to help preserve the community’s identity while new projects come forward.

The presentation was sponsored by the American Institute of Architects of Santa Barbara as part of its 2018 ArchitecTours activities.

Santa Barbara City Administrator Paul Casey joined the panelists for a question-and-answer session after the presentations. Panelists opened the floor to questions from the audience.

Katie Lichtig, Santa Monica’s chief operating officer and assistant city manager, was the event moderator. 

“The times are changing,” Lichtig told the more than 150 people at the event. “If we don’t change and don’t embrace that which we don’t know exactly how it will turn out … we will wither away and die as a community.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.