A comprehensive assessment of the world-famous Third Street Promenade's current state and how people spend their time while visiting it proves what many already know — it is still one of the most celebrated public spaces in the world, but after 30 years it needs a little love.
The findings are presented in a Public Space Public Life study conducted by three firms — Rios Clementi Hale Studios, Gehl and KPFF — who poured over planning documents, including the Downtown Community Plan, and detailed schematics of the Promenade's infrastructure; reviewed public comments made during a series of workshops on the Promenade's future held by Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM) last spring; conducted in-depth interviews with City staff; and, with the help of community volunteers and DTSM ambassadors, observed over the course of several days how visitors interacted with the various elements of the Promenade.
The full report and ongoing project updates can be accessed at www.downtownsm.com/promenade.
The report will help drive the direction of Promenade 3.0, a joint effort being led by DTSM and the City of Santa Monica to ensure the Promenade evolves and sustains the success it has generated since it opened in 1989. With over 15 million visitors and over $1 billion in taxable sales generated each year, the Promenade and its merchants have served as the economic heart of Santa Monica.
How to keep the momentum going involves not just improvements to light poles and benches, but an infusion of new retail, restaurants and entertainment options, more flexibility in what types of businesses are allowed, activating adjacent alleyways, and including new amenities like sun shades, faster public wi-fi, communal dining areas, more comfortable seating and engaging public art.
"The Promenade has been one of those magical places in Southern California," City Manager Rick Cole recently told stakeholders during the report's unveiling at a meeting with the Promenade 3.0 Task Force. In attendance were residents, Promenade property owners and members of several City commissions.
"We are the pioneers of getting people out of their cars, out of air-conditioned malls and into the real urban fabric," Cole added. "We need to continue that legacy. It's not just bricks and mortar. It's going to be a holistic approach."
Some of the Promenade's physical elements are worn out and need to be replaced. Pavers are cracked and no longer manufactured, pavement patches do not match, trashcans and street furniture feature rust and a lack of color, and the sewer line is nearing 60 years old. By reinvesting in the Promenade, new infrastructure that did not exist 30 years ago can be incorporated, such as stormwater collection systems to sustainably irrigate street trees and other vegetation to make the Promenade more inviting, colorful, and educational.
Several options for new amenities on the Promenade, including interactive seating like swings or hammocks, are presented at the end of the report. The goal is to let the public provide feedback on what they would like to see added to the street, providing a roadmap for investment on behalf of the City and Promenade property owners.
(Examples of new amenities that could be added to the Promenade.)
"Infrastructure is important, but how do we create a place that is attractive to locals … . We have to have an authentic, organic feel and not seem like a manufactured mall," said Mayor Gleam Davis. "If the residents come, then others will come."
The report countered a widely-circulated and inaccurate perception that the Promenade is "just a place for tourists." Interviews with Promenade visitors proved that the Promenade is actually a favorite for locals and those living in the Los Angeles region. Two-thirds of those surveyed in December of last year were from either Santa Monica or L.A., with fewer than one in four identifying as tourists. Of those identified as living in the area, the most common zip code listed was 90403, followed by 90405, 90402, 90404 and 90401 — all Santa Monica-based zip codes.
Authors of the report said further surveying needs to be done, most likely during the busier summer months, to get an even more accurate picture of who is coming to Third Street.
For now, the data shows the Promenade continues to attract a young and diverse audience. Frequent visitors and locals showed a preference for the block of the Promenade located adjacent to Santa Monica Place, most likely because of its dense retail offerings. Tourists seemed to gravitate more towards the middle block of the Promenade, as it offers a wider selection of dining options. The northern most block is by far the least trafficked, which may be a symptom of the higher number of retail vacancies than the other two blocks.
To help, DTSM launched The Experiment in fall of 2018, removing old, fixed furniture and replacing it with interactive seating elements, including spinning-top chairs and Astroturf "lily pads" for some greenery. Games for people to play were added, and a reading library was rolled out in partnership with the Friends of the Santa Monica Public Library. Many of these elements are included in the Promenade 3.0 report. DTSM is monitoring and surveying how the elements are favoring, and will continue to test new elements this spring and summer.
When surveyed, visitors said they loved the Promenade for many reasons.
"It's car-free, and safe to walk," someone said. Of those interviewed, 93 percent reported feeling safe, regardless of their gender.
"It just makes me feel good," said another. Others liked the street performers, the retail and food options and that a visitor can run into someone from all corners of the globe.
Visitors said they wanted more art and music, a wider selection of shopping meeting all budgets, more green space, as well as a play area for kids.
One key finding has to do with the Promenade's "stickiness," meaning its ability to make people stay for longer periods of time and enjoy the atmosphere. Pedestrian counts showed that the number of visitors spikes around 3 p.m. every day and then tapers off dramatically. This shows there are opportunities to expand entertainment options and provide more relaxing places to hang out in the early mornings and evenings. Could free morning meditation or yoga classes help? Maybe a jazz club or dance hall for the evening crowd.
It could be that the Promenade is so successful that people may be overwhelmed by the crowds. It could also mean there aren't enough invitations to stay rather than quickly moving through the public space. During peak hours, the volume of people moving through the Promenade rivals those of the world's busiest pedestrian streets. That being said, the data shows surges in pedestrian flow occur at different times on different blocks, suggesting people may be coming just for one reason, like visiting the Apple Store, and are reluctant to venture beyond it.
(On weekends the Promenade's 1400 block attracts more visitors than other popular public spaces around the world.)
"Ground-floor uses that offer a diversity of experiences, in addition to retail shopping, can contribute to greater visitor diversity and prolonged hours of street-life on Third Street Promenade," reads the report. "Bars and restaurants, entertainment venues, and fitness clubs can create a sphere of social influence that spills out into the street in ways that many retail outlets do not."
The next phase of Promenade 3.0 involves the design of three scenarios for redevelopment of the Promenade, with each being evaluated against the project's goals and the desires of all involved. The visions should be completed this summer, and many elements will be beta tested and evaluated against global benchmarks, with final adoption coming in the fall.
For future meeting dates, reports and to leave feedback on the future of the Promenade, visit www.downtownsm.com/promenade.