Being happy in a place like Santa Monica, Calif., would be easy, right? With its renowned boardwalk, beach, and moderate climate, one would think this southern California city is the picture of serenity.
But city leaders here haven’t taken the sun and fun for granted.
Instead, Santa Monica in 2013 began paying particular attention to the wellbeing of its residents — creating the Wellbeing Index, a tool that pulls from multiple data sources to provide a framework for what it takes for people to thrive. The Index now empowers city leaders to both measure residents’ wellbeing and then apply this insight to city plans and policies.
On Thursday, Santa Monica released the Wellbeing Index’s second round of findings, this time nearly doubling the number of residents represented — reaching nearly 4,000 citizens, or nearly 5 percent of the population. Key findings include:
· 74% of residents are optimistic about the future
· 74% plan to stay in their neighborhood for a number of years
· Residents have fewer chronic health conditions like coronary heart disease and obesity than the average American
· 29% feel they can influence decisions in Santa Monica
As they did after releasing the first round of findings in 2015, city leaders will now use this information to guide policy decision and create programs to promote wellbeing. For example, when the first findings showed that 23 percent of residents cited traffic and mobility as a concern, the city launched transit plans for light rail, bike share, and pedestrian safety. Similarly, when city leaders learned that only one-third of 5-year-olds were physically, socially, or emotionally ready for kindergarten, they created a citywide preparedness campaign and funded and developed a new childhood education lab.
The Wellbeing Index is born out of a philosophy of city-focused problem solving, according to City Manager Rick Cole. Where cities have traditionally defined their function as providing specific services that respond to “specific problems in specific times in specific spaces,” with the Wellbeing Index, all Santa Monica departments can focus on the singular goal of improving residents’ health and happiness.
“Instead of taking for granted that our role in local government is to perform services,” Cole said, “we define our role in the same spirit as those who originally pioneered public services: enhancing the wealth, safety and wellbeing of our residents.”
With its Wellbeing Project, Santa Monica was, in 2013, one of the first five winners of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge. After successful challenges in the U.S. (2013), Europe (2014), and Latin American and the Caribbean (2016), the Challenge returns to the United States this year as the first investment in Michael Bloomberg’s recently announced American Cities Initiative. Already, 555 cities have signed up for this year’s Challenge, representing the highest-even number of entrants for the competition.