APA singled out Santa Monica Boulevard in the City of West Hollywood for its ability to meld a variety of cultural influences into a dynamic streetscape that supports almost continuous use. A major reconstruction project completed in 2001 not only honors the city’s commitment to the street’s cultural and historic heritage but has enhanced aesthetics, improved vehicular flow and pedestrian orientation, and incorporated green features.
“Santa Monica Boulevard runs through the heart of West Hollywood and has been a destination for thousands of tourists from around the world and at the same time home of a diverse, bohemian and creative community,” said West Hollywood Mayor John J. Duran. “The Boulevard, as many locals refer to, is home to the annual Gay Pride Parade, the world-renown Halloween Carnival and the epicenter of many of the LGBT struggles for equality. This is home for many residents and for thousands of people who share our vision around the world.”
Through Great Places in America, APA recognizes unique and exemplary streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces – three essential components of all communities. These authentic places have been shaped by forward thinking planning that showcases diverse architectural styles, promotes community involvement and accessibility, and fosters economic opportunity.
APA Great Places offer better choices for where and how people work and live every day. Since APA began Great Places in America in 2007, 50 neighborhoods, 50 streets and 40 public spaces have been designated in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“This iconic boulevard, part of legendary Route 66, is a true reflection of its residents,” said APA Chief Executive Officer Paul Farmer, FAICP. “Home to several historic landmarks, Santa Monica Boulevard is the center of the city’s LGBT and Russian-speaking communities. Here, municipal flagpoles proudly fly rainbow flags alongside the American flag and ethnic grocery stores and Jewish delis cater to the City’s Russian-speaking residents,” he added.
There was a time, not too long ago, where “you took your life in your hands just to cross Santa Monica Boulevard,” said Jeff Prang, a member of the West Hollywood City Council. Today, this reconstructed main street embraces pedestrians, linking them to neighborhoods, landmarks and traditions.
A stroll along Santa Monica Boulevard yields distinct experiences. The west end is the center of the city’s renowned LGBT community and nightlife. The eastern portion of the boulevard, a celebrated gathering place, runs through a culturally rich neighborhood of Russian-speaking immigrants. Scattered along the roadway – amidst some 600 traditional and unconventional businesses – are seven historic structures, including Irv’s, a 1946 burger stand and The Lot, where movies such as Wuthering Heights (1939), Some Like It Hot (1959) and West Side Story (1959) were shot.
Santa Monica Boulevard is a reflection of its residents and their values. Along the Boulevard, bronze plaques, part of the West Hollywood Memorial Walk, are engraved with the names of those who have died from HIV/AIDS. A monument commemorating the site of a massive protest against the 1991 gubernatorial veto of a bill that would have banned job discrimination against homosexuals. Signs in Russian denote businesses and restaurants that cater to immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who make up nearly 20 percent of the city’s population. The boulevard’s festive atmosphere is an ideal location for the city’s annual Russian, Halloween, and gay pride festivals.
It’s not unusual for the population of West Hollywood, normally 36,000, to triple on weekends, as revelers partake in the city’s nightlife. Despite its almost continuous use, Santa Monica Boulevard remains pristine due to the city’s intensive street cleaning and maintenance program.
Two parks anchor Santa Monica Boulevard at either end, with several green spaces found in between. The newly renovated West Hollywood Park, which includes the West Hollywood Library, as well as the upcoming renovation of Plummer Park will significantly increase the size of the parks and open space in the City and create new community facilities.
One of the city’s first major projects following its incorporation in 1984 was to clean up the eyesore that was Santa Monica Boulevard. It buried utility lines and tore up 15,000 feet of abandoned railroad tracks and 5,000 rotting wooden ties in the street’s median.
In 1997, city residents embarked on an 18-month planning process. The Santa Monica Boulevard Master Plan represents their collective desire for a culturally expressive street that balances the area’s historic heritage with its tradition of tolerance.
After the newly incorporated City of West Hollywood acquired control of the state-owned boulevard from Caltrans in 1999, reconstruction commenced. Two years, 1,200 trees and $34 million later, Santa Monica Boulevard reopened as a complete street, a multi-modal thoroughfare with thriving businesses that serve a diverse population. The redesigned street – and several structures, including a new LEED library and solar-powered Sierra Bonita Affordable Housing building – includes green features.
Other sustainable changes are in the offing. The city’s new Climate Action Plan calls for bicycle/car sharing programs and electric-vehicle charging stations along the boulevard. A proposed transit overlay zone would incentivize mixed-use development in key locations along the boulevard.
The nine other APA 2011 Great Streets are: U Street N.W., Washington, DC; Front Street, Lahaina, HI; Main Street, Galena, IL; Main Street, Nantucket, MA; Washington Avenue, St. Louis, MO; Market Street and Market Square, Portsmouth, NH; Downtown Woodstock Streetscape, Woodstock, VT; King Street, Alexandria, VA; and Davis Street, Culpeper, VA.
For more information about these streets, as well as lists of the 2011 APA 10 Great Neighborhoods and 10 Great Public Spaces, and designations between 2007 and 2010, visit www.planning.org/greatplaces.
This year’s Great Places in America will be celebrated as part of APA’s National Community Planning Month in October 2011; for more about the special month, visit www.planning.org/ncpm.
The American Planning Association is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of vital communities. APA and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, are dedicated to advancing the art, science and profession of good planning — physical, economic and social — so as to create communities that offer better choices for where and how people work and live. Members of APA help create communities of lasting value and encourage civic leaders, business interests and citizens to play a meaningful role in creating communities that enrich people’s lives. APA has offices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Ill. For more information, visit www.planning.org.