Since it first opened in 1989, Third Street Promenade established itself as one of the most successful, iconic and imitated public spaces in the world. But in the past three decades, the retail, entertainment, dining landscape brought on by online-retailers, streaming video, “fast-casual” restaurants and delivery apps has changed dramatically, challenging the traditional tenant mix that sustained the Promenade’s success, while the competition for great urban places has also increased across the region. While its location and reputation are unique assets, the Promenade’s continued success depends on evolving to accommodate changing times.
To actively guide this evolution, in early 2018 the City of Santa Monica and Downtown Santa Monica Inc. initiated an effort dubbed “Promenade 3.0” to develop a comprehensive place-making overview of the street, and engaged Rios Clementi Hale Studios and Gehl People to design the street’s next iteration.
A key element in the design process was The Experiment – a public space laboratory deployed in summer 2019. Utilizing the tools of “tactical urbanism” The Experiment explored concepts, hypothesis, and proposals for under consideration by the design team. Each pilot “tested” a proposition: freestanding picnic tables gauged the desire to get food to go and eat with family, friends, strangers; a play landscape engaged “play for all ages” and create new opportunities for families with children to visit; movable chairs asked if people would rather sit in small social groups instead of fixed seating. As with any test, metrics through observations and data counts were used to evaluate success of various elements, and guide design decisions. The Experiment was thus a real-world public engagement test of possible designs and a prudent process when considering a multi-million dollar public works project.
The proposed design extrapolates the lessons of The Experiment and reimagines the iconic street into a “Ramblas” form – repurposing the center 25 feet into a flexible linear corridor that can be programmed and designed for a wide range of activities. Imagined within this Ramblas section are shaded outdoor dining, beer gardens, farmers market tents, play areas, interactive fountains, formal and informal stages for performances, concession pavilions, new artwork and gardens, and other community-oriented amenities.
Guiding this design is a premise about the nature of public space in the 21st century: whereas the combination of entertainment and shopping was a sure-fire formula to create vibrant public spaces in the pre-internet age, today a robust civic commons is necessary to sustain a healthy retail district as competing shopping malls and streets focus on cultural facilities, pop-up retail and unique events to entice visitors.
As City Urban Designer, Alan Loomis was the lead urban designer on Santa Monica’s “Promenade 3.0” project team.
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