When one thinks of Santa Barbara, they may imagine it’s green wilds, royal blue surf, or maybe even the bordering channel islands. But, for many shoppers and tourists, Santa Barbara’s most beloved attraction is State Street. At least, that was a couple years ago. In more recent years, the joint efforts of online shopping and economic struggles have turned State Street into a scene reminiscent of a ghost town. One SBHS student remarked on this, stating, “I knew State Street was going downhill when Wetzel’s Pretzels left.” Despite this setback State Street has yet again transformed, turning from a once crammed street into a slow-paced promenade. Despite all of it’s recent progress, one question still remains – what does the future of State Street hold?
Let’s start with the basics. On May 22 of last year, the City of Santa Barbara closed State Street to vehicles in response to the worsening pandemic and in an effort to encourage the use of outdoor spaces. While this was initially intended to be temporary, seeing the promenades’ success, the City founded the Future of State Street Committee made up of 15 members “with varying community and business interests,” as well as three city councils. This committee is dedicated to improving State Street, with the State Street Master Planner, Tess Harris remarking, “Whether the closure location remains as it is, expands, or contracts remains to be seen; but, I do believe there will be a well-planned State Street promenade in the future.” Although this quote leaves much to the imagination, Ms. Harris even went so far as to suggest, “I think State Street will continue to stay closed to vehicular traffic.” Based on these quotes, as well as a few other sources, it is clear that the SB community as a whole wishes for State Street to remain pedestrian oriented, though specific plans are yet to be determined.
However, despite the Committee’s graceful approach to transforming State Street, there are bound to be a few mishaps along the way. One common complaint among our student population is that the limited parking and congested traffic make visiting State Street a hassle, with the street’s central location making it an unfixable problem. Though no specific solution was supplied, the Committee did mention a partnership between the State Street project and public works, saying “We will be working closely with Public Works and with a technical consultant to complete a transportation, circulation, and parking study that identifies existing conditions and potential future conditions based on the continued closure of State Street.” Another problem mentioned among our students was that many of the activities on State Street weren’t exactly student oriented. While this situation wasn’t directly mentioned in the interview with Ms. Harris did explain that she, as well as many other Committee members had common views for State Street and would want to “…create a park-like setting in the street.” and utilize the hundreds of blocks of Upper State. One idea discussed was to create various districts dedicated to different subjects. Art and theater were one of the districts listed.
Despite all the issues that may occur, the State Street project holds strong, perhaps even strengthened by hopes of economic growth centered around State Street’s revival. “We have a unique opportunity to define what our downtown should include and how it can provide for everyone in our community… if we do it right, businesses will thrive [and] people will want to come downtown.” However, much of the planning is still up in the air, which is why they are currently seeking student input. So, if you have any questions, ideas, or rants about the abundance of LA tourists for example, contact Tess Harris at [email protected].
[Image Credit Tess Harris]