Santa Monica has been awarded $1 million, which will allow it to become the first city in the nation to measure the well-being of its residents.
The seaside town is by far the smallest of five cities that won the Mayors Challenge, a competition that aims to inspire innovation to help cities solve major challenges. It's funded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s foundation, which named the winners from among more than 300 applicants Thursday.
The City of Santa Monica Wellbeing Project would create a tool for measuring the community in key areas, including economics, education, health, social connectedness and physical environment, with the intention using the data when the city makes decisions and allocates funds.
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“The premise of this whole thing is that city governments are here to make people’s lives better, but a lot of the decisions being made are being made without knowing what are the problem’s in people’s lives,” said Dean Kubani, manager in the Santa Monica Office of the Sustainability and the Environment. “We’re going to try and integrate well-being into our decision-making process."
The project will create a Local Wellbeing Index, which will quantify aspects of the community to create a multidimensional picture of the city’s well-being. Santa Monica will be the first city in the nation to take such measurements at a local level.
“Often times, when it comes to some of the human and social issues, people tend to think of those as hard to quantify, and I think this is a way to begin to do that,” said Julie Rusk, assistant director of Santa Monica’s Community and Cultural Services.
In developing the project and applying for the Mayors Challenge, the city collaborated with non-profit organizations, academic institutions and other groups, including the Rand Corporation.
“We have a pretty solid team in place here,” Kubani said. “We’re ready to hit the ground running.”
Part of the project would also include sharing the diagnostic tool developed to measure well-being, in addition to sharing the data and details of the overall process to help other cities implement similar programs.
“Economists and governments around the world are increasingly looking for metrics to understand just how well their cities – and citizens – are doing,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “Santa Monica can be a real pioneer in this effort.”
The Mayors Challenge is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which received 305 applications from cities in 45 states.
Santa Monica, with a population of a little over 90,000, is tiny compared to the other cities that won prizes.
Providence, R.I., received the challenge’s $5 million grand prize. Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia also received $1 million prizes.
“We are thrilled beyond belief to be one of the winners,” said Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor in a statement. “Now that the door is open to implementing the big idea we’ve been thinking and talking about for month, I can’t wait to get it started.”
In addition to the $1 million prize, the city has about $750,000 of funding available to use for this project, Kubani said. The combination of those funding sources will be able to complete the two-year scope of the project.
“Now’s when the hard work starts. Now that we’ve won, we’ve got to show that we’re worthy of winning this money,” Kubani said. “I have every confidence that it will be a successful project.”