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Santa Monica Moves Forward with Well-Being Project

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

March 14, 2013 -- Santa Monica will move forward with plans to develop an index to measure its residents' well-being after it was awarded $1 million for the project by Bloomberg Philanthropies Wednesday.

Santa Monica's well-being index, which City officials hope to develop over the next two years, would look at the city's aggregate well-being based on factors including, economics, education, health, social connectedness, and physical environment.

“Our Local Wellbeing Index is going to be a game-changer, not just for Santa Monica, but for cities across the country and beyond,” said Mayor Pam O'Connor, who believes that in 10 to 15 years, “well-being” indices could become a norm.

She said that, in 1994, when Santa Monica adopted its sustainability plan, many were confused by what sustainability meant. Since then, sustainability has become one of the City's guiding principles. She imagines well-being will someday become the same.

Though research on “well-being” is not a new thing, applying that research and trying to gauge a community's well-being at the local level is new.

“There really hasn't been something like this for local government,” said Julie Rusk, assistant director of Community and Cultural Services.

Santa Monica hopes to partner with various organizations like RAND, the nonprofit think tank based in the bayside city, to help refine the index.

“We think that the index will help us understand vulnerable populations, potential hot-spots and where things are going well,” said Rusk.

Santa Monica was one of five cities -- along with Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and Providence -- that were awarded grants from Bloomberg Philanthropies after their proposed projects were selected from a pool of 305 proposals submitted last summer.

O'Connor said now it comes time for Santa Monica to answer the question: How do you really do this?

She said that well-being, a concept that includes both mental and physical health, is about resilience.

“If you are more resilient, you're going to be more equipt to solve your own problems,” she said. “If you have a positive outlook, you are going to be a problem-solver.”

With a well-being index, the City and its various nonprofit partners will have a quantitative measure of where its residents' well-being could use shoring up. The metric can be used to help decide about allocation of resources.

“You can't manage it if you can't measure it,” Bloomberg said of the well-being index project during a Wednesday morning conference call with the winning mayors and media, citing a phrase oft heard in New York City Hall.

Bloomberg's Mayors Challenge is a competition meant “to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life,” officials said.

To that end, the projects must all be transferable, Bloomberg said, encouraging other municipalities around the country to “plagiarize” the winning projects.

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