Among the five winners of the first Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge, Santa Monica was awarded $1 million in 2013 to launch The Wellbeing Project. Cities typically judge their success on the basis of economics; but Santa Monica wanted to start making decisions based on citizens’ overall well-being. With The Wellbeing Project, Santa Monica set out to define and measure the factors contributing to urban health – and use the findings to drive policies that would improve quality of life throughout the city. Santa Monica began by partnering with the RAND Corporation, the New Economics Foundation, and global experts to research the dynamics impacting citizen wellbeing. The team identified six key factors –health, outlook, community, economic opportunity, environment, demographics, and learning – and measured them through surveys, social media, and public records. The findings were used to create the Wellbeing Index, a compilation of statistics that provide a benchmark for understanding well-being in the community. The first Wellbeing Index was published publicly in 2015.
The city has since continued to gather data and refine its approach, and in 2017 it published the second Wellbeing Index. The project revealed a number of areas with room for improvement. For example, the 2017 Index showed that only 38% of citizens were active for more than 20 minutes per day. It also highlighted that fresh fruit and vegetable consumption was particularly low, at roughly half the national average.
In response, Santa Monica is using the findings of the Wellbeing Project to drive decision-making, with the goal of enhancing wellbeing for all citizens. To tackle the dietary problem, city officials worked with fruit and vegetable vendors to make farmers markets more welcoming to low income citizens. The city is also piloting a new fitness program, giving fitbits to 200 residents to encourage them to be more active.
Looking to the future, Santa Monica is working to embed the wellbeing philosophy into the heart of its planning and budgeting. In the coming years, the Wellbeing Index may help the city tackle deeper issues such as the lower levels of health and education attainment among minority groups.
Other local governments are already looking to mimic Santa Monica’s success. Santa Monica is currently working with Miami and Louisville, and it has written a guidebook for other cities interested in creating their own Wellbeing Index.