After decades of legal wrangling, the City of Santa Monica and the Federal Aviation Administration came to an agreement in January to close Santa Monica Airport by the end of 2028. The deal allows Santa Monica to immediately shorten the runway by nearly 1,500 feet and turn the western end of the airport into 45 acres of parkland.
The new agreement has no impact on our design to transform 12 acres of aircraft parking lots into parkland and athletic fields, (above). That plan was in the works long before the FAA agreement, and concerns parcels that weren’t being contested by the FAA. But it starts the countdown on converting the remainder of the airport into parkland, a provision made more certain by the November, 2014 passage of Measure LC. Santa Monicans overwhelmingly approved that ballot initiative, which prohibits “new development on Airport land, except for parks, public open spaces, and public recreational facilities.”
The potential to turn such a large piece of land into a park has already triggered our imaginations, along with those of numerous Santa Monica residents and park users. Some of the most intriguing landscape architecture projects of the past 20 years involve the conversion of airports, rail lines, and other industrial sites into public parks. Examples include Tempelhofer Field in Berlin, The Railyard in Santa Fe, N.M., Seattle’s Gas Works Park (above), and of course New York’s High Line (below).
A similar urban re-use design for Santa Monica Airport would celebrate the site’s history as an airport and its contributions to aviation history. At the same time, it would evolve to become a new kind of public space that would be iconic, and unique to Santa Monica and the surrounding region.
At more than 150 acres, such a new public space would be larger than all of Santa Monica’s other parks combined. And the airport’s strategic location, bordered by Cloverfield Park to the north and Venice’s Penmar Park to the west, holds open the possibility of linking them all together to make a massive 251-acre regional greenbelt, one-third the size of New York’s Central Park, that could serve the entire west side of Los Angeles.
No matter what is ultimately built on this space, our 20+ years of collaborating with the City of Santa Monica has taught us that it will be the product of extensive community research and public involvement. How better to build public spaces that truly serve the needs of the public?