A closer look at Measuring Sprawl: Land use mix in Santa Barbara, CA

Santa Barbara, CA
Santa Barbara, CA is a national leader in land use mix. Photo via Konrad Summers on Flickr.

Santa Barbara, CA’s high score for land mix use—the diversity of jobs, homes, and services within its neighborhoods—helped it land near the top of our recent Measuring Sprawl 2014 report’s rankings for American cities. As Measuring Sprawl 2014 explores, a high overall rating for connectivity and compactness is linked to improved health outcomes, greater economic mobility, and lower combined spending on housing and transportation costs.

Santa Barbara’s outstanding level of land use mixture is the result of 25 years of planning, design, and implementation driven by both community and local government leaders. But the city’s key policies and strategies hold lessons for every community, no matter what size or how far along in the process.

Factor in focus: Land Use Mix
Measuring Sprawl 2014 used four factors to evaluate development: density, land use mix, street connectivity and activity centering. Every major metro area in the country was evaluated on these factors, which were then combined to create a metro area’s overall Sprawl Index score.

One of the four factors is land use mix, which is measured through a combination of factors: the balance of jobs to total population, the mix of job types within one mile of census block groups, and the WalkScore of the center of each census tract. A high land use mix score indicates a diversity of uses in each neighborhood and a high level of walkability between local destinations.

Land Use Mix in Santa Barbara, CA

In Measuring Sprawl 2014, Santa Barbara, CA—the fourth most compact, connected metro area nationally—had the best score among small metro areas for its land use mix. Several public policies have contributed to that score, stemming mostly from a public planning process begun in the 1990s that sought to create more affordable housing.

The process resulted in amendments to the General Plan and Zoning Ordinance that encouraged mixed-use development in certain areas. Now, the city’s zoning codes allow residential uses in most commercial zones, enabling the mixing of different land uses within neighborhoods.

The City of Santa Barbara also made this strategy a development priority by including it in the city’s 2011 General Plan Update. The update outlines three principles of development, one of which is to “encourage a mix of land uses to include strong retail and workplace centers, residential living in commercial centers with easy access to grocery stores and recreation, connectivity and civic engagement and public space for pedestrians.”

Santa Barbara County, which encompasses the City of Santa Barbara, also contributed to the region’s high land use mix score. The County maintains community plans for unincorporated areas outside the city limits, and has worked to support the City’s strategies and development goals by establishing mixed use zones and encouraging mixed uses in many of the community plans in order to encourage a variety of land uses throughout the county.

Santa Barbara’s high score in connectivity and compactness owes greatly to its accomplishments in mixed-use blocks and neighborhoods, thanks to the City’s 25 years of strategic urban policy development. Other communities interested in improving their scores can use Measuring Sprawl 2014’s four key factors as a guide, and Santa Barbara’s story as a strong model for putting connectivity strategies into action. Read the full report to learn more.