The Paseo System

Santa Barbara is a town blessed with its climate, its views, its mountains and ocean, and a downtown that has been developed with style, character and the needs of the human in mind. These qualities all suggest, no demand that a pedestrian circulation system be included at the heart of the city’s plan. In Western culture, heavily dependent pedestrian systems emanated from the medieval and pre-industrial periods in Europe. Unconcerned with minimum lane width, a mandated fire truck maneuverable turning radius, efficient street layouts, or precise parcel boundaries, the pedestrian way craves visual and aromatic interest, delightful details and surprises just around the corner.

Paseos (passages) are mid-block walkways that leave the auto behind. In their quintessential form, they are comparatively narrow and they jig and jog their way around and between buildings as they provide a way to weave through the center of the city or town. Often found between properties, or on a shared property line, they are now often utilized as additional “frontage” for shops, restaurants and even hidden “parks” that are out of view from the rest of the city. When well conceived and implemented, the paseo can provide needed rest, relaxation and refuge usually missing in Downtown’s daily drumbeat. In Santa Barbara, the bones of a paseo system have existed for almost 100 years; although with the exception of the Paseo Nuevo in the early 1990s, only a few “segments” have been added to the overall system in the last 50-plus years. In the late 1970s, the City Planning Department prepared a strategy for extending, expanding, connecting and unifying the system that existed, but the plan was never adopted and we are left with just enough of a system to be tantalized, but one that is unfortunately still incomplete.

Many thanks to Jake Jacobus and Paul Casey from the City of Santa Barbara Community Development Department for their help in the preparation of this article.