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Santa Monica's well-being index wins $1-million prize

March 13, 2013 |  7:03 am

Samantha Terrio climbs the stairs during a fitness class workout at Palisades Park in Santa Monica in January. The city was one of five winners in the inaugural well-being index, which includes measurements such as residents' physical health, social connectedness and community resilience. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

The city of Santa Monica on Wednesday was named one of five winning cities in the inaugural Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge and will receive a $1-million prize to help carry out its well-being project.

City officials and researchers at Rand Corp. had proposed tracking such measures as residents' physical health, social connectedness and community resilience. They say the resulting index could be a first step toward changing the way city governments serve their residents.

The city was named a finalist in the fall, and Wednesday morning, officials announced their idea was crowned runner-up in the competition. Providence, R.I., won the big prize: $5 million to implement a program that hopes to close the word deficit of children born into low-income homes by exposing them to more vocabulary.

Houston, Chicago and Philadelphia were also named runners-up alongside Santa Monica. They too will receive a $1-million prize.    

The coastal city is often associated with the progressive vanguard. But the idea of tracking well-being is catching on elsewhere.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has launched the Community Disaster Resilience project, which will test resilience strategies across Los Angeles in the coming months. Gallup-Healthways introduced its Well-Being Index in 2008 and now doles out a national score that varies daily based on polling.

Advocates say well-being measures can capture intangible factors important to civic life. For example, the more connected people feel to their community, the more likely they are to bounce back after a natural disaster, city officials told The Times in previous interviews. And people with better mental health tend to pay less for healthcare, they said.

Santa Monica has already completed a Youth Wellbeing Report Card as part of its Cradle to Career Initiative, which gathers data from several sources to track youth in the city up to age 24. The study presented an array of findings, including that 81% of students were physically healthy, 67% said they felt safe at school and 25% said they experienced "significant periods of extreme sadness" during the last year.

That project gave city officials a jump-start on data collection. City staff attended workshops in New York to refine their idea in the fall and had been waiting to hear the results of judging.

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-- Matt Stevens  

Photo: Samantha Terrio climbs the stairs during a fitness class workout at Palisades Park in Santa Monica in January. The city was one of five winners in the inaugural well-being index, which includes measurements such as residents' physical health, social connectedness and community resilience. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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