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Ventura’s Got IT! But What Is IT?

We’re Number One. In what? Best places to live in the US, according to this April’s Men’s Journal.

We beat out trendy, quaint, and jazzy places with our temperate weather and beaches of course, but also our affordability, business-friendly atmosphere for startups, but mostly our retro laid back style. We are, as the Journal states, “refreshingly unpolished.” The Journal approves that we haven’t razed our modest middle class neighborhoods “to make room for trophy homes and luxury condos.”

(And we’ve just been voted the best county in the whole country by a Washington Post Blog!)

The Ventura Visitor’s Bureau confirms our appeal by very large yearly upticks in hotel stays, restaurant patrons, even Visitor Center visits, up 18% from last year.

Surprisingly, folks from San Diego like to vacation here. They have their own beaches and cool weather, so why come to Ventura? Simply put, it’s our “charm.” They actually call it that in visitor convention gatherings.

Charm! That’s what we have, that ineffable quality, hard to define but we know it when we see it and feel it. San Diego must have spoiled theirs some how. Guess how?

For a town, charm has something to do with scale, layout, building styles, density, crowdedness, and connections to nature. One could list typical attributes of a city—crime rate, health care system, transportation, schools, shopping centers, number of parks, and never get close to discovering charm.

Most people do not realize that Ventura still looks somewhat like it did many years ago—with a variety of neighborhoods, building styles, flowing street-scapes, an open feel, layered prospects for dramatic views and the rolling bouncing hills that back it.

It helps that we have an active historical preservation process, with lots of unique buildings saved.

Ventura never had major cosmetic work on its plain though sunny face. Some find it a bit déclassé compared to our upscale up coast neighbor. But Santa Barbara made itself over to emulate a Spanish town, with homogenized colonial architecture everywhere, more like a movie set than a real beach town that accumulated houses of all types and sizes over time, like Ventura, a town with charm.

But can we keep it?

Our City Council had encouraging words for charm devotees as they reviewed upcoming projects at a recent meeting. They judged many proposed building designs as prison-like, dull, boring. They sent many back to the drawing board. Ventura deserves better than boxy structures built on the cheap.

If you stroll our historic downtown and then along the promenade eventually to the end of the pier, you’ll witness that grand view of endless sky and sea, what philosophers call the sublime. And when you turn around and look back at the city you see the charm of our human-scale town, what those sages call the beautiful.

It’s ribbons of flowing dwellings with not too many stick outs. The colors and almost musical rise and fall of patterned streets respect the hills they sit on. And behind this panorama, the hills themselves, nature still close to us, having our backs as it were, the real foundations of our charm.

As you probably know, they could get developed, right behind the city. A long swathe of curvy hillside could be cut and filled and flattened into a wide ledge by Regent Properties for somewhat fancy tract homes lined up on parallel streets.

Many of us hope our City Council will send them back to the drawing board too, or actually back home to LA, or San Diego where their kind of development has taken root and overpowered charm to the point where our friends to the south come here to get what they themselves have spoiled.

We’re Number One, remember, not for what we lack, but for what we have already have and love and often have to fight hard to preserve.

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