Santa Barbara’s “experiment” appears to have paid off.
Several hundred people packed the 400 and 500 blocks of State Street on Saturday to welcome “Experiment Weekend.”
The City of Santa Barbara organized the event, with help from several community partners. The city closed State Street to vehicular traffic from noon to 10 p.m. for the day.
Without the fear of cars zooming by, people played basketball, ping-pong and cornhole in the street. They dined at tables and listened to live music. Children used chalk and markers to decorate canvasses.
In the evening, attendees enjoyed a light art show and live music below the Highway 101 underpass. Local entrepreneurs are also filling vacant spaces on State Street for one month with handcrafted and other items.
“It is really representative of Santa Barbara,” said Nina Johnson, senior assistant city administator, who originally conceptualized the event. “People of all generations are coming.
“Many people are saying this is the best day ever they have had on State Street.”
She said city ambassadors were stationed on street corners to gather feedback and survey information from passersby.
“Right now we are just demonstating ideas,” Johnson told Noozhawk. “There are so many creative directions to go.”
The city has been under increasing pressure to revitalize State Street and bring energy and vibrancy into downtown. Retail storefront vacancies and the preponderance of homeless people have added to the district’s struggles.
Officials are trying to brainstorm ways to turn downtown into an experience — something unique — rather than just shopping.
One Santa Barbara couple — Amber Sabiron and Josh Ruiz — spent some time playing basketball on the makeshift courts. Ruiz recently injured his hand skateboarding, so he was shooting with his left. Meanwhile, Sabiron was sinking three-pointers and grabbing rebounds.
“I think it’s amazing,” Sabiron said. “This kind of stuff will make us come downtown more. Normally we hang out in the Funk Zone.”
Ruiz said he would like to see more games and activities, including a beer pong table.
Tourists also enjoyed the event.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Mayrette Mercado, who was visiting from Downey with her daughters, 8-year-old Samantha and 2-year-old Krystal.
“This event brings families together,” she said.
Experiment Weekend was sponsored by Noozhawk, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, COAST (Coalition for Sustainable Transportation), Downtown Santa Barbara, KimbaKata Productions, Pintard Group, Pop-Up Town, Samy’s Camera, the Santa Barbara Independent, Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District, Santa Barbara Woodie Club and Voice Magazine.