Here it comes again. One of my favorite questions.
“Wait, you live in Isla Vista?”
“The college town by UCSB? You want to live there?”
Most people’s idea of Isla Vista is either formed by having lived their in the college years, having known someone who lived there in the college years, or news stories about people in their college years who live there.
What is usually missed in all the stories about raucous parties and couch burnings is the fact that Isla Vista is located in one of the most naturally beautiful locations in all of California.
IV is a coastal town about 15 miles west of Santa Barbara. To the north is the rugged and expansive Los Padres National Forest. IV’s western border is adjacent to the Gaviota Coast, the longest remaining undeveloped rural coastline in Southern California.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at pictures of Deltopia or Halloween, but Isla Vista itself is rich in natural areas and parks. The Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District (which I am a member of the Board of Directors) oversees 25 parks and open spaces which encompass over 45 acres in an area of less than 2 square miles. And that doesn’t count the miles of coastline, county and state open naturalized open space, and the university’s natural preserve. All within walking distance for any resident.
That’s not to say Isla Vista is a total paradise. There are issues of density, lack of affordable housing, and a quickly eroding coastline. IV’s problems are to a large extent coastal California’s problems.
And then there is the student population. Are they loud and occasionally annoying? Yes. Are they also smart, creative, full of energy and generally happy when you interact with them? Absolutely. Given the choice, I’d take college kids as neighbors over aging NIMBY boomers 10 out of 10 times.
All of that was a long winded way to say that yes, we like it here. And we aren’t alone. While the larger population is transient, there is a core group of hippies, surfers, artists and professors that have chosen to make Isla Vista their permanent home.
OK, but what does any of this have to do with the time of Covid? Nothing really, except for an observation I’ve made about walking. Which is something a lot of us are doing more of now.
It’s no secret that walking is the absolute best way to become familiar with a place. But why? The low intensity exercise is stimulating, no doubt. But the real reason is that the speed you move through your environment while walking is perfectly aligned with the ability of your senses to take in and process information. Move too fast (as you do in a car or even cycling) and your sight becomes blurred, your sense of smell doesn’t have the time to pick up a lingering scent, sound is distorted or blocked by rushing wind or engine noise, and of course your are not actually touching the ground. Walking is the optimal state for all of the senses. It’s almost like we were made to do it.
Here is the silver lining of Covid times. To walk somewhere is to know it. To truly know something is to connect with and love that thing. Walking from your own home is one of the best ways to appreciate and love where you live in a way that, for example, driving to a place could never achieve. Over the last 6 months I’ve become so intimate with my direct surroundings that my feeling of “home” has expanded to the beach, the marsh, the fields and the trails I walk through them.
I feel lucky and privileged to live here.