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From Tired Troubled Bedroom Community to Wired Intelligent Prosperity: The Journey of Riverside, California
RIVERSIDE — By the year 2004, Riverside had just about run out of luck. For more than a century, nature and circumstance had been kind to this city, 60 miles (96 km) inland from Los Angeles. In 1874, a resident received two Brazilian navel orange trees from a friend at the US Department of Agriculture. Within 20 years, Riverside was home to half of the citrus trees in California and had become America’s wealthiest city per capita. The “citrus economy” also gave birth to the University of California Citrus Experiment Station, which became the University of California, Riverside (UCR).
But the reign of King Citrus ended. The 1960s and 70s transformed agriculture into a multinational business in which Riverside struggled to compete. As the citrus economy declined, the city became a warehouse and transit center, a bedroom community, university town and agricultural center, with a large population of poor and poorly educated residents. Gangs appeared and the failure to retainmostof the 55,000 graduates who were educated in Riverside but took their brainpower elsewhere, destroyed the pathway to the middle class the city needed.
In 2004, Mayor Ron Loveridge and John Tillquist, Dean of Economic Development at Riverside Community College, convened a High Tech Taskforce to figure out how to channel California's high-tech growth into their community. The Riverside Technology CEO Forumthatresultedproduced a roadmap focusing on promoting technology businesses and creating aninformation infrastructure. It was needed, they felt, to foster entrepreneurship in higher education, improvethe skills of the population and allow city government to set an example of tech-based innovation.
Riverside then ushered in the “broadband economy.” The city built a fiber network to connect its operations as well as the University Research Park. A free WiFi network, built under contract by AT&T and then transferred to the city,todayoffers up to 1 Mbps service through 1,600 access points, and exploding demand has led multiple commercial carriers to deploy high-speed broadband across the city. Riverside claims the fastest access speeds in the nation.
A new CIO, an ex-pat who came home to help his city, wrung $4 million in efficiencies from the city’s ICT contracts and invested them in e-government applications, from dynamic traffic management to a Resident Connect system. One of the most imaginative applications attacked graffiti. Today it is talked about everywhere. City workers take photos of graffiti with their smartphones and use an app to transmit them to the system, where pattern recognition software matches it to an ever-growing database of images from previous offenders. The system generates work orders for removal of the graffiti at the same time it supports preparation of criminal complaints by the City Attorney. Successful prosecutions have generated $200,000 in restitution for the city, and a lot of graffiti has vanished.
Riverside has also worked to leverage its universities. College 311, a Web-based hub for educational social and community services, aims to double the number of Riverside youth who complete college. Riverside and its partners have launched efforts from a highly-acclaimed virtual secondary school to an Innovation Center offering incubation space, business acceleration and access to investors. These efforts attracted 35 high-tech companies and established 20 tech start-ups.
In 2006, Riverside started a digital inclusion program, using its free WiFi network, to provide technology training, free computers and software to all of the city's low-income families. Project Bridge, which provides recycled IT equipment to 1,500 new families each year, leads the effort. The IT equipment is refurbished by reformed gang members, who learn new skills. Project Bridge isnow southern California's largest recycler of e-waste. Other equipment is refurbished and sold on eBay, and the proceeds pay for the entire program.
The financial crisis that began in 2008 cruelly revealed the weaknesses of the bedroom community model that once dominated Riverside’s. Many people lost their homes as the city experienced one of the highest home foreclosure rates in the United States. But Riverside continued to invest in a five-year, $1.6 billion “Riverside Renaissance” program. That investment has gone into improving traffic flows, replacing aging water, sewer and electric infrastructure and expanding and improving police, fire and other community services.
The ” Renaissance” arrived. The social and economic changes that the community put into motion are a direct result of its Intelligent Community strategy. It is also a vote of confidence forthe future ofa community that seized its destiny and in June 2012 was named the world’s most Intelligent Community.
Louis Zacharilla, Robert Bell and John Jung are the co-Founders of the Intelligent Community Forum, a think tank that studies and proactively mentors the economic and social development of 21st century communities. Their new book, “Seizing our Destiny” examines the Top 7 Communities of 2012. Learn more at www.intelligentcommunity.org.
L. Zacharilla - R .Bell -J. Jung
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