Long Beach is on its way to becoming a “smart city.” What does that mean?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The Long Beach City Council unanimously approved a new Smart City Initiative Strategy and a slew of data privacy guidelines at its Tuesday, March 9 meeting. 

In short, the initiative sets a timeline for easing the City into a new digital age, one that focuses on technology and data to improve the lives of Long Beach residents.

This could reveal itself in a number of ways—an app to notify residents when street sweepers are nearing their home, artificially intelligent chatbots on the City’s website or installing pedestrian-activated LED street lamps.

The plan could also provide a pathway to closing the digital divide, a gulf between those who can readily access computers and Wi-Fi and those who cannot. Last June, former councilmember and current State Senator Lena Gonzalez proposed a bill to address the divide, which more significantly affects communities of color and seniors.

Before they start, the Technology and Innovation Department still has a laundry list of logistical tasks to get through. They have to get baseline data, set performance indicators, establish baseline infrastructure and implement a privacy policy, among other tasks.

Eventually, the initiative will have its own dedicated staff, a committee and funding at some point in fiscal year 2021 or 2022.

After all of this is done, they can get to work on projects, which will be influenced by the needs of residents, the City and private proposals from industry leaders.

Smart Cities Program Manager Ryan Kurtzman said that they’ll reach out to community members and local stakeholders to codesign technology solutions “with a particular emphasis on including low-income communities and communities of color who stand to benefit the most from gains in digital literacy and participation in the Smart City economy.”

The move aligns with a number of the City’s existing goals, many of which have been outlined in projects like the Racial Reconciliation Initiative, Digital Inclusion Initiative, 2030 Strategic Plan and Long Beach Recovery Act

“It will affect a lot of seniors, people with disabilities. It will affect the Latino community and our neighborhoods here in the west side and central Long Beach, in ways of accessing technology,” Councilmember Mary Zendejas said. “I know that during COVID, we have realized that there is a huge digital divide.”

Communities of color lack Internet access at twice the rate of white communities. (City of Long Beach)

Myron Wollin, president of the Long Beach Grey Panthers, voiced support for the initiative. The Grey Panthers are a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of Long Beach elders, who often lack digital literacy

“It is important that city policy consider the needs of older adults, and ensure they all have access to technology, and the equipment and education to use it effectively,” Wollin said. “As well as keep current or new technology, we need more hardware, learning instruction, access to the internet.”

Councilmember Suzie Price voiced excitement about the possibilities, but said that the city still has a long way to go.

“I feel like we can’t really call ourselves a ‘smart city’ until we are at least using some of the technology that’s already out there being used by others,” Price said. “Then we can build upon that.”

The next Long Beach City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, March 16 at 5 p.m. via teleconference.

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