World's Most High-Tech City Gives Away 200 Computers a Month
Riverside, Calif. is a model for a city prepared for the digital future, according to a smart cities think tank.
CREDIT: Daniel Orth on Flickr
A town 60 miles east of Los Angeles is one of the world's most futuristic cities, according to a New York City-based think tank, the Intelligent Community Forum. Citywide access to Wi-Fi, programs to teach all residents how to use the latest technology, and other innovations won Riverside, Calif., the forum's Intelligent Community of the Year award earlier this month.
The prize shows how important the Intelligent Community Forum thinks an Internet-based economy will be in the future, and how cities can prepare.
At its founding, Riverside was one of the wealthiest cities in the U.S., thanks to its navel orange farms. At one time, it grew half the citrus trees in California. Increased international competition in the 1960s pushed the farms into decline, however, and by the new century Riverside, with a population growing toward 300,000, was split between wealthier commuters who worked in Los Angeles and poorer farm laborers. Gang culture filtered in from Los Angeles. So in 2004, Mayor Ron Loveridge decided to try to introduce a higher-tech economy to Riverside.
Loveridge hired AT&T to install a Wi-Fi network with an average of 29 access points per square mile. Besides giving residents free access, the network connects city-run security cameras in parks and lets city workers use a city graffiti-cleanup app on their smartphones. Workers snap a photo of graffiti they see, automatically generating a work order and evidence for criminal complaints.
Meanwhile, local technology companies opened centers to incubate startups, and local colleges did the same. Thirty-five established technology companies and 20 startups have come to Riverside since those efforts began, according to the Intelligent Community Forum.
To ensure that every Riverside resident benefits from the city's new economy, the city began offering free training, computers and software to low income residents. It collected discarded electronics, then hired and trained former gang members to refurbish the devices. Refurbished computers go to schools and to 200 low-income families every month. Employees sell other refurbished devices on eBay to help fund the program, which is the largest recycler of electronic waste in Southern California. [Idea Turns Old TV Tubes into X-Ray Shielding Tiles]
Riverside was hit hard during the recession in 2008, when 14 percent of its residents were unemployed and 6 percent of its houses went into foreclosure, according to the Intelligent Community Forum. But forum members were optimistic that Riverside is ready for the future. "You are an example of yet another community many left for dead, but which has fought all the way back," forum co-founder Louis Zacharilla said in a statement.