Accelerating economic development in the connected city

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Long beach, California

What makes a city “smart?”

The answer to that question should be measured by the economic and social impact new technology and infrastructure will have on its community. To better understand, I sat down with John Keisler, Economic Development Director for the City of Long Beach, California.

As he was working on the City’s Blueprint a ten-year strategic plan for economic development, Keisler thought about what made cities economically viable in the past.

“Historically, we’ve seen economies and cities thrive on waterways, near major ports, railway and other transportation hubs,” he said. “Today, we’re seeing modern cities thriving at the intersection of high tech infrastructure.”

In today’s economy, production and provision of goods and services have been built and scaled via the Internet, and this digital interaction has permanently changed the way people do business. By building technology infrastructure in the form of high speed networks, cities can give local businesses and entrepreneurs a competitive advantage and attract new sectors and industries.

For Long Beach as with many cities, this high-tech infrastructure comes in the form of fiber, but then the question becomes how you deploy fiber as a city?

As Keisler describes, it can happen one of three ways, “Some cities with specific assets and opportunities have built their own fiber system end-to-end, completely financed, deployed, owned and operated by the city itself. We’ve seen other models where the city government has partnered with the private sector to release dark fiber, or lay new fiber and lease it out. The final option is to rely completely on the private sector, in which large companies partner with local government but provide all the installation, maintenance, and support.”

Long Beach, in the final stages of their assessment, evaluation, and mapping of their future fiber network, is now exploring financial modeling for expanding fiber and broadband access to the city. “What we [City staff] bring to city council for approval needs to have the lowest cost, highest quality broadband for the entire community.” Keisler says, “To make this successful, we included financial modeling in the City’s Fiber Master Plan. It becomes possible through a phased approach that starts with expanding municipal usage, then leveraging the larger fiber network through partnerships and finally having the private sector tap in. The concept is to make smart investments and partnerships in technology that are economically advantageous for all involved. Further, we want to build an open platform that inspires competition and ultimately innovation.”

Historically, we’ve seen economies and cities thrive on waterways, near major ports, railway and other transportation hubs,” he said. “Today, we’re seeing modern cities thriving at the intersection of high tech infrastructure. 

Fiber:  the first step towards a city’s economic growth

Laying fiber alone doesn’t solve the problem of economic development and prosperity in a city. Once this digital nervous system is built, city governments must find a way to enable all of its residents to take full advantage of it.

The goal of this kind of longer term investment can ensure that all neighborhoods and commercial corridors have access and that businesses gain competitive advantage from this new access. Ultimately, this should become key to the city’s growth strategy for new business attraction.

Today, the number-one consumer of fiber capacity in most cities is vehicle traffic management – traffic engineering and utilities groups especially. Laying fiber to manage traffic signals, synchronization, and sensing technologies has been a big driver for installations. This opens up opportunities for other services — camera systems, both public and private, that can be integrated into a common operating “picture” for city-wide public safety system; Wi-Fi hotspots to provide free Internet access in libraries, parks and transit hubs, and online applications to report maintenance issues with city property, damage like graffiti, and so on.

Creating a whole new connected world

When discussing the latest technologies around the opportunity of the Internet of Things (IoT), Keisler sees great things. “We have a lot of ideas about where we can leverage sensor technology and IoT in public spaces,” he says. “The City not too long ago installed an Eco-Totem sensor along our bike and pedestrian beach paths. By collecting real usage data that differentiates the travel mode type, we will have the valuable information needed to make better informed decisions regarding infrastructure, safety and mobility along our stunning coastline, well into the future.

Further, Long Beach used the Motionloft automated pedestrian counter system to promote smart economic activity, giving developers greater data support for strategic site selection. This involved a partnership with the Downtown Long Beach Alliance to combine foot and bicycle traffic counter data with demographic and consumer information. Over a select period of time, the data revealed that despite an active Downtown core during Monday through Friday business hours, the highest trafficked timeframe was on Saturday from 5 p.m. – 11 p.m. to include the dinner crowd. Existing and potential Downtown businesses can use that information to make more informed decisions regarding their next business opportunity. 

Verizon’s Innovation Center is on the leading edge of development solutions for cities,” said Keisler. “The true value of this event is discovered through the intersection of different disciplines, perspectives and ideas that are brought forth. It is at that intersection  that innovation is born and more becomes possible. 

Long Beach is also incorporating augmented reality (AR) to connect the physical with the digital in their open spaces — one example is the City’s collaboration with ARLB . Beacons were used in the city’s Harvey Milk Park to launch an AR experience that details the history and significance of the park and of Harvey Milk’s achievements for the community. The City was recently awarded a DLBA placemaking grant that will allow it to expand the AR content provided in the park.

AR can also cut down on physical signage and way-finding, de-cluttering the open spaces and enabling faster communication through easy updates in digital content. This leverages the physical environment to communicate with and source the community in a different way, like adding an AR mural without having to paint the wall, or visualizing a building before it’s built with an AR app on your phone, allowing users to click through the virtual image to get information on zoning and opportunities to invest or lease retail or residential space.

With city-wide fiber comes the potential of a whole new connected world. Once-disadvantaged neighborhoods can forge new opportunities and break down barriers in the digital marketplace. They become a place where students and entrepreneurs can access open-sourced data and APIs to build applications to support critical needs in their communities. Long Beach understands that access alone is not the solution. Therefore, it has built into their Blueprint objectives to decrease the digital divide for low-income households and increase job training, small business resources and technical assistance. 

Powering the future through public and private partnerships

Keisler recently visited Verizon’s Innovation Center in San Francisco to lay out his plans for economic development in Long Beach beginning with the build out of technology infrastructure in the form of fiber and IoT. The event hosted a variety of thought leaders from various cities, including Oakland, Palo Alto, and Fremont, educational institutions, such as Berkeley and Stanford, and partners in the private sector to discuss accelerating urban innovation through smart city technologies. “Verizon’s Innovation Center is on the leading edge of development solutions for cities,” said Keisler. “The true value of this event is discovered through the intersection of different disciplines, perspectives and ideas that are brought forth. It is at that intersection  that innovation is born and more becomes possible.”

The Innovation Center allows our clients —and their stakeholders — to collaborate and come up with bold, new ideas of new ecosystem designs.

Through these interactions, Verizon and our partners learn what problems need solving, to best leverage our network and technologies.

As technology takes a central role in economic development, cities will come to rely on their private sector partners to lead innovation efforts that best fit the needs of their communities.

These private partners are recognizing the value of long-term strategic partnerships with cities dedicated to bringing technology to their communities.

For example, Verizon has partnered with cities such as Boston and Sacramento to invest in smart city solutions designed to increase public safety, support economic development and bridge the digital divide. Specific areas of focus include the Vision Zero initiative, free Wi-Fi access in public parks, digital kiosks around the city, education initiatives and infrastructure investment in next-gen tech.

The smartest city is the one that never stops innovating, collaborating, and delivering solutions to its citizens, solutions that allow that city to thrive. Digital connectivity is the modern economic enabler, a concept that John Keisler, Verizon, and our partner ecosystem understands and looks forward to delivering.

Learn more about how the Verizon Innovation Program helps innovators leverage platform technology to bring these ideas to life

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