A California city, built on an orange industry which fell in the face of international competition, is regaining its footing through the growth of several technology and business programs made possible by citywide free wi-fi.
The renaissance in Riverside can be attributed in large part to the SmartRiverside initiative, a plan which has attracted tech companies, created skilled jobs, and supported low-income families since its inception in 2005.
After the city hit a low period in 2004, the timeline of events has run something like this:
2005 – SmartRiverside is launched and creation of a citywide wireless network is begun at the suggestion of local business owners
2006 – The Riverside City Council begins a $2 billion dollar effort to update the city’s infrastructure.
With help from a Microsoft grant, a Digital Inclusion program trains at-risk youth in computer skills, and teaches them to refurbish recycled computers for low-income residents. Graduates of the program also receive refurbished computers.
The program is known as Project BRIDGE (Building Resources for the Intervention and Deterrence of Gang Engagement). Graduates of the program are placed various jobs and professions throughout the city.
2007 – Wireless Riverside is completed, boasting 86 square miles of free wireless internet service with 1,600 access points. The city pays $5.48 million dollars annually to provide this service to its residents and businesses.
2008 – Local companies begin establishing “incubators,” offering office space to tech start-ups and university students who need help getting their ideas off the ground. This positions Riverside on the map as an innovation capital.
2009 – Riverside Chamber of Commerce launches “Seizing our Destiny,” a program involving the whole community in designing a roadmap on how to become a prosperous community.
2011 – the Digital Inclusion program assists its 5,000th family. Riverside is named one of the global top seven intelligent communities of the year, an award they would win again the following year.
The holistic approach that Riverside city officials were able to take in collaboration with business and community leaders seems to have created a virtuous cycle of progress and recognition with no end in sight. The grants keep coming in, and the citizens have rallied around the continuation of taxpayer funded initiatives.
What aspect of Riverside’s climb to prominence stands out to you? If these programs were implemented in your city, do you think they would they have the same effect?