GovBytes: Free Wi-Fi, Comparing (Refurbished) Apples to Oranges

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.

Program Helps City Close Digital Divide

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:

2005SmartRiverside 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?

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Corey McCarren

Incubators are a great resource and way to encourage hi-tech business. Lots of cool stuff going on at the incubator I work at back home.

Kevin Curry

This is a great summary of seven years of experience (and counting). Thank you for sharing it. It’s clear that grant and taxpayer funded programs have not only helped people keep their head above water but also get ahead. You mention the downturn in orange production in Riverside. I wonder if you could please elaborate on the connection between the digital infrastructure & training investments and economic redevelopment in Riverside. I think there are so many places faced with reinventing themselves. These are important lessons to learn and share.

Samuel Lovett

Thanks for your interest, Kevin. As I understand the plan for economic redevelopment in Riverside, there is no talk of bringing agriculture production back as a major engine. Education, technology, entrepreneurship, and training are the keywords for the future. “Green Zones,” with their agricultural connotation, refer to areas where they hope to foster environmentally friendly solar powered tech companies.

The updated Strategic Plan Status Report is a great civic document, all encompassing and very impressive. They are hoping to maximize returns on their most recent successes in technology, relegating oranges to the “Telling Our Story” historical section of the plan.

Samuel Lovett

Coverage of activity in Riverside, CA continues to come in following their most intelligent community award.

How Riverside, Calif., Turns E-Waste Into Treasure (Analysis)

Part of the city’s successful model is based on recycling its electronic waste to create revenue and jobs, and use resources efficiently:

The secret to the project’s financial sustainability resides in e-waste. SmartRiverside collects and recycles 40 tons of outdated and discarded PCs, cellphones and electronic products from its 5,000-square-foot facility. Sixty to 70 percent of the $500,000 necessary to run the wireless network and digital inclusion program is covered by the e-waste recycling business that SmartRiverside also operates. An annual city-run fundraiser covers the remaining costs.