Innovation and inclusivity are both embedded in Santa Monica’s civic DNA. City Hall has, for decades, used advances in technology to invite more voices to the table.
Today, Tuesday, Oct. 6, from 6 – 8 p.m., we will kick start the next step in Santa Monica’s civic engagement evolution.
In collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce and local tech leaders in Silicon Beach, City Hall will kickoff its first Hack the Beach contest at General Assembly (1520 2nd Street, Santa Monica).
The contest is a call to the innovators and entrepreneurs of Silicon Beach to create new and disruptive tools that will bring Santa Monica civic life into the 21st Century.
“How will you positively impact Santa Monica in the areas of Community, Mobility, and/or Civic Engagement?”
That’s the question being put to the thousands of talented problem-solvers currently living and working in Santa Monica.
This initiative is long overdue if our city wants to remain true to its values of inclusivity and diversity. The technological landscape changes on an almost daily basis. In our social and professional lives, new ways to communicate and collaborate are invented with brisk regularity.
Yet, local governments remain very much behind the curve. The barriers to participate in local civic discourse are often prohibitive for many, except those with the most permissive schedules, selecting out people who, for whatever reason, can’t be at City Hall at 5 p.m. on any given Tuesday and can’t afford to wait around for hours to speak for two minutes.
Increasingly, there are community members who have grown up with communication tools that once only existed in the realm of science fiction and they may want to participate actively in their local government. However, the traditional methods are inaccessible, time-consuming and have little discernible payoff to the emerging generation of adults in our community.
Hack the Beach will hopefully leverage the brainpower of Silicon Beach to help us, as a city, bring new voices to the table. Whether we are discussing funding for early childhood education, housing policies, transportation strategies, open space planning, or the future Downtown Santa Monica, our decisions affect all citizens of our city and we all deserve a voice in planning that future.
Using technology to create a more inclusive civic discourse is nothing new in Santa Monica.
In the late 1980s, Santa Monica launched the first virtual city hall, Public Electronic Network (PEN), run by a local government in the country. This innovation allowed people who may not otherwise be able to come to City Hall to have their voices heard. Most notably, in this case, people experiencing homelessness used PEN to successfully let policy makers know of the need for showers and secure storage facilities at local shelters.
City staff has already begun experimenting with innovative ways to seek public input, like staff did for the Lincoln Neighborhood Corridor (LiNC) plan. And, the public had a chance to play the role of city planner during the Civic Center Working Group with an online program that allowed community members to plan the future of the Civic Center plan using real cost estimates.
For many, it was an eye-opening experience that revealed the real tradeoffs our city officials have to make when planning the future.
Technology can provide us with the tools to engage with our local governments in deeper and more meaningful ways, but we have to embrace the changing landscape.
Otherwise, we run the risk of keeping an increasing number of our community members from being able to have their voices heard. And that is anathema to Santa Monica’s character.
Judy Abdo, Cynthia Rose, Tim Harter, Craig Hamilton, Jason Islas, and Scott Schonfeld for Santa Monica Forward. Read previous columns at www.santamonicaforward.org/news.