ReThinking Greater Long Beach: Saving the City with Numbers
The Long Beach Community Database was developed as a community service by ReThinking Greater Long Beach, a self-described, community-based think tank, to provide a “publicly available common set of statistical information” about the city that could be used by elected officials, policymakers and community residents.
ReThinking Greater Long Beach’s special database with its many facts and figures about everything Long Beach faces a challenge. The project is in jeopardy unless it finds a new home. The project’s organizers are hoping that a University or organization takes up the responsibility to both update and maintain it. Long Beach, without this database, is not something anyone wants to imagine.
A past funder of ReThinking Greater Long Beach was the Josephine S. Gumbiner Foundation (JSGF). Its Executive Director, Julie Meenan, told PalacioMagazine.com that “Most grant applications we receive use their data to state their case for funding.”
Meenan continued, “At the JSGF, we continue to use their data to make data driven decisions with a focus on women and children and to programs with strong evaluation components in place. Without their up to date, relevant, easy to dissect data, none of this would be possible.”
Another early supporter of ReThinking Greater Long Beach was the Long Beach Community Foundation. The Foundation was integral to another project that began with ReThinking Greater Long Beach, the Connected Corridor Project along Atlantic Avenue.
Past President and CEO Jim Worsham says that, “I knew from the first time I saw a presentation by Rethinking Greater Long Beach that the data was valuable to folks who care about Long Beach.”
He ended his email statement with, “A loss of this treasure would have a negative impact for many years to come.”
PalacioMagazine.com emailed the current Long Beach Community Foundation President and CEO, Marcelle Epley the question “Why the Long Beach Database important to a better understanding of the complexity of living in Long Beach?”
Epley responded that “An informed community is an engaged community. Whether it is census information, a private study or information published by a media source, the public’s access to data can be hugely enlightening and shed light on to complex issues facing a city.”
PalacioMagazine.com interviewed the two remaining members of the ReThinking Greater Long Beach team, Alex J. Norman, D.S.W. and William Crampon, PH.D. ReThinking Greater Long Beach recently published their last report, the Long Beach Equity Atlas: Geographic Opportunity, a 78-page compendium of facts and figures. But it’s much more. It’s literally a map atlas overlaid with data related to poverty, employment, language fluency, public safety and public education.
A Mission for ReThinking Greater Long Beach
“It’s really an outgrowth of a study we did two years ago,” explained Alex Norman, Professor Emeritus of Social Welfare, UCLA School of Public Policy and Social Research, “and reported in The Ethnic Disparities in Long Beach.”
According to Norman, at the time before that report, there was a lot discussion about inequality in society. ReThinking Greater Long Beach wanted to know what inequality would look like here in Long Beach.
Norman explains, “And when the variables of educational attainment and poverty kept coming up, we decided What if we mapped this thing out geographically?”
That task fell to William J. Crampon, a former professor of management and policy studies at the University of Illinois, Springfield, and who has taught at Chapman College and San Diego State University.
“We basically divided the city into nine specific areas….then we had to look at the city in terms of economic conditions.”
That big job of mapping statistics had a goal. “For people who want to have an impact on Long Beach to be able to able to go in and say Here are the areas where we need to focus if want to focus on this types of problem.”
A Method to the Organization
It is not an understatement to say that there’s a lot of data, maps and charts in this 78-page ReThinking Long Beach report. However, there was a method to the organization.
William Crampon described it. “We first used the American Community Survey which is put out by the U.S. Department of Census. We used the most recent one, which is the 2014 five-year American Community Survey. We basically went through and summarized all the major variables that the census collects data on in terms of demographics, income, employment, age, everything else Long Beach area.”
They added more layers to the data. Public Safety, Long Beach Police Department data, Public Education.
All this data had a point. Alex Norman says, “We’ve always, with every report, we have issued a clarion call to action. We expect that someone is going to do something with this.”
A Call to Action from ReThinking Greater Long Beach
Norman says that the document calls for a summit of leadership in Long Beach to discuss the issues highlighted in the ReThinking Greater Long Beach report. “Not in terms of who to blame for them but what each of the segment of this community do to improve or address the issue for the city of Long Beach.
In a discussion of the ReThinking Greater Long Beach report, Norman describes the city as being on the brink of success. “It means that there is a lot that is positive about living in Long Beach….that it was a large enough urban area that it had all of the problems of an urban area but that it had all of the benefits. A coastline, a performing arts center. Long Beach is really a nice place to live.”
But, and there is a but, “At the same time, it is a difficult place for those who are not educated or who are poor.”
Norman says the brink means the city can either be successful in its attempt to achieve its vision or it could not.
Crampon elaborates. “We have the foundation of a good school system here. We have resources we need. What we need to do is look at, one of my goals of this report is that people look at this and say; this is where we’re doing well. Here’s where we have a problem. What, as a community, do to solve it?
For ReThinking Greater Long Beach, It Takes A Community
Crampon makes the point that the school system and the police department have done all they can do. “We need the total community to address the major issues brought up here whether its crime, whether it’s education. It’s not a single institution to blame or a single institution can turn it around tomorrow.”
It’s going to take the community to fix this problem, according to Crampon.
The ReThinking Greater Long Beach founders hope that people look at the report and find a least one thing of interest in it. “Ask questions of it. Ask questions of Community leaders,” Crompon insists.
For Norman, there is another hope. The hope that people see two important and key connected elements, poverty and education. “I would hope the media would isolate these two critical variables that have been identified as contributing to a lot of our social ills. And if we are really are interested in solving them, then these are two areas we have to address.”
If you have to choose, which one first, Norman chooses Education. “If you solve one, you’ll solve the other.”