West Hollywood, “The Creative City,” Gets Creative About Smart City Planning

With a population of a little over 35,000, West Hollywood, California — affectionately known as WeHo — is a small city within the larger construct of the Los Angeles metropolis. Known for its temperate climate and desirable quality of life, WeHo is both a destination in itself as well as a transportation thoroughfare due to its central location within the larger region. However, the city is also ready to be known for something else — being the first city in Southern California to develop a Smart City Strategic Plan. CityFi Co-Founder Ashley Z. Hand, alongside partners Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Iteris, Inc., and Steer Davies Gleave worked with the City of West Hollywood to develop a framework and roadmap for how the city can better integrate smart city technology solutions, both to increase internal efficiency at City Hall, as well as externally improve its customer service experience.

“West Hollywood is already a thought leader in the space of innovation, in that the city is proactive in areas like affordable housing policy, public realm design and rethinking the role of the citizen in decision-making, so a Smart City plan was a logical next step for WeHo, given that they are already ahead of the curve,” Hand said.

Francisco Contreras, innovation manager, and Kate Mayerson, innovation analyst, guide the innovation team for the City of West Hollywood. Prior to the Smart City plan, the city’s innovation program originally evolved from an innovations annual report, which was intended to help the city learn more about digital and analog advancements to move WeHo into the 21st century of local government management. This initial work — which was originally disparate, from digitization of building safety permits to technology integration with infrastructure projects — made clear that a number of technology and innovation-related initiatives were taking place in City Hall with no guiding vision for how to best leverage these efforts. As such, the Smart City Plan was born out of the idea of creating a master plan to integrate technology, data analysis and collaboration to create a roadmap for WeHo over upcoming years.

“The Smart City plan has allowed WeHo to take the work of the innovation team, which was originally based on internal innovation, and not only further build innovation capacity within City Hall, but also turn it outward, to see what bigger city issues we can now tackle and efficiencies we can discover,” Contreras said.

Prior to the strategic plan, West Hollywood had already identified four core values within the smart cities realm, including sustainability, mobility, accessibility, resilience and transparency (SMART). The city was also primed for a Smart Cities plan because, as Mayerson said, “We are a small city with big city problems.” WeHo faces the same traffic management issues as the cities of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, and is facing growing constraints due to affordable housing; environment impacts from traffic’s emissions; climate change; homelessness; an inability to track and leverage data to inform internal decision-making; and needing to better serve and engage citizens through multiple platforms. Due to its small size, WeHo is also faced with tackling these large urban challenges with resources that must be carefully allocated. As such, the city needed to figure out how to improve the experience of businesses, residents, vendors and visitors coming to the city, both within the public realm but also during their direct interactions with City Hall.

The WeHo Smart City Strategic Plan focuses on three foundational strategies to achieve its goals: create a culture of data as a smart city hall ready for the future; collaborate and experiment across departments to do more with less; and automate processes for an exceptional customer experience. By understanding how to leverage data, the city can move toward making better and more informed decisions about what initiatives to fund, as well as create efficiencies within existing programs to diagnose what is working well through key performance indicators. By improving and increasing collaboration and experimentation, WeHo can ease the friction that is frequently found within government structures, as well as with external partners, in addition to increasing transparency and accountability among staff and externally to citizens through improved feedback loops and data sharing. By automating processes, the city can improve the customer and staff experience — effectively increasing WeHo’s resiliency — by seeking out efficiencies that make the City of West Hollywood both a better place to work as well as an easier municipality to interact with.

“Our ultimate goal with the plan was really to provide customer service,” Mayerson said. “Even being a really small city, there’s no reason why we can’t implement great digital initiatives that help to serve a whole range of people that come into contact with the city. “By doing so, we promote the city as being business-friendly and a good place to live, which makes us more relevant as the Los Angeles region grows and there is more competition for visitors and tourists. Essentially, this becomes an economic development effort as well, because a smart city plan has the potential to be a real quality of life and customer service booster.”

Hand also noted the opportunities that come to West Hollywood with the implementation of a smart city plan. By placing a priority on a smart city framework, Hand said that it offers WeHo a roadmap about how to be creative about solving problems and enabling more effective multi-sector partnerships, with an overall goal of increasing the capacity of a small city that has the capability of being successful and noteworthy in numerous arenas. “It was also great because putting together the Smart City Strategic Plan, we were able to build off of the work that was already being done in City Hall. The plan was just a way to bring together a lot of disparate innovation efforts into a cohesive approach,” Hand said.

While there’s the common adage that urban plans often receive investment only to sit on the shelf, West Hollywood bucks this notion to the sidewalk. The plan was approved by WeHo’s City Council in February 2018 — as well as an aligned internet of things privacy policy — and implementation is now underway, with a request for proposal out for a first pilot and the plan publicly posted so citizens and others can familiarize themselves with the city’s smart city goals. Contreras said there was a general level of excitement at the city to get the plan started.

Ultimately, West Hollywood is uniquely positioned because of its size, density and resources to be a test bed for smart city technology within the larger Los Angeles ecosystem. However, Hand noted that while the Smart City Strategic Plan is a great example of a smart city best practice that other cities can review and build upon, it’s an entirely unique product that is specific to the city’s context and individual challenges. “We hope other cities see this plan as an opportunity to explore their own city challenges and begin a similar discovery process that helps them understand how innovation and technology can improve outcomes,” Hand said.

The West Hollywood Strategic Plan is publicly available for review. To learn more about the West Hollywood Innovation Team and Smart City work, please visit their website.