How We Turned Data to Narrative in Downtown Long Beach

Did you know that between 1902 and 1969 the Pike in Downtown Long Beach was the most famous beachside entertainment area on the West Coast? So famous, in fact, that Midwesterners wanting to escape the brutal winters flocked to the warm seaside port city, helping to coin its moniker, “Iowa by the Sea.” Then, oil was discovered, aerospace companies moved in and the city became known for little else than the industries it hosted.

Today, Long Beach has emerged as a vibrant, ethnically diverse, pet-friendly and bike-friendly city. Often hailed as one of the best cities to live in the US, Long Beach is the next Oakland. Despite these modern-day accolades, Downtown Long Beach remains somewhat unknown to non-residents, and some say, overshadowed by the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles.

SGA partnered with Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA), a nonprofit dedicated to improving business activity in the area, to find an explanation for this discrepancy in perception. DLBA has been critical in transforming Downtown Long Beach into a place where locals thrive and people want to visit. “Creating a vibrant urban center isn’t achieved through creativity alone,” says Kraig Kojian, President and CEO of the Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA). “Data is essential so that we create grounded policies and make reasonable decisions.”

“SGA tackled difficult questions: What makes people visit DTLB? How we can harness our biggest fans to expand our base?” explains Kojian. “Finding the answers to these questions can ultimately foster an engagement that lifts up our most devout supporters while bringing those on the fence in.”

We started with a survey to gather hard data that would give us a sense of how Downtown Long Beach (DTLB) visitors “use” the area. We spoke to 323 visitors at 10 different downtown locations in fall 2014. We segmented them into residents, visitors, tourists and workers and asked about their frequency of visits, types of businesses they supported and how they felt about recommending DTLB to a friend or someone they know, among other things.

So we gathered the data. Now what? Data in and of itself don’t mean a whole lot. The trick with these types of research projects is to distill the metrics into narratives that tell a story.

In DTLB, we found that residents were the biggest promoters of and spenders in DTLB; visitors had the potential to bring in more revenue as they are large in numbers, come frequently and could potentially settle down in DTLB; and most importantly, residents and visitors liked DTLB for the authentic experience that gives the town its vibe as a hip enclave of young, creative professionals who love their community.

“Whittling down complex data into simple concepts is what is expected from data analysis,” Kojian says. “Data that can’t be shared across platforms and explained to different groups—from residents to board members to other organizations—is rendered pointless. SGA’s staff understood that the ability to share this information was key. We look forward to working with them for the next two years on upcoming surveys.”

We look forward to it, too. With big ticket retailers such as H&M and Nike planning on moving into the Pike and a new hip foodie restaurant popping up in DTLB every week, we expect visitors to become as invested in Long Beach as locals already are.