There are 2.1 billion people on social media. Every millennial has a smartphone and seniors are now using the internet for online doctor visits, bill pay, and Face-timing with family. We are more connected today than ever before.
But in many ways, we are disconnected. The U.S. and the U.K have claimed loneliness as an epidemic needing government intervention. A survey, conducted by the health insurer Cigna, found the nation’s 75 million millennials (ages 23-37) and Generation Z adults (18-22) are lonelier than any other U.S. demographic and report being in worse health than older generations.
Loneliness is now another “Social Determinant of Health,” meaning that where you live can determine how long you live. Other social determinants of health include access to a quality education, clean air, and a safe violence free community. Long Beach currently has an 8-year life expectancy difference between zip codes. Many of us in the city are working hard to close this gap, including opening an Office of Equity, funding youth services, implementing a violence prevention plan, and passing a Clean Air Action Plan.
So we know place matters. Places like libraries are more than a place to keep books. It is a place to learn and build community. That is why I am over-the-moon excited about downtown’s newest resource, the new Main Library. Libraries are so much more than a place to store books or a place for our seniors to get access to some resources.
Our new “Jewel Box” (the nickname for the new Main Library) will replace a library that seemed closed to the community and yet still served more than 1 million people a year. Stepping inside is breathtaking. The hand-crafted wooden ceilings juxtaposed with the chrome and glass windows invokes a story of the diversity the library will ultimately serve.
To some, they will come and learn 3D printing for the first time, others will join a book club, or come for a free coding class offered by community volunteers. To others, they might come to gain access to health resources. My hope for this library is not for the whispers to taunt you, but for the community chatter to inspire you.
This library may seem like it is on the edge of downtown, but for many people, it could be their only access to community. This library has the potential to uplift the spirit of our downtown. Who knows, we might be able to have a cafe staffed only by those who are most impacted by the social determinants of health, like those struggling with homelessness, inspiring others to accept resources. Art hung on the walls from local artists, classes taught by law students, and study groups for those children who do not have space at home.
Resources matter in the heart of a city that has diversity, creativity, and innovation at its core. We have a lot to do to fight an epidemic like loneliness. But I am inspired by the possibilities this Jewel Box holds — for every time someone steps into a story that inspires them to do something bold, brings them comfort, and find the lessons our generations will learn to help address the social determinants of health — it will help in their efforts to better our city and our world.
It will be a center of knowledge, technology, and community not only for the Downtown, but our entire city. I hope you will help me fill the library with the books with the stories and the people that make our city great. You can donate books directly to the Long Beach Public Library Foundation, my office or donate dollars online.
For this year only, all donors of $25 will be marked as a founding donor of this beautiful library. It’s a great gift to those kiddos that will help change our world.
Jeannine Pearce is the City Councilwoman representing the Second District, which includes the Civic Center and the Main Library.