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Tuesday, June 27, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Road map, conference point to Austin’s future as a smart city

With dozens of projects underway in departments throughout city government, Austin now has an initial road map for how to better use data and technology to become a so-called “smart city.”

The Smart City Strategic Roadmap is the first draft of a report that City Council commissioned the Innovation Office to produce late last year, with the goal of figuring out how to “use information and communication technologies to better meet the needs and improve quality of life of a community.” This first draft is editable online until July 14, with staff reviewing and responding to comments regularly.

The road map is fairly high level at this point, looking at defining what it means to be a smart city, how city staff can become involved in smart city projects and offering possible goals for smart city success.

The road map identifies six strategic priorities to focus on: economic affordability and opportunity, safety, mobility, health, cultural and learning opportunities, and government that works. An interactive chart with all 81 of the city’s ongoing smart cities projects also offers a look at what progress is being made on initiatives such as converting the city’s vehicle fleet to electric or improving registration and reporting on government lobbying.

The road map was published just ahead of the Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo, a four-day conference that began Sunday at the Austin Convention Center and will bring smart government professionals from all over the U.S. to Austin. The conference’s schedule includes tracks on government, mobility, energy, infrastructure, and networks and data, many of which are pain points for Austin residents as the city continues to grow.

Chelsea Collier, a founder and partner of Digi.City and editor-at-large of Smart Cities Connect, said she is glad the road map looks at the foundational issues involved in making a city smart, instead of focusing on the sometimes pricey gadgets and devices that are involved in gathering data. As an example, she said an agreeable goal such as creating a public Wi-Fi kiosk can quickly become bogged down in the bureaucracy of multiple departments sorting out what approvals are needed and which entity is ultimately responsible for the device and fixture.

“They’re laying the foundation that’s encouraging departments to work more, and teaching them how to talk and approach these goals, and that’s long, slow, hard work that doesn’t get much attention because there’s nothing tangible,” she said. “Right now they’re training up on how to align with the six priorities the Council has identified.”

Collier has spent much of the past year visiting other major U.S. cities to learn about their smart cities projects and said some unexpected locations have jumped ahead of cities with a more tech-forward reputation.

She said projects like San Diego’s citywide “Internet of Things” platform, Minneapolis turning U.S. Bank Stadium into a miniature smart city and Tampa’s work to rally its startup community around smart city goals have stood out most.

David Edmonson, executive director of Austin Tech Alliance, said members of his nonprofit are enthusiastic about collaborations with tech companies and community organizations that can improve Austin for all residents. Edmonson pointed to Austin Tech Alliance’s collaboration with the city government to make it paperless, or a move to deploy fixed traffic sensors at major corridors to change traffic signals during accidents or disturbances, as two small ways technology can make Austin run smarter.

“When it comes to priorities, if transportation isn’t number one then it’s definitely two or three and so anything you can do to streamline decision-making on traffic is something most Austinites would gravitate around,” he said. “There’s no reason why we should be so reliant on a person having to press a button.”

Photo by Tendenci made available through a Creative Commons license.

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City of Austin Innovation Office

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