Population: 950,715 (2017 U.S. Census estimate)
Key IT Leader(s): Stephen Elkins, CIO, City of Austin; Daniel Honker, portfolio manager, Innovation Office, City of Austin
Main Smart Cities Projects:
Austin has a very clear definition of what it means to be a smart city, and it involves becoming “increasingly efficient in solving real problems for real people by: engaging stakeholders and users, leading collaboratively, working across disciplines, departments, and city systems; and using data and integrated technologies to transform services and improve quality of life with and for all Austinites, businesses, and visitors,” according to the city’s website.
The city has numerous concrete smart cities projects listed on its website, including some that do not fit into the traditional rubric of IoT-related smart city projects, such as its racial equity assessment, or its partnership with General Motors’ Maven Gig initiative to launch an electric fleet of carshare vehicles in low-income areas of Austin.
Equity sits at the heart of the city’s smarty city vision, according to Daniel Honker, portfolio manager of the city’s Innovation Office. Austin created an equity office in 2016, and that gives the city a “lens to apply to the smart city field,” Honker says, as the city tries to use technology to affect its most pressing problems — and not leave its most vulnerable residents behind.
In terms of specific projects, Honker says there are efforts underway to test emerging transportation and mobility technologies in an underserved area of southeast Austin. Instead of piloting it in a more affluent area of the city, Austin is trying to understand how it can “share the wealth” of new capabilities and create a test bed for 5G wireless networks. The city is not simply going into the area and deploying technologies to enable autonomous vehicles, but is instead working with the community to see how tech can benefit the people who live in the area. “Are there benefits that we can create together, such as educational opportunities, library programming, business opportunities, that can coincide with that testing?”
That program is still in the planning phase, but Honker says that the city wants to test 5G for high-bandwidth, low-latency applications in telemedicine, traffic management and public safety.
Another key project is using blockchain to improve identity services for the city’s homeless population and create a single, verifiable history of their interactions with city services. Dubbed the MyPass Initiative, the program is a partnership between the city, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services and Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, and is funded by a $100,000 grant from The Mayor’s Challenge, a competition sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Ultimately, control of the data would remain with the individual, who portions out access in a manner they deem appropriate — for example, allowing employment offices access to their work history, and so on,” Government Technology reports.
Words of Wisdom: