For the City of Austin, the smart city journey started with sustainability. This is a city that is significantly impacted by changes in climate making it a logical place to begin a smarter, more proactive approach to whole-of-city management.
It is no wonder then that Austin was one of the first cities in the world to adopt a green building programme. Their sustainability agenda has incorporated a review of all council assets to establish their impact on climate, a shift to renewable energy, a local health food programme and a green neighbourhood strategy.
Electric Drive (2nd Street), Seaholm EcoDistrict, Austin
It is the green neighbourhood plan that has driven the transformation of key sections of downtown Austin in area now known as the Seaholm EcoDistrict. The redevelopment of the area began in 2005 with the adaptive reuse of a power plant. Now across some ninety acres all the old infrastructure is being converted and upgraded into green buildings to house residents, business and hip and commercial retail spaces. Electric vehicle charging stations, solar benches for recharging phones and digital kiosks are all a part of the masterplan along with incentives for energy conservation, mandatory energy disclosure requirements and design standards to enhance public amenity.
The walkability, liveability, sustainability and connectivity of the district makes it a smart place to be.
The redeveloped Seaholm power plant in the EcoDistrict
None of what the City of Austin has achieved could have been possible had it not adopted a collaborative approach and embraced new ways to engage the community. At the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas, Sherri Greenberg and Diane Miller gave us their insights into civic innovation.
Professor Greenberg, Fellow of the Max Sherman Chair in State and Local Government, gives the stern advice that when it comes to technology and community engagement we must “make new friends but keep the old", wisely referring to the importance of making sure we don’t succumb to the latest technological communication tool at the cost traditional means.
Miller, principal of Civic Collaboration, emphasises the importance of city decision-makers having ongoing conversations with citizens about the trade offs they are prepared to make in land use, amenity, infrastructure and use of public space to create a city that meets the needs and aspirations of the community.
Diane Miller, Principal, Civic Collaboration in discussion at the LBJ School, University of Texas.
The simply concept of placing a Red Bench in public spaces to enable conversations has sparked ongoing dialogues on interfaith issues, race, tolerance, and more.
Austin is definitely a city that is prepared to face up to its “wicked” problems to find solutions that ensures the city keeps up with its liveable and loveable mantra to “keep Austin weird”.
That concludes the formalities of our smart cities journey. Tomorrow we regroup to share stories and lessons of the 2017 International exchange on Smart Cities.