SXSW’s Big Transportation Year

Only the Brits could think SXSW is a “secret festival” gathering, but this week news outlets as far away as the Guardian did two stories (SXSW: the secret festival gathering for 20 US mayors with tech agendas and ‘We’re just getting started’: inside Austin’s contentious clash with Uber and Lyft) on Austin. Mainly because last week, we hosted a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, SXSW started up, the President came to give a keynote address and oh yes, U.S. DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx chose Austin as the place to announce the finalists for the Smart Cities Challenge (spoiler alert: Austin’s one of the finalists).

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By June 2016 there will only be ONE: the winner of the USDOT/Vulcan $50 million dollar Smart City Challenge.

Foxx announced the finalist cities for the Smart City Challenge to a couple hundred business and elected leaders, some press, and transportation professionals squeezed into the Connected Mobility Showcase at downtown Austin’s Garage Bar.Screen shot 2016-03-16 at 3.15.17 PM

There were only supposed to be five finalists and Foxx announced them: Austin, TX, Columbus, OH, Kansas City, MS, Pittsburgh, PA, and Portland, OR. Then in a surprise twist, he added, “we keep coming back to two other cities and decided to expand the list of finalist to include: San Francisco, CA and Denver, CO.”

This is the first time anyone can think of where Federal Government has put out a winner-takes-all amount of money. But everyone agrees they did it brilliantly.

Cities are the incubators for innovation, plus they have friendly competition all the time and will learn from each other regardless who wins the money.

$50 million is not a lot in terms of transport infrastructure; but as an amount to one mid-sized city (large enough to have all the complicated challenges, but small enough for this amount to make a big difference), it has ignited serious efforts and interest from a lot of critical cities across the country (regardless of the red/blue stuff).

Foxx also recognized all the private sector offers to help, starting with Tim Allen’s organization, Vulcan, which added $10 million to the prize. Firms in related businesses from NXP to GM, and even Amazon are stepping up to support the challenge-winning city.

Now onward from vision statements to detailed business planning for how each city will implement their vision.

See more of the buzz at @DOTSmartCity. SXSW also had several other panels featuring Cities and Mobility. To read up on those panels, click here.


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