Sunday’s wintry weather in Austin caught everyone by surprise at the spring break ritual that is the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference. Even two visitors from Stavanger, Norway, who had come for a day-long official conference panel on Smart Cities, shivered in the chilly courtyard of Casa San Antonio, Choose San Antonio’s base camp.

But some of the 4,500 who had signed up for the panel found warm hospitality amongst Choose San Antonio hosts, in the rapid-fire presentations from futurists, tech gurus, digital economists, municipal leaders, and at least three city mayors, as well as in the servings of the Half-Step Bar and Chef Nicola Blaque of San Antonio.

“[Glasshouse Policy] came to us and said they wanted to put together a Smart Cities symposium, and we said absolutely,” Choose San Antonio Co-founder Eric Bell said. “We continued the conversation about what does it mean to be a Smart City first, and more importantly, what are different cities doing to approach Smart City concepts.”

Last fall, Taylor described how she intends to apply Smart City ideas in San Antonio. One such initiative is the recent pilot agreement Bexar County made to bring six Smart City devices and free Wi-Fi to downtown and the Southside this summer.

Additionally, Taylor spoke of the need for data sharing and security in a Smart City. And, echoing U.S. Rep. Will Hurd’s (R-23) talk from earlier in the day, protecting that data is an area where San Antonio has a significant advantage given the growing private and academic cybersecurity programs in the city.

“So beyond improvements in quality of life and multi-government efficiencies, embracing Smart City technology also will help us retain and attract companies to San Antonio, and this, of course, enhances our overall economic growth. That economic growth also will be enhanced by … ensuring that everyone has access to the apps, the dashboards, the interactive opportunities offered by a Smart City,” said Taylor, promoting her digital inclusion initiative.

“My vision is that we’re a globally competitive city where everyone no matter where they live has the opportunity to prosper.”

Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, Ivy Taylor, right, listens to Mayor of Denver, Colo., Michael Hancock, right, talk on stage during the South by South West ChooseSA event, on Sunday, March 12, 2017 at the Half Step Bar, in Austin, Texas.
Mayor of San Antonio Ivy Taylor (right) listens to a presentation by Mayor of Denver Michael Hancock.

David Bray, a chief information officer for the Federal Communications Commission and an Eisenhower Fellow, also addressed the issue of access to technology.

“The internet is allowing us to see and ask questions about what is fair, and is raising questions we’ve never been able to ask before and that is really going to come to a crux in our cities,” Bray said, also urging Smart city leaders and policymakers to think about the need for a science that can predict what will make more jobs and create better livelihoods for people in the future.

Amy Webb, founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute and author of The Signals are Talking, spoke of planning for future jobs and “the rise of the automators.”

“Intermediary, transactional jobs — like bank tellers and triage nurses — are being replaced by automators, in part, because of the rise of artificial intelligence,” she said.

“Factory jobs are going away and never coming back. You have to connect the dots and figure out what are the next set of intermediary jobs that are going away that communities have to worry about. It’s something that every single city should be thinking about. You have to track trends now.

“You can all leave here today and be heroes.”

Other speakers at the conference included Barbery Bruner, CEO of the Austin Technology Council; Joe Kochan, co-founder of US Ignite; Jessie Feller Hahn, executive director of Meeting of the Minds; and Sir Richard Leese, leader of the Manchester (England) City Council.

Festival goers attend the South by South West ChooseSA event, on Sunday, March 12, 2017 at the Half Step Bar, in Austin, Texas.
Festival attendees sit in on presentations from Casa San Antonio at the Half Step Bar. Credit: Festival goers attend the South by South West ChooseSA event, on Sunday, March 12, 2017 at the Half Step Bar, in Austin, Texas.

For May Endresen of Norway, the panel gave her an opportunity to compare the initiatives and challenges of other Smart Cities to her own, the fourth largest city in Norway.

“A lot of our industry is connected to oil and gas,” Endresen said. “We are trying to create a more diversified industry, and the city and mayor have been very much into Smart City. We are trying to see the fusion of technologies and competencies from the oil and gas industry to make Smart solutions for the city.”

Casa San Antonio concluded its busy three-day stay on Austin’s Rainey Street with a presentation by specialty insurance provider Argo, titled “How Data and Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence Affect Risk Transfer in the 21st Century,” and a sponsored party after.

San Antonio’s presence at SXSW continues this week on the Trade Show floor where a diverse group of city ambassadors are staffing a booth to talk with visitors about living, working, and doing business in San Antonio.

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...