Austin Tech Alliance’s mission is to promote civic engagement in Austin’s tech sector. Part of that work involves an advocacy focus aimed at using tech as a tool to help solve civic challenges and promoting tech-forward policies at both local and state government.
See below for ATA’s local policy agenda, which addresses everything from affordability to mobility to connectivity.
Locate affordable housing options
What: Support the creation of an integration tool that allows residents to search for available affordable housing units based on their family’s needs, including proximity to schools, work, and transportation options
Why: For an Austin family seeking affordable housing, there is no up-to-date list of currently available locations that best meet their needs. As a result, Austinites are often forced to turn to cold-calling apartments in hopes of finding an affordable unit that is available for rent and accepts rent assistance. This challenge is made even more severe when a family receives an affordable housing voucher, as they have 60 days to use it or potentially lose it.
In 2017 and with ATA’s support, Austin City Council budgeted $25,000 for the City to develop data standards, including analyses of how to make this tool as simple as possible to and a review of data sources, search tool features, and distribution methods. This project comes from the Housing Committee of Austin CityUP, a smart city consortium of companies, organizations, and individuals who collaborate on activities that advance Austin through digital technologies, data collection, analytics, and modeling. Austin Tech Alliance is a member of Austin CityUP.
Compact and connected city
What: Promote more affordable housing options and greater mobility by allowing for more diverse and dense housing types throughout the city.
Why: Metro areas across the country are facing housing crunches as better workforce and education opportunities attract more and more people to cities. In Austin, the ongoing rewrite of Austin’s Land Development Code, CodeNEXT, provides the biggest and best public policy opportunity to ensure Austin can meet the growing housing demand in our community. These regulations determine how land can be used throughout the city – including what can be built, where it can be built, and how much can (and cannot) be built. Many of the important challenges we face today as a community, such as household affordability and traffic congestion, are exacerbated by Austin’s 30 year-old Land Development Code. CodeNEXT thus presents an opportunity to innovate and improve on Austin’s stilted, aging land-use paradigm.
Digital divide and digital inclusion
What: Increase funding for Grant for Technology Opportunities Program (GTOPs), a grant program aimed at closing Austin’s digital divide.
Why: The 2014 Austin Digital Assessment found that more than “50,000 Austinites do not use the internet, which may translate into lost opportunities for education, social and health services, and local participation.” You can read more about the digital divide in Austin here and here.
The Grant for Technology Opportunities Program (GTOPs) is a grant administered by the City of Austin’s Digital Inclusion Program directed at improving the community’s ability to fully participate in the digital society. GTOPs offers individual grants of $10,000 to $25,000.
Grant applications are reviewed and assessed by a panel of qualified community representatives appointed by the Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission, which has final approval over recipient selection. For the 2018 GTOPs grant cycle, with no marketing budget, the program received a total of $611,081 in worthy grant proposals with only $200,000 available to divvy up.
Small cells rollout
What: Facilitate the introduction of 5G, the next generation of mobile internet connectivity, by allowing the successful deployment of small cell nodes.
Why: Small cells help bolster network capacity and better meet surging demand for more data and faster connectivity, while preparing for the next generation of technologies and services like 5G, the Internet of Things, and smart cities applications. Austin city officials can facilitate the deployment of small cells to bring residents enhanced coverage and capacity, while also helping to accommodate future technologies in our community, by:
- providing fair and reasonable terms, conditions, and rates to access right of way and city infrastructure;
- requiring no more than reasonable parameters on size, height, and location for small cells and poles; and
- offering reasonable permit processes, including batch submissions and a shot clock with permits deemed approved if not timely processed.
Technological upgrades at community schools
What: Monitor and support implementation of Austin ISD’s 2016 bond proposal and its $55 million in district-wide technology upgrades.
Why: Austin Tech Alliance formally endorsed Austin ISD’s 2016 bond proposal, which included $55 million in district-wide technology upgrades. The bond’s $55 million dedicated to district-wide technology upgrades represent a down payment on the technological modernization of all AISD schools. This matters, as the success of our community schools and their ability to educate the next generation of local tech talent are essential parts of Austin’s continued progress as an international tech hub.
The $55 million will be spent on a number of technological investments, including replacing all teachers’ personal computers, providing front of room presentation systems for all classrooms, and upgrading computer labs at high schools and middle schools.
Shared, electric, autonomous mobility
What: Promote Austin as a leader in the shared, electric, autonomous mobility future by supporting the creation of pilot programs to test connected and autonomous vehicle technologies.
Why: Austin City Council has previously stated its goal to become a “leader in the deployment of ‘Shared, Electric and Automated Vehicles’ and to build upon its ‘Kitty Hawk’ designation for this emerging technology industry, bringing jobs and new skilled training opportunities to Central Texas.” By creating pilot programs to test technologies like Direct Short Range Communications (DSRC) and 5G, the City will be able to gather information about how the technologies can be integrated into the corridor improvements being planned via the 2016 transportation bond. Additionally, piloting autonomous technologies via shuttle services will increase public awareness and access to autonomous vehicles and create opportunities for data sharing between the City and private mobility providers.
Integrated traffic management
What: Create a regional, integrated, and open approach to traffic operations.
Why: The Austin Transportation Department should work with its regional transportation partners, the Texas Department of Transportation, Capital Metro, and Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, to build an integrated approach to traffic and data management. This “One System” approach described in Austin’s application to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge would leverage “the expertise and resources within each entity to create an operational approach whose sum is much greater than the individual parts.”
This would also allow data management across the organizational silos in which it currently exists. This “Data Rodeo,” also described in the Smart City Challenge application, would allow transportation data to be more accessible to professionals, the public, and private companies, ideally improving transportation operations in both the public and private sectors.
What: Expand existing bike-share options in Austin, including both docked and dockless bike-share.
Why: Bike-sharing allows users to locate and unlock rental bikes using an app, helping residents to rely on pedal power for trips as an alternative to cars. With Austin’s well-known congestion challenges, getting drivers out of their cars and onto a bike is an essential part of helping residents get from point A to point B as easily as possible.
Austin has had docked bike-share since 2013, when Austin B-cycle first launched. B-cycle provides 24-hour, on-demand bikes at kiosks located throughout Central Austin. Dockless bike-share allows users to ride and park the bikes without limiting themselves to areas where a docking station is located.
What: Allow interactive wayfinding kiosks at select Austin locations, including transit hubs
Why: Interactive kiosks — or smart kiosks or smartscapes, depending on who you ask — are street-located hubs that offer wayfinding, free phone calls and wi-fi, device charging, transit updates, and two-way citizen engagement with city services. They are typically ad-supported, thus costing taxpayers nothing. Both Dallas and San Antonio have rolled out their own kiosk initiatives.
Austin’s sign ordinance, which governs where and what type of signs may be placed around the city, was written more than three decades ago – well before the technology of a smart kiosk was available. As a result, city code prohibits digital billboards of any type, including interactive kiosks. ATA supports reexamining the current sign ordinance to allow for a pilot project to locate interactive kiosks in select areas with high pedestrian traffic, including transit hubs.
Make City Council meeting agendas and vote data more accessible
What: City Council agendas and minutes should be easily navigable and searchable with persistent ID codes for items that come under consideration in multiple meetings and public meeting information for each phase of decision making. Council members’ votes should be released in an open data format.
Why: With improved navigation and ease of accessing vote histories, residents will better be able to follow an issue or specific policy debate as it progresses through the policy making process.
Support researchers’ access to raw data from city surveys
What: Survey data, such as the City of Austin Community Survey, should be made publicly accessible in appropriate formats, including raw data, data maps, questionnaires, and details about survey methodology. Survey data should include demographic questions but not capture any personally identifiable information, preserving the anonymity of individual respondents. For instance, when the city uses an online platform for public deliberation about the city budget, anonymized feedback captured by the tool should be downloadable as open data for analysis by the public.
Why: Transparent survey methods and data can help to determine whether the survey reached a representative sample of respondents. Researchers might also use them to determine whether the results can be merged together with other datasets to support a larger study, such as a study comparing community services in multiple cities.
Publish data used to produce the greenhouse gas emissions inventories under the Austin Community Climate Plan
What: The City should release the data underlying the Community Climate Plan Progress Updates and the City’s calculated progress on its goal of net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This could include site-specific estimates of energy consumption or resulting emissions, or estimates of the emissions reductions from implementing efficiency programs at particular sites.
Why: Disclosure would give residents enough information to evaluate the city’s estimates of the amount of emissions avoided by various categories of efficiency programs. It would also help evaluate the city’s projections of future emissions and identify emissions policy priorities for the future.
Publish lobbyist activity reports and registration data
What: The lobbyist registration dataset on the city data portal at data.austintexas.gov was recently modified to delete most records prior to 2017 and omit the names of the clients that hired the lobbyists. The city should restore access to those records. Also, recent lobbyist activity reports are now available online only in PDF format. The city should extract the contents of those reports and post them on the data portal.
Why: Disclosure of lobbying datasets allows public access to information showing who is influencing decision makers, providing residents with a more complete picture of the public policy process.
Startup access initiative
What: Develop a citywide policy creating a pathway for startups to help solve civic challenges
Why: Austin regularly ranks as one of the top technology startup hubs in the country. By their nature, startups utilize a unique way of solving a problem, seeking to innovate in an area that might offer a limited set of potential approaches. Unfortunately, local government procurement processes often discourage startups from applying their problem solving skills to local civic challenges. By creating a pathway for startups to connect with the City of Austin outside of the standard Request for Proposal (RFP) process, we can open up new opportunities for Austin’s tech talent to work on addressing problems throughout our community.