Austin is home to SXSW, a multitrack conference that brings tens of thousands of people to this dynamic capital city to challenge the status quo and discover innovative solutions across industries like technology, government, health, social impact and more.

LBJ School professor Sherri Greenberg, whose teaching and research focuses include information and technology in policy and government, will lead the panel, "What is a Smart City? Technologies and Challenges." While Professor Greenberg and her co-panelists will explore ways that cities can use technology to address equity challenges, her students have also tackled these issues for real-world clients during a class project with real-world impact.

“The LBJ School of Public Affairs’ curriculum provides the necessary tools to become a generalist—able to enter different public policy sectors at a running pace. Once I entered this program, I knew instantly this was the right direction for me.”

“I was a working engineer in the private sector for several years; however, I was looking for a career path where I could have a greater impact on my community,” said LBJ School student Kendra Garrett (MPAff ’18).  

Garrett eventually found her way to the LBJ School and Professor Greenberg’s “What is a Smart City?” course. The course explores how open data platforms, new technology devices and public-private partnerships can help increase transparency, accountability and civic engagement between city government and its residents.

“Smart cities around the world are striving to answer one question: How can we better serve a city’s residents in the most direct, cost-effective and efficient way,” Garrett said. “Using technology to better understand behavior is where our cities are headed to solve its ongoing challenges.”

Garrett, whose policy focus is city and state management and infrastructure, began working with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) on a project titled, “Human Centered Design and Smart Mobility.” HACA’s overarching mission is to provide residents with an affordable home and avenues to self-sufficiency.

“Living in Austin, Texas, most people own a car but not necessarily a reliable one,” Garrett said. “For people who live with very limited income, having an unreliable car could mean a loss in wages for the day, or the job itself.”

Determining a resident’s transportation constraints and needs can help alleviate burdens to the self-sufficiency process, Garrett explained.

“Smart cities around the world are striving to answer one question: How can we better serve a city’s residents in the most direct, cost-effective and efficient way.”

“The ability to move around the city allows for a person to seek new employment opportunities, available housing in a different area with better schools for children, or to create new connections. Reliable and convenient transportation is a big part of everyone’s daily life.”

The purpose of the project was two-fold. Using human centered design (HCD), which relies on interpersonal communication with targeted consumers, Garrett and fellow LBJ School student Trent Sharp examined how residents use transportation in their daily lives as well as limitations to mobility.

Once they obtained that information, Garrett and Sharp could introduce residents to new modes of transport. For example, HACA and Cars2Go created a public-private partnership which enabled Cars2Go to relocate a portion of their fleet to HACA properties.

The project also utilizes mobility ambassadors. Mobility ambassadors work within their communities, interviewing neighbors and nearby residents on their transportation needs and limitations. This information is then shared with Austin transit providers and other city officials.

“This space is intended to not only find ways to solve current mobility challenges, but also to encourage civic engagement by being aware of current issues relevant to the Austin area,” Garrett said.

Garrett said Professor Greenberg’s course had the greatest impact in preparing her for this project.

“The LBJ School of Public Affairs’ curriculum provides the necessary tools to become a generalist—able to enter different public policy sectors at a running pace. This program also allows for a certain amount of flexibility to hone in on a particular area, if you so choose,” Garett said. “Once I entered this program, I knew instantly this was the right direction for me.”