AWS Public Sector Blog

SXSW Update: A Q&A with the City of Austin’s Mayor

With SXSW kicking off in Austin, we had the chance to speak with the City of Austin Mayor – Steve Adler – about the second annual Mayors Track and how technology helps Austin remain a wonderful place to live and visit.

Austin values diversity, creativity, the entrepreneurial spirit, the natural environment, and a laid back attitude. Adler has a goal to move the city forward in a way that is inclusive, innovative and intentionally improvisational. To move forward and handle the growth of the city, Mayor Adler relies on social innovation, social entrepreneurship, equity, and access.

Learn more about the City of Austin in the following Q&A.

What are some of your top memories from last year’s Mayors Track? Did you implement anything that you learned at the conference?

Last year, Austin and six other cities were named finalists for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. The experience produced a public-private alliance in Austin that is working on using technology to reach underserved communities. Recently, Austin became one of five cities to win the Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grant to develop affordable housing, improve mobility, and spark economic development for population groups that have traditionally been underserved.

Mayors are leading the way in innovation. How do you define innovation and how important is it to your overall charter to your constituents?

Innovation is just a new word for the way Austin has always done things. We like figuring out new ways of doing things and are good at change. Willie Nelson came here to retire, and he ended up not only revolutionizing country music, but the audience that listens to country music. Whole Foods revolutionized grocery stores. Alamo Drafthouse changed how we go to the movies. And SXSW changed, in the world’s best example of what Austin is, how we discover what is new in our culture.

What are two or three key takeaways that you hope the mayors bring back to their cities?

I hope other mayors take one thing back to their cities – innovation does not happen outside of government or in spite of government. We have to learn to adapt with our economies, and our economies have to learn how to adapt with us. In other words, we cannot disrupt each other and expect success. We must do this together.

Austin is known for their thriving startup community, what do you and/or the city do to encourage new businesses to set up shop in Austin?

We have a thriving startup community in Austin for reasons that go to the core character of this city. We love to change and improve things and support each other’s success. I cannot – and would not – change that. What I can do as mayor to support our tech community is to help our city government adapt to a changing economy and to do the basic blocking and tackling of government: work on transit and traffic congestion, make sure the roads are paved and the sidewalks are built, the trash is picked up, and affordable housing is built. Austin is a magical city, but we need to manage growth better to preserve the character of this city.

How is the City of Austin approaching data sharing or deriving insights from collaborating across departments?

We have a Chief Innovation Officer who is leading that mission and a Chief Equity Officer who makes sure everything we do is seen through the equity lens.

Have you considered how technology can and will play a role in creating healthier programs or services among your constituents?

Yes. In fact, we’re working with local leaders in the tech and healthcare fields to create a Healthcare Innovation Alliance to make sure underserved communities benefit from emerging technological innovations.


Thank you to Mayor Adler for your time and your hospitality in Austin! To learn more about how AWS helps local governments, click here. How are you investing in innovation? Tell us how your city is leveraging the AWS Cloud for a chance to win $50,000 in AWS credits.