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San Antonio to create innovation zones for new technology

Dive Brief:
  • San Antonio plans to create three "innovation zones" to test emerging technology, the mayor’s office told the city council last week.

  • "We see the innovation zones as a real-world proving ground for the pilot smart city technology that we’re testing," said Chief Innovation Officer Jose De La Cruz, according to StateScoop. "The zones are really the next phase in our overall smart city strategy."

  • The plan calls for three designated zones in the Brooks neighborhood in southeast San Antonio, the medical center in the northwest and downtown. Some city council members proposed moving the downtown zone to elsewhere in the city.

Dive Insight:

Mayor Ron Nirenberg is striving to make San Antonio a smart city and created an "Innovation and Technology Committee” in January to develop new initiatives around topics like mobility, cybersecurity and municipal broadband. The innovation zones would offer a real-life proving ground for those types of initiatives, building on similar work done in other cities. Las Vegas, for example, has used its downtown innovation zone to test projects like a traffic flow monitoring system, an autonomous shuttle and a cloud-based data system that tracks emissions from cars. Kansas City, MO deployed public Wi-Fi in a 50-block zone with corporate help.

San Antonio will put out a call for bids later this year for vendors to participate in the zones, but De La Cruz said the zone could tackle challenges like autonomous vehicles, flooding and drainage and the availability of wireless internet. San Antonio is the nation’s fastest growing city according to recent census data, and transportation will be a challenge. Technology should offer solutions to some of the city's growing pains, making the innovation zones a priority.

Besides offering a tech hub, the zones are also meant to offer a boost to the neighborhoods around them. The Brooks neighborhood site is a growing mixed-use development, and the other locations will offer a base of infrastructure and users. Some city council members were critical of the choices and wanted to see at least one zone go to a smaller neighborhood, but existing infrastructure is necessary to make the testing zones successful.

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