FLASH Covers SXSW 2021: Session Recaps & Highlights

Keynote: Sec. Pete Buttigieg in Conversation with Jonathan Capehart

Who Spoke: U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart


What They Talked About: The plan to build back better as it relates to transportation


What We Took Away: Equity and carbon neutrality are the goal, transportation is the means

"It turns out we're better off if our decisions are based on human beings, rather than cars. But keep in mind those humans are sometimes in cars."

Scandinavia: Re-Thinking Mobility, Munch, & Green Biz

Who Spoke: Over a dozen leaders from Norsk Hydro, the City of Oslo, Polestar, and the Munch Museum


What They Talked About: How brands are collaborating to pursue sustainablility in manufacturing and strategy


What We Took Away: The electrification of mobility is just the beginning, so what’s next?

Reimagining Audio for an Electric Vehicle Future

Who Spoke: Tim Pryde, Director of Dolby Music; Derek Jenkins, VP of Design at Lucid Motors; Cat Jimenez, Executive Producter at Lucid Motors


What they Talked About: How sound is becoming an integral part of the EV driving experience


What We Took Away: Curated sound experiences can be used to enhance experience and even safety for EV drivers

Adaptable Cities: Tech & the Urban Revolution

Who Spoke: Amanda Daflos, CIO at City of Los Angeles; Chelsea Collier, founder at DigiCity; Donald Shoup, Distinguished Research Professor at UCLA; Olivia Ramos, CEO at Deep Blocks


What They Talked About: How cities are responding to challenges through zoning, better and more ethical data, and smart applications of city services like parking


What We Took Away: Digitize data, focus on the problem before the technology, and put people first

“The locus of innovation and action is at the local level” Chelsea Collier

"Smart technology enables smart policy." —Donald Shoup

A Clean Mobility Investment: The Road to Net Zero

Who Spoke: Ken Laberteaux, Senior Principal Research Scientist at Toyota Research Institute; Sophia Nadur, Partner at BP Ventures; Melissa Stults, Sustainability and Innovations Manager at City of Ann Arbor; Sean Gouda, Manager of Transportation Electrification at DTE Energy


What They Talked About: How the auto industry is getting close to its electric future, what’s still standing in the way, and areas that are still open for innovation


What We Took Away: There are a lot of draws to traditional cars that have to be broken in order for EVs to take over, in the time until that happens, the industry is ripe for innovation in areas like EV battery upcycling

The Future of Climate Innovation

Who Spoke: Amy Francetic, Managing Director at Buoyant VC; Danielle Joseph, Executive Director at Closed Loop Partners; David Yeh, Managing Director at 3x5 Partners; Micah Kotch, Managing Director at URBAN-X

What They Talked About: How climate tech is moving into the mainstream in light of the past year’s events and what trends will shape that transition moving forward

What We Took Away: The climate consensus is influencing consumer demand, localized data is coming into play, and the past year’s pandemic and natural disasters are pushing the problem into the spotlight

"The broad consensus around climate change is translating...into consumer demand, which is pushing industries...to adopt more climate-friendly practices and be able to tell a compelling and true narrative." — Danielle Joseph

How to Disrupt Billion Dollar Industries

Who Spoke: Jim McKelvey, Co-Founder of Square and James Altucher, Author, Investor, Entrepreneur, and Founder of The James Altucher Show


What They Talked About: Breaking into billion dollar industries by going beyond copying great ideas


What We Took Away: Disruption occurs in the bottom third of an industry

Building a Future Mobility Region

Who Spoke: Trevor Pawl, Chief Mobility Officer with State of Michigan; Heather Wilberger, Chief Information Officer at Bedrock Detroit; Carolina Pluszczynski Michigan Central Mobility Innovation District Development Director with Ford Motor Company; Komal Doshi, Director of Mobility Programs at Ann Arbor SPARK


What They Talked About: How Michigan is becoming a leader in smart mobility, particularly with initiatives like Ford's Mobility Innovation District and the Detroit to Ann Arbor corridor.


What We Took Away: To make progress in smart mobility, we have to encourage collaborative innovation with a focus on equity, real-world implementations, public-private partnerships, and infrastructure to support technology



A Common Thread: Copycats

Mobility had a moment at this year’s SXSW. Municipal leaders and innovators around the globe gathered to share  about the most exciting new ideas and real-world implementations. And the conversation was abuzz with predictions about climate, ideas for improving quality of life, and tales of real-world successes and failures. Tuning into these conversations, I saw one common thread that surprised me: copycats.

When someone has a good idea, and it works, there’s nothing wrong with doing the same thing. In fact, it might be one of the fastest routes to smart mobility.

It’s not the most romantic version of innovation, but when our cities are pressed for time in the fight against climate change, congestion, and safety, they’ll take any means to the right end. Taking strategies from other cities is a great way to take a step forward without the trial and error of so many progressive programs.

In Conversation

Amanda Daflos, CIO for the City of Los Angeles, said in Adaptable Cities: Tech & the Urban Evolution that some of LA’s best mobility initiatives were copied from other cities. Seeing a successful project play out elsewhere makes it easier to propose and execute on. And when you work with limited budgets, that proof of concept is valuable.

Jim McKelvy, co-founder of Square, similarly acknowledged this fact in How to Disrupt Billion Dollar Industries. Although it’s not the best way to disrupt an industry, copycats do surprisingly well for themselves, he admits, citing Burger King’s mimicry of McDonalds as an example. In the end, McKelvy’s winning equation is to look at the bottom third of an industry that’s possibly being underserved. But when it comes to less competitive forms of innovation, like municipal efforts, could copying be just what we need?

A conversation between Michigan mobility professionals, titled Building a Future Mobility Region, explored the functions and benefits of the new mobility corridor between Detroit and Ann Arbor and a new mobility innovation district in Corktown. Ford’s Carolina Pluszcynski, who serves as the development director for the Michigan Central Mobility Innovation District, sees the district as a place “where mobility innovators and disruptors from all over the world can come together…and collaborate openly, and be able to develop, test, and scale those solutions in real-world settings.”

I can’t help but see what’s happening in Detroit as a sort of role model smart city for other places to look at and think “we can do that.”

Even Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg spoke in his keynote presentation about the importance of international learnings and relationships, encouraging us “[not to] be too proud as a country to learn from what’s going on in other countries and cities when it comes to making good choices about transportation.”

What This Means for Parking

I think this is something that extends in the parking sector, too. We are all better off because of the collective progress we’ve made as an industry. That’s why we keep thanking those that challenge us applauding the successes of our customers. And hopefully our customers see each others’ successes and are able to copy new use cases and approaches to technology. Because when one of us wins, we all do.

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