25 Mar Welcome to MetroLab: City of San Antonio & University of Texas San Antonio

The City of San Antonio (COSA) and UTSA have become members of MetroLab Network, increasing our official count to 45 cities, 6 counties and 61 universities.

Led by COSA’s Office of Innovation and UTSA, MetroLab team members will address issues and challenges faced by residents that can be addressed through research and education projects. The team is also building upon the strategy of SmartSA: to leverage new and emerging technologies and data to improve the quality of life for all San Antonians. SmartSA partners include CPS Energy, the San Antonio Water System (SAWS), the San Antonio River Authority (SARA), and VIA Metropolitan Transit.

“The City of San Antonio, in collaboration with our SmartSA partners, is driving forward a smart city 3.0 model that prioritizes community input regarding challenges that our constituency faces every day. We acknowledge that we can’t tackle these issues alone, which is why we are excited about partnerships like the one we now have with UTSA via the MetroLab network. Their expertise and energy will help ensure we remain inclusive, forward-thinking, and even more impactful in this space of urban innovation,” said Brian Dillard, Chief Innovation Officer for the City of San Antonio.

Recent projects include the delivery of the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP) of which UTSA scholars helped co-author. This was a project undertaken by COSA, CPS Energy, UTSA and the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute to integrate environmental stewardship and social equity. This included establishing a baseline inventory for greenhouse gases, developing future emission scenes, identifying mitigation strategies, assessing impacts throughout the city, and creating an implementation plan. This plan is currently under review by the San Antonio City Council and is open to public comments from city residents.

Another successful project was the “Under 1 Roof” program, which replaces worn and damaged roofs for disadvantaged homeowners and installs light-colored shingles and a radiant barrier. The goals were not only to address life/safety issues and improve health outcomes but also improve energy efficiency and reduce utility bills, while demonstrating the benefits of cool roofs for builders and residents. The program also offset the urban heat island effect by selecting homes that were clustered together. For each roof that was installed, data (utility, attic and roof temperatures) was collected and analyzed to assess the effectiveness of the program, which saw reductions in energy usage and cost savings to the homeowner.

Designated by the San Antonio City Council, the first Innovation Zones have been established in three key areas of the city: Brooks in the Southeast, the South Texas Medical Center in the Northwest, and Downtown. These zones will be used as proving grounds to test various types of smart city technology which could include autonomous vehicles, smart streetlights, and various sensors. The goal is to address issues identified by local residents and stakeholders, prioritizing sustainability, access to services, and mobility.

The next project will home in on the Digital Divide in San Antonio. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance found the city ranks 42nd out of 186 cities with 37.5% of household lacking access to broadband internet at home. The long-term goal is to improve access and training opportunities to ensure citizens have the ability to interact with various digital platforms, for improved communication and better services for future implementations and ensuring all voices are represented and captured. The plan includes a way to share the data collected in a meaningful way via an accessible platform available to all stakeholders including residents.

The City of San Antonio will continue to work with their partners and the community to identify and define the issues, expand the aforementioned projects, and seek third-party funding through grants and awards. UTSA will be pulling experts from all colleges and disciplines where applicable with an emphasis on working with researchers from the College of Public Policy; Architecture, Construction & Planning including its Center for Urban and Regional Planning Research; Engineering; and the future School of Data Science.

“Over the past decade, UTSA has focused on research pertaining to sustainable communities and critical infrastructure, everything from water studies to low impact development, from smart grids and smart cities to sustainable economic development. Partnering with COSA will bring a number of disparate projects under the MetroLab umbrella, and track measurable impact in the years to come,” said Bernard Arulanandam, UTSA interim vice president for research, economic development, and knowledge enterprise.