Eric Klinenberg talked about his new book “Palaces for the People” at SXSW 2019

SXSW Moments: Innovative Design

The Forrest Four-Cast: June 21, 2019

Hugh Forrest
6 min readJun 21, 2019


Did you miss something at SXSW 2019? Want to relive the magic? Look to this space over the coming weeks for links to video and audio replays of some of the most incredible experiences from this year’s event.

June 24 is the deadline to submit proposals for hosting an event during Austin Design Week, scheduled for November 4-8. ADW brings together our various design communities, provides continued learning and education for our designers, and helps raise the caliber of design in Austin.

This year’s theme is “Make Space,” which ties into the idea of both creating and adapting. How do we remove barriers and set the conditions for everyone to work, live and thrive?

Several panels at SXSW 2019 also addressed this issue. Find inspiration for innovative and inclusive design below.

Palaces for the People with Eric Klinenberg
Renowned sociologist and best-selling author Eric Klinenberg argues that the future of cities and democratic societies rests not simply on shared values but on social infrastructure: the libraries, parks, schools, and civic organizations where crucial, sometimes life-saving connections, are formed. Drawing on his new book, “Palaces for the People,” Klinenberg shows that when social infrastructure is robust, people are more likely to build ties with friends and neighbors and to invest in their communities. When it is neglected, families and individuals must fend for themselves. He highlights innovative infrastructure projects that address challenges like climate change and crime while also building social cohesion.

Strategies to Achieve Smart and Accessible Cities
Cities face a growing set of physical, social, and economic challenges. Innovation and technology provide solutions and tools to address these challenges and support greater resilience, yet today’s Smart Cities are making the digital divide larger not smaller, and they are not fully accessible for persons with disabilities and older persons. This session brings together global leaders from government, industry, and civil society who share strategies and tools to help address barriers to digital inclusion.

Playable Cities: Why it Matters in Today’s Society
Ryan Swanson, founder and CEO of the Urban Conga, discusses the importance of play within the development of our cities and communities. His multidisciplinary design firm promotes community activity and social interaction through play. He focuses on how play can exist in everyday spaces, and encourages people to think about how spaces could become PLAYces: like a crosswalk, bench, building facade, sidewalk, bus stop, or just the everyday space in-between that could turn into stimulating, creative outlets for social interaction and community activity.

Putting People at the Center of Built Environments
By 2050, 64% of the developing world and 86% of the developed world will be urbanized. As a result, greenspace worldwide is threatened. Cities have become creative with how to reclaim it by finding innovative ways to reuse infrastructure. Hear from Marquise Stillwell, founder and principal of Openbox and co-chair of the Lowline, the world’s first underground park intended to be built in New York City’s Lower East Side. He tells the story of uncovering gaps in the Lowline’s journey that led to an equitable development strategy with the goal of increasing equity in rapidly changing neighborhoods.

Climate Change through Community Design
Covering China, Germany, United States and Canada, David Johnstone, who served as city manager in several Canadian local governments, shares examples on how communities use design to improve sustainable living conditions.

Building Bridges to Connect Communities
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) represents a new era and new values, and the future of transportation. Under the leadership of Leslie S. Richard, its first woman secretary, PennDOT prioritizes pedestrians and communities. PennDOT brings communities and businesses into the first stages of infrastructure planning and its plans for autonomous vehicles. DOT’s are no longer held responsible for the transportation system, but for the quality of life they help to create.

Accessible Transportation for All
Automation and other technologies present enormous potential for improving the mobility of travelers with disabilities. What are some of the emerging innovations that can remove barriers to transportation for people with disabilities and older adults? Learn about federally funded initiatives focused on improving accessibility for all, and opportunities for private sector innovation and investment.

Redesigning Cities Through Young Urbans
Stella Hiroki, founder of Smart City Talks, discusses how education and media inspired Brazilian youth to create projects to improve their cities. Presenting cases as Dandara Building, an abandoned government building restored to comfortable apartments in São Paulo downtown area, which improved the neighborhood, Hiroki demonstrates that Brazil can be a reference of Urban Innovation and she also shows the importance of Young Urbans being aware of the use of technology to integrate Tech Projects and Social Innovation.

Strategies to Achieve Smart and Sustainable Cities
Today’s Smart Cities, in both the global north and the global south, are making the digital divide larger not smaller. They are not fully accessible for persons with disabilities and older persons. Cities face a growing set of physical, social, and economic challenges. Innovation and technology provide solutions and tools to address these challenges and support greater resilience. This session brings together global leaders from government, industry, and civil society to share strategies and tools that can help address barriers to digital inclusion in today’s Smart Cities. These strategies will help ensure that Smart Cities worldwide, their policies, programs, and growing technology investments, will not leave behind persons with disabilities and older persons.

Can Emerging Tech Make a City 100% Paperless?
Using technologies such as Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence, Dubai is designing end-to-end, experiential journeys for all residents and visitors which will be provided through one unified interface. All the necessary entities involved in executing a digital transaction will be connected automatically, processing e-documents securely and seamlessly within seconds. Not a single piece of paper will be used.

Product Design Principals in the Age of AI
Tania Philip, VP of Product at Shutterstock, addresses some of the ways AI has disrupted product design and how design might bridge the gap between learning algorithms and customer expectations. AI-powered tech is increasingly being incorporated into the products/services we use. As we continue to foray deeper into this new frontier, designers need to better understand how to best leverage the technology, to not only give them an edge but also to prime themselves for the future allowing them to do their best work.

Collaborative Community Design for Area Revival
In Japan, people talk about “a region’s memory,” which is basically the innate character of the region made up from its history. In this session, Sae Kondo, Assistant Professor at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo, shares case studies about the rebuilding of Nagaoka after a devastating earthquake and the revival of the deteriorating town Kamiichi in Toyama.

More Memories from SXSW 2019
Addressing MeToo
AI for Business
Public Interest AI
Change is Coming
Urban Mobility
It’s Time for Sports!
Saving the Ocean
Military Matters
Women’s Health
Social Media Power
Telling New Media Stories
Marvel’s Magic
Future Health
May the Fourth
Women in Tech
Growing Unicorns
Thriving at Work
Making a Difference
Fighting Fake News
Disaster Response
Hacking Democracy
Pete Buttigieg
Kara Swisher
Arlan Hamilton

Do these audio recordings inspire you to get involved in a SXSW session next year? Enter your forward-thinking speaking proposal for March 2020 via the SXSW PanelPicker. Speaking proposals for next year’s event are accepted via this interface from July 1 through July 19.

Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.



Hugh Forrest

Celebrating creativity at SXSW. Also, reading reading reading, the Boston Red Sox, good food, exercise when possible and sleep sleep sleep.