Questions raised by this year's South by Southwest festival and conference aren't restricted to think pieces: The Austin City Council is now asking for "a full post-event evaluation" of the ever-growing event. The findings could result in changes to the way Austin deals with safety, crowds, permits, and even alcohol during SXSW and other events.
Coming off its 27th year, the SXSW event itself generated as many headlines as its performers and conference breakouts.
Three downtown club goers were killed and nearly two dozen others were injured when a drunk driver trying to evade police accelerated into crowds on Red River Street. Street brawls among Sixth Street crowds were filmed and uploaded to video sharing sites. Odd Future rapper Tyler, the Creator was arrested for inciting a "riot" during a SXSW day show. And big name performers like Coldplay and Lady Gaga – sponsored by even bigger companies like Apple and Doritos – left many questioning whether the event had outgrown its regional conference roots.
Without citing specific events, an item on this Thursday's council agenda asks the city manager to conduct "a full post-event evaluation of all events taking place during SXSW," including the following:
- Coordination with existing venues on issues related to safety and capacity for festival showcases and day parties;
- Traffic management including city street closures, ancillary traffic flow, and access for pedestrians and bicycles;
- City personnel, the deployment of public safety, and the availability of permitting resources;
- Event sprawl of ancillary events and potential impact on residential areas;
- Citywide capacity for temporary events;
- Provision of adequate staff with event management experience;
- Management of crowds outside venues;
- Impact of queuing of lines into open streets; and
- Coordination of advertising, promotion, and credentials relative to the venue
The resolution also says the evaluation "should include any feedback provided by the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission related to free or donated alcohol at events." It also asks the city's Music and Urban Transportation commissions to hold meetings and gather input on the topic. Read the resolution here.
This isn’t the first time officials have questioned the scope of SXSW. After a particularly rowdy 2011, City of Austin music programs manager Don Pitts suggested promoters "dial it back some." But after this year's tragedy, officials are looking at alternate ways to move the festival forward.
At a press conference following the fatal crash, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said youthful indiscretion can easily get out of hand in a culture with so much emphasis on alcohol.
"Young people like to get out and party," he said. "I think that’s a cultural shift that at some point we’re going to have to address in a more meaningful way – find another way to have a great time."
The Austin City Council is expected to take up the proposal at this week’s Thursday meeting. If approved, the city manager has 90 days to bring back his evaluation, along with any potential code changes governing the topics up for consideration.