Since its birth in 1987, South by Southwest (SXSW) has grown exponentially. What originally started as a simple music festival with only 700 registrants has evolved into a nine day event featuring original music, independent films, and emerging technology. People from all over the world look forward and travel to SXSW every year to experience the sites, sounds, and insights the festival has to offer. Whether it's a surprise show by Justin Timberlake or the introduction of Twitter, SXSW has maintained an ongoing reputation as the place to be every March.
With such popularity, its no surprise the festival has grown so much since it first began. The chart below, created with data provided by SXSW, shows the festival has almost tripled since 2009. Tens of thousands of people travel to Texas every year to spend a week in the heart of Austin.
With such an increase in attendance, its no secret that SXSW boosts the Austin economy. In 2014, the festival was responsible for contributing more than $315 million to the Austin economy. But with all the good the festival brings to the city, there appears to be a dark side to it as well.
Every year there are stories about criminal incidents that take place and compromise festival-goers and Austin residents safety. From gunshots to robberies, it is no secret that SXSW brings its share of issues to the city. After the drunk driving incident in 2014 that left four people dead, many Austin residents are concerned that the festival is getting too big and is becoming unsafe.
In the charts presented above, created with information from Austin's data portal, it is clear to see there is a significant rise in crime during the month of March. This increase is consistant across every year back to 2004 (where data was provided for).
Austin native Iliana Rodriguez says it's obvious how much the festival has grown and more can be done to increase safety.
"The festival has gotten huge and there are extra safety precautions that have to come with that," said Rodriguez. "I think our police force does a great job but there is always more that can be done."
The chart above is a compilation of crime rates from the month of March since 2009. It is clear to see a significant decrease in crime levels during the month that hosts the ever-growing festival. While this could be due to overall crime rates decreasing in Austin, it positively correlated with the increased measures the city of Austin and SXSW are taking to improve the safety of the festival.
For the 2015 festival, SXSW decreased the number of permits for temporary, parking lot-style venues to 147 from 168 last year. The City of Austin set up security barricades and safety walls to block off entire blocks that were expected to draw large crowds. They created paths for emergency vehicles through the barricades and blocked them with police patrol cars when not in use.
Austin police department also stepped up their security measures by increasing the number of police on the ground at SXSW. They also brought in 32 Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC) agents to patrol night clubs and bars.
In his public address, Austin Special Events Program Manager Bill Manno, said that the increased precautions were to improve SXSW as a whole and not simply to make up for 2014's incident.
"It's not a reaction to any one event," said Manno. "It's planning for all the events overall and how we can improve the experience for our residents and visitors."
Like Rodriguez said, there is always more that can be done to increase safety at the festival. While crime still increases significantly during the month of March (with many factors contributing to that including the mass influx of people to the city for the festival) it is hopeful to see the overall numbers decreasing over time.
Please feel free to contact Morgan with questions or comments.