Raleigh, NC—the world's first open source city


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I started pondering what qualities would define an open source city a few months ago when my friend Tom Rabon mentioned it to me one day. I was curious how the city I live in, Raleigh, NC, could attract other open source companies and be the world's hub for open source and a leader in open government. How could Raleigh be the open source capital of the world, similar to what Silicon Valley is to technology and Paris is to romance?

I think the answer can be found in both the government and the people. First, our government has to be willing to embrace the open source way of doing things. They need to be transparent in their handling of business and foster citizen participation. Citizens need to be willing to participate and contribute their time and knowledge. Both need to embrace rapid prototyping to explore new ideas and innovative solutions.

But what sets Raleigh apart from other places? What makes Raleigh ready to be an open source city over New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, Beijing? I sat down with the mayor of Raleigh, Charles Meeker, to explore what makes a city open source.

Mayor Meeker was elected in 2001 and has since grown accustomed to the open source way, primarily by learning about Red Hat and the open source development model. As an attorney, it's no surprise that Mayor Meeker understands the benefits of collaboration and shared knowledge. Let's find out why the City of Raleigh is ready to stake the claim as the world's first open source city.

What one big opportunity, outside of technology, has the best chance of being solved the open source way (i.e., through collaboration, transparency, sharing, meritocracy, rapid prototyping, community, etc.)?

The use of more energy-efficient lighting is one area the City of Raleigh has focused on and where we are seeing returns. We are actively promoting and sharing our experiences with other municipalities, including testing how much electricity is being used and the quality of light being produced. Sharing this information is a big part of our experience.

The City of Raleigh has over 40 LED installations with an average savings of $200k/year on electricity costs. The payback is typically 3-5 years (considering capital costs). It’s a great option for remote parking. You can easily install a few solar panels and not have to add new lines and infrastructure. The possibility for cities around the world to adopt energy efficient lighting is a great opportunity—the City of Raleigh wants to be a part of that story and to be known as an early adopter. Spreading the word on LED lighting with the help of our partner, Cree, is important to us.

What are your thoughts on open government or gov 2.0, and what can the city of Raleigh do to have a more open and transparent government with its citizens?

First, all of our meetings are open to the public, with very few exceptions. The real challenge is to take advantage of the expertise from all of our citizens. There is a lot of great talent out there that can help solve real problems for the city.

One way is through new boards, like the new rail board we established, and how their advice and recommendations are handled by the city. Issues around storm water and utility fees have allowed us to tap into the expertise of our citizens to lead to better solutions.

Rail is an area that will be ongoing for the next 3-4 years. We have many experienced individuals out there that are willing to share their knowledge and apply what they know to help formulate future decisions on rail.

Having the public see what we're doing and provide the right recommendation is an asset that is underutilized, but we have had success, such as when the storm water management board made recommendations on how to better manage flooding. The City Council was able to use the expertise from the board to make better policies around storm water management.

What qualities make a city open source?

Three things come to mind:

  • Willingness to share
  • Willingness to receive information
  • The right attitude to be innovative, creative, and try new things

Citizens need to be willing to adopt to the future. Open source is a strategy we are using to move forward.

Why is Raleigh primed to be the world's first open source city?

Our citizens are ready for Raleigh to move forward and be more open source focused. The technology is successful. Raleigh is ready to be the worldwide hub for open source.

The advantage Raleigh has is around growth and jobs. We'd like to see the convention center host more open source focused conferences. We'd love to see a bunch of smaller Red Hats, start-up companies and established companies, come to the area because we embrace open source.

Partners are also a big part of the answer. The Convention Center, Visitor's Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, and other partners need to embrace open source and highlight it as part of our economic development strategy.

How do you use the open source way in your everyday life?

In the law firm I work at, I try to provide information to younger attorneys. Sort of a sharing of the trade secrets to help them succeed faster. And quite frankly, one of the hardest things for any person in public office is to listen. I've found that listening is 70-80% of the job. You have to fully understand what is going on in order to make an informed decision.

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15 Comments

evanprodromou's picture
Community Member

Fascinating synchronicity here! I've just posted a blog op-ed piece about making Montreal the Open Source startup hub:

http://nextmontreal.com/can-montreal-become-an-open-source-startup-hub/

One thing we lack is a large company that can spin off experienced business staff (sales, marketing, executive, business development) who're aware of Open Source business models and practices. One thing that Raleigh definitely has!

jhibbets's picture
Open Source Sensei

That's the one piece I didn't touch on in this post was the other companies in the area. (Maybe a part 2?) I started thinking about the former Red Hatter's and other open source friends in the Triangle (NC) area a few weeks ago when I attended a Leadership NC conference. One of the panels was on innovation and start-ups.

Just as you made the list for Montreal, we would have a similar list for Raleigh. This is all about economic development as you pointed out. The cities that make open source part of their culture and economic development package will have a huge advantage with the future work force.

Thanks for sharing your post and comments.
Jason

lorimehen's picture
Open Source Champion

Axial would be a good start. In fact they seem to align well with your thinking, Jason.

http://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/print-edition/2011/02/18/axial-preac...

Walden's picture

Interestingly enough, even our biggest creative festival is open source. SPARKcon "...uses an open-source organizational approach to empower diverse creative thinkers to be inspiring community leaders...It’s an open-source, 'for the people, by the people' approach with an intentionally dynamic focus".

I've participated in SPARKcon before and can vouch for its open source approach to organization and talent acquisition. Anyone can participate or help organize the festival and contributions are equally valued regardless of their origin.

DTRaleigh's picture

I live in Raleigh and what I would like to see is for there to be more community based conferences and events spread across all interests. Barcamp, Ignite, Sparkcon, tweetups, these things already happen but I'd like to see them cover different kinds of topics, especially the ones dominated by tech right now. I'd hope if the topics were broad, more people would participate and then the community would be massive and a part of the Raleigh culture. That is how, I think, Raleigh can be the open source capital.

honeymak's picture
Open Enthusiast

rather than just some steps.....

rajeeev's picture

I walked into this article backwards... maybe its the right sided link to Red Hat`s war criminal in charge. RH has done very little wrong in the past decade but having a career murderer in charge is the biggest.
I know that in US, the military is very important. With close to 1000 bases in over 175 country, the business of occupation for the empire is one of great logistics. So someone in charge of the biggest war machine on the planet is someone who has good organization skill which is useful. As is the ability to send people to their deaths to do something right.
I understand that the americans view the 30-40 countries its has bombed since WW2 as collateral damage as well as those whos suffered in three times the countries that the US has overthrown but people in those countries dont see the nomination as cute.

Thats why I went in backwards to this article.

The reason for hating this post though has nothing to do with the above.

Its the same kind of wishy washy open washing that has been popular for the past year or two.
Magically throwing open into conversations means nothing.
I want my city to be willing to share. (incomplete thought that means nothing). You are asking an institutions to have human reactions.
Collaboration or sharing doesnt make something open...its called collaborating and sharing.
As the son of scientists, i can tell you that the concept has been used in science forever.
Using a part of the FLOSS methodology doesnt make something open and most often it doesnt even make sence applying that label.

The last paragraph really examplifies the silliness of the whole thing.
You share with other lawyers, hence you are an open kind of guy because open is the new green.

I read the Identica guys article and it is much better because it stays away from the buzzword writing style that is all style and no substance that looks like it came out of a PR office.

I didnt expect much from an open washing article and this didnt disappoint.
At least I learned that changing city lights is `open` so it wasnt a total loss.

Can wait for the next catchword.

sankarshan's picture
Open Minded

Interesting enough that the qualities or, qualifiers that you put forth aren't too different from what the advocates for Open Government are putting across.

jhibbets's picture
Open Source Sensei

I saw this posted on the Silicon Florist - Is Portland, Oregon, really the de facto hub of open source? Montreal, Quebec, and Raleigh, North Carolina, say no

And I wanted to share it with everyone here. It's a great read and I'm glad that there is some excellent discussion around this topic.

Jason

fontana's picture
Open Source Evangelist

So does the City of Raleigh have any policies favoring or at least ensuring nondiscrimination against open source software? This is what a number of governments, including urban ones, have been doing. See e.g. San Francisco's COIT software evaluation policy, which requires departments "to consider open source alternatives, when available, on an equal basis to commercial [sic] software".

I'm not sure how any city could claim to be an "open source city" without policies in place to at least put open source software on an equal footing to proprietary software.

I do think there is something to the idea of cities having cultures that may resonate in interesting ways with FOSS culture even when there is not much of any open source software culture or economy to speak of. I believe my own native city, New York, is one such place, and I may write further about this on OSDC at some point.

jhibbets's picture
Open Source Sensei

Hi Richard,

For this article, I didn't focus on the software policy side, but this was on my list of things to check out next. I agree that it's a part that should be considered for this conversation.

On the culture side, one thing that I've been thinking about is how the open source community is mostly virtual--usually only coming together in mass (physically) at conferences. The concept of open cities where you have many like-minded open source advocates in a central location changes that. For better or worse, I'm not sure.

The potential postive impact to open government and civic engagement is promosing to me.

Brian Masinick's picture

It sounds like some of the people in Raleigh, NC, besides those in IBM and Red Hat, have some innovative ideas to promote new and continued growth. Can anyone help me identify and locate some of those companies and efforts? I am very interested and I would like to find out as much as I can about them.

jhibbets's picture
Open Source Sensei

Brian, I don't think there is one place or person collecting this information (yet) - however, I think the best resource would be the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce: http://www.raleighchamber.org/

jhibbets's picture
Open Source Sensei

Brian,

There is a movement afoot in Raleigh to host the first ever CityCamp. See http://citycampral.org for more info.

Jason

Brian Masinick's picture

Thanks! That is one of the better Chamber of Commerce sites that I have recently seen. I will investigate it and follow some leads through it.