Raleigh asks how technology can aid city

Staff WriterMay 22, 2011 

  • CityCamp Raleigh will be held June 3-5, with sessions at Vintage 21, 117 S. West St., and The Stockroom, 230 Fayetteville St. Admission is free, but space is limited. For more information, or to share ideas, visit the official website at citycampral.org. You also can follow the event at Twitter.com/CityCampRal or on Facebook.

— If a problem in Raleigh needs fixing, or you have an idea for something that would make city life easier, there might be an app for that.

So hope the organizers of an event next month that will give city leaders, neighborhoods, businesses, charities and others a chance to brainstorm ways to use technology to troubleshoot community issues and make city government more effective.

CityCamp Raleigh, scheduled for June 3 to 5 downtown, will feature workshops and sessions to solicit ideas on how emerging gadgetry could help create better and more efficient services for residents in areas such as economic development, crime, sanitation, parks and transportation.

It's the first such event for Raleigh, and it's believed to be the first of its kind in North Carolina. Apart from hoping to get some good ideas, organizers are going in without any expectations.

"It's kind of a like how a mash-up happens and a good song comes out the other end," said Stacy Doster, a volunteer marketing liaison for the camp. "We don't really know what's going to happen."

Referred to as an "unconference" because participants generate the talking points without a pre-programmed agenda, CityCamp is an international program that urges innovation for local governments and community groups. Funding comes from business sponsors, nonprofits, grants and donations.

The first camp was held in Chicago last year. Washington, San Francisco and London are among other cities that have participated.

In Raleigh, the SeeClickFix program, a national initiative pushed locally by City Councilman Bonner Gaylord that allows residents to document and report potholes and other problems by using smartphones and other mobile devices, is being touted as the kind of thing CityCamp Raleigh could produce.

In fact, the SeeClickFix founder contacted Gaylord about six weeks ago and suggested Raleigh host a CityCamp. Since then, it's been a largely grass-roots effort to get organized.

"I'm really excited about it," Gaylord said. "We've quickly thrown together what we hope to be a fantastic event."

Gaylord sees lots of potential. There are already about 20 suggestions on the event's official website, including ideas for an app that shows an overview of how the city's comprehensive plan would affect your neighborhood, an app that lets bus riders know when their stop is coming up and an app that shows which nearby parking decks have the most available spaces.

Other possibilities, Gaylord said, include an app that shows parents in real time the ages of kids playing at a particular park or playground and an app that allows users to point a smartphone at a piece of property and learn the zoning, setback and height requirements for development.

By getting the government, the public and app developers in the same place, "we'll hope to generate some cool ideas," Gaylord said.

Though serving as one of the event's organizers, Gaylord isn't representing the City Council.

"It's just something I feel like needs to be done," he said. "I love technology."

There's hope that CityCamp Raleigh will evolve into something bigger, said Jason Hibbets, planning committee co-chairman.

"It's a really important thing to have this dialogue between all these stakeholders," said Hibbets, also chairman of the Southwest Citizen's Advisory Council. "We're looking at this event as being a catalyst to kind of kick-start all this, and turn this event into a movement."

jason.foster@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4635

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