Philadelphia has been an urban laboratory since William Penn launched his Holy Experiment in 1681. Over the intervening centuries, we’ve pioneered an astonishing array of advancements in fields as diverse as medicine, democracy, drinking water, fire protection, banking, horticulture, computing, and urban planning. We are truly natural problem solvers, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed in his travels in the early 1800s.
To innovate is to successfully challenge convention and the status quo, to arrive at new answers to challenging problems, and to contribute to the ever-broadening repository of human knowledge and industry for the betterment of mankind.
Cities are engines of innovation fueled by proximity to people, ideas, capital, and culture. The city is arguably one of humankind’s greatest and most sustainable creations and an expression of our deepest human values – equality, opportunity, freedom of expression, and mutual respect.
In response to this call to service, the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University launched the Lindy Urban Innovation Fellowship. The fellowship identifies local leaders who are working on vexing urban challenges in Philadelphia that cross social, environmental, and economic borders, as well as traditional disciplinary boundaries, and offer them an opportunity to work with Drexel scholars on tackling these inquiries. We’ve chosen three extraordinary Philadelphians who are working at the cutting edge of urban change at the intersections of public health, community, economic inclusion, and social justice. Descriptions of their proposed projects follow.
Michael O’Bryan: My project is bringing a behavioral economics lens to the world of workforce development. I have a particular focus on people ages 14 to 26 from diverse neighborhoods across the city. My aim is audacious: to begin a process of reimagining workforce development practices and tools for marginalized young adults. I help organizations and individuals focus on the psychosocial or “soft” skills increasingly valued in the labor market (such as creativity, adaptive thinking, and emotional intelligence). Understanding that early traumatic experiences can dramatically distort one’s skill development and long-term life trajectory, the project looks at how workforce development can internalize this, and create a new model that better serves populations dealing with trauma. The project will engage a range of voices, including leaders in the clinical and business sectors, along with young people from communities impacted by the poverty epidemic.
Chris Spahr: For low-income communities such as East Parkside, finding the right community development partnerships with businesses and institutions and deriving revenue from them without affecting them as an added cost can be challenging. For this reason, the Centennial Parkside Community Development Corp. (CDC) is working with local residents and cultural institutions to plan and implement a community-scale solar energy system on underutilized land within the neighborhood that would provide energy for these institutions. The Centennial Parkside CDC would own and operate solar energy facilities that, through the sale of energy, would provide the CDC with a predictable and sustainable resource to support the community, create jobs, and help reduce residents’ energy bills.
We will bring residents to the table with anchor institutions, businesses, and city representatives to determine how to create the greatest impact within the community with this project. We anticipate that this will create wealth and catalyze community development in ways that will halt or reverse displacement.
Priya E. Mammen, M.D.: Emergency departments exist at the interface of the community and the medical system. Urban Emergency Departments are a reflection of the community in which they reside, each of which grapples in different ways with the basics — food security, housing security, safety, environmental impact. Each ED offers the opportunity to address citywide needs within a specific catchment, and could serve as a barometer of policy in action. They have a unique perspective on the needs or service gaps in the communities they serve.
How best can we harness the power and position of the network of EDs to effect change and impact the health of the city? Using the lens of the opioid epidemic and a focus on South Philly and the Northeast, I hope to assess the community needs, gaps, and barriers that may result in ED utilization to understand the underpinnings of unscheduled care needs and develop a patient-centered approach and response. I hope to show that EDs are essential to modern urbanism and provide opportunities for innovation to address the health of the city as a whole.
Help celebrate these fellows on at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Academy of Natural Sciences at “Drexel Dialogues: Urban Innovation in the Age of Trump.” Guests include Bruce Katz, centennial scholar at the Brookings Institution; Lindy Institute Distinguished Fellows Jeremy Nowak and Alan Greenberger; Shannon Marquez, vice provost for global health and international development at Drexel; and Roberto Moris, director, plans and urban projects, at the Universidad Catolica, Chile. Register at drexel.edu/innovationsummit.