“A city is nothing more than a solution to a problem, that in turn creates more problems that need more solutions.”
―Neal Shusterman, “Downsiders”
The Great American City is a wonder to behold: Just look around you, at Philadelphia, the first of the Great American Cities and all the beautiful, historic, communal, noisy, frustrating wonders that abound. It’s almost a miracle that something this seething can continue to exist.
It is also, utterly and painfully, human. Which is to say: Full to the brim with big problems. In Philly that includes a 25 percent poverty rate. A culture of political influence that favors the few over the many. A two-tiered school system. Segregated—and changing—neighborhoods. It takes big thinking and bold ideas to solve these problems.
But guess what? Those bold ideas exist—just not, maybe, here.
On November 30th, we’re bringing to Philadelphia some of those ideas—and the people who have them—for our first annual Ideas We Should Steal Festival. The day-long event, to be held at Drexel University, will feature thinkers, doers and problem-solvers from around the country presenting their tried and true solutions to urban problems. (Comcast NBCUniversal and Campus Apartments are visionary sponsors of the event, for which Drexel is a partner.)
Among our speakers will be Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, talking about the lost art of compromise; Rev. Michael Eric Dyson, bestselling author, on racial reconciliation; equitable development advocate Cat Goughnour on fighting gentrification; New America’s Afua Bruce on how technology can save cities; Steven P. Wilson, CEO of Ascend Schools, on how fun can be the key to educating urban students; and Cheri-Leigh Erasmus on fighting government corruption by celebrating honesty. (For a fuller list, and to buy tickets, see here; full lineup to be announced within the next couple weeks.)
But the day is not just about listening. It’s about creating. We’ll ask our speakers to present solutions they’ve seen work in their cities. We’ll ask you to decide which ideas are the best, and how we can bring those to Philadelphia. And then, early next year, we’ll award a $50,000 Jeremy Nowak Urban Innovation Award, provided by Spring Point Partners in honor of our late chairman, to a group to bring a winning idea to life in Philadelphia.
The Festival is a physical manifestation of a series of articles we’ve published in The Citizen since we launched three years ago. So far, we’ve run around 65 Ideas We Should Steal, everything from planting more trees (they clean the air), to offering free birth control to poor teens (it helps alleviate poverty), to offering free legal help to poor tenants (it keeps them in their homes), to changing how we let people vote (it increases participation). Some of the ideas we’ve written about have come to Philadelphia: Community schools, bail reform, starting school in August, a voter lottery. (Okay, that last one we made happen.)
We invite you—all of you—to join us in November to bring other solutions to Philadelphia, to help us create the communities we want to live in, to make Philly what Jane Jacobs, everyone’s favorite urbanist, urged in The Death and Life of American Cities: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
Join us to create the Philadelphia we all want to be.
Friday November 30th, 9 am-4:30 pm, $65 to $35 (email for scholarships info), Drexel University’s Mandell Theater, 3220 Chestnut Street.
Clarification: This story has been updated to note the $50,000 Jeremy Nowak Innovation Award, to be given out to bring a winning idea to Philadelphia.
Photo via The Lighting Practice