A few years ago, you first started hearing the nickname: North Third Street was, colloquially speaking, morphing into “Nerd,” or N3rd Street. Just how the moniker came to be depends on whom you ask. Some say the neighborhood had it for 10 years, since the first tech businesses set up shop in Northern Liberties. Others attribute it to one evening a few years back when John Fazio and Chris Alfano, of the NoLibs web software and design firm Jarvus Innovations, were in conversation with Alex Hillman, founder of the co-working space Indy Hall. They noted how much the sign—and the street’s ethos—resembled “NERD.” Either way, the nickname took off.
Suddenly, the stretch of road from Market Street down North Third to Northern Liberties was rapidly becoming home to a generation of young, innovative businesses, all in search of a collegiality that went beyond the limits of each of their four walls. You talk to them now and they reflect back on those halcyon days—all of a couple of years ago—and they talk about how their neighborhood had a kind of campus feel. In coffee shops, bars, and art galleries, web designers and software geeks and numbers crunchers would compare notes, sensing that they were all part of something bigger than the orbit of their own self-interests. The firms opening up on North 3rd Street didn’t compete against, so much as feed off, one another.
So there were good vibes in the air, but nothing official…not until the socially conscious firm Jarvus hired twentysomething Danny Harvith as its director of sales and marketing. Harvith, a Maryland native who had moved to Philly to work at SeventySix Capital, Wayne Kimmel’s venture capital firm, immersed himself in the burgeoning culture and recognized how unique it was. “Everyone was a self-starter, doing really good work, but not for the glitz and glamour,” he recalls today. “Everyone was really passionate about what they were doing, and passionate about what everyone one else was doing, but it had nothing to do with how many likes on Facebook you were getting or whether you’d gotten funding from some Silicon Valley venture firm.”
How cool would it be, he wondered, if the sense of shared adventure and common purpose he was witness to could somehow be officially recognized? We’ve got something special going, Harvith reasoned; renaming the name of the street could help keep it going, and would be good for the community and for Philly as whole. So he started talking it up. First with local residents, then the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association, and then the Old City District Board. Once all parties were on board, next came the challenge: The politicians.
“This is why I fell in love with Philly,” Harvith recalls. “Everyone I talked to said, ‘You’re going to get pushback from the government,’ that it would take way too long and require way too much effort. But we got none of that. Instead, everywhere I went, there was this bootstrap mentality. It was kinda like, ‘Fuck the world—we can do this.”
Among the politicians who championed the cause of officially renaming a street to honor this grassroots identity that had taken hold were Councilmen Jim Kenney, Darrell Clarke, and Mark Squilla, and, from the Nutter administration, chief innovation officer Adel Ebeid, Director of Commerce Alan Greenberger, and Managing Director Rich Negrin. “Rich has N3rd Street decals all over his laptop,” Harvith beams.
They were all there a year ago, when the name of North Third Street was officially changed, and they’ll be at Liberty Lands Park on Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary, hosted by Jarvus, CandiDate, Bamboo Wifi, SeventySix Capital, Nina, Old City District, StartupPHL, and Code For Philly. But it won’t just be a party. There, the first installation of a N3rd Street Wifi system—thanks to Bamboowifi and Jarvus–will make its debut. And, though attending the party is free and open to the public, N3rd Street organizers will be raising funds for micro-grants for Code for Philly developers—volunteer technologists dedicated to building things to make Philly better—to work on N3rd Street-specific projects.
The Citizen will be there, as well, to commemorate a grassroots campaign that keeps taking new shape. Harvith is quick to point out that other markers of community—N3rd Street Prom and the N3rd Street Farmer’s Market, for example—have sprung up independent of his influence, the sign of authentic organic power. So stop by our table, tell us what the city needs, get some Citizen swag, and toast the makers of N3rd Street.