Philadelphia - A Cradle of Social Innovation
“Energy and persistence conquer all things” - Benjamin Franklin
“Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” - Vince Lombardi
Of all the cities in the United States, Philadelphia stands out as a city founded upon a legacy of revolution, a birthplace of a uniquely American culture. For well over two centuries, Philadelphia has consistently shaped visionaries, brilliant leaders who collectively address the most pressing social issues of their respective generations.
Today, Philadelphia expresses this legacy through its booming entrepreneurial spirit, boasting a strong economy led by business savvy company leaders and influenced by a rising workforce of young, talented professionals. While Philadelphia’s landscape and population has evolved dramatically since the days of the founding fathers, Philly's overall business culture has begun wisely reinterpreting the city’s revolutionary legacy as a hub of 21st century change. The catalyst for Philly’s growing economy is the city’s creative capital, a resource which is helping to change the moniker of Philadelphia from the “City of brotherly love (and sisterly affection)” to “The City of Social Innovation.”
Philadelphia is well known as the birthplace for many great American achievements. Tourists travel to Independence Hall to visit the building in which America declared its independence, creating a new form of government that continues to influence communities and nations around the world. Others choose to visit the house where Betsy Ross hemmed the nation’s first national flag or the country’s first public hospital. Still others visit the site which saw the signing of the country’s first Abolition Act. While walking the city, many gaze at the cities factories and ornate 19th and 20th century architectural gems, relics from the city’s chapter as “The Workshop of the World.”
While it is important for Philadelphia’s residents and tourists to revisit the city’s legacy as a birthplace of change, it is equally important for people to understand the conditions which led to and influenced these historical events. Perhaps the most significant legacy of things like Independence Hall and the Constitutional Convention is the ability of these cultural systems to gather people. The revolutionary aspect of Philadelphia’s age of independence was not the revolution itself, but the realization that when great minds and leaders convene, create tension and then resolve differences surrounding pressing issues, revolutionary results emerge. Independence emerged from Interdependence in a big, ultimately very public way, in this place.During the 21st Century, Philadelphia’s legacy as a city of innovation expresses itself through the city’s burgeoning sustainability movement. Interpreted differently than in other cities like Portland, San Francisco, Boulder, and Austin, Philly’s green movement stays true to the city’s roots. Just as the founders demonstrated in the late 18th century, Philly’s current leaders are responding to the most pressing social and environmental issues of our day, from challenges which lie in adapting to our planet’s climate crisis and its contributing trends, to a multitude of resource challenges and living system crises that current generations are facing on behalf of posterity.
Prior to Mayor Michael Nutter’s inauguration, Philadelphia’s green movement established itself beneath the radar of the city’s economy. Following the exponential growth of the city’s sustainability movement in recent years, today’s green economy is comprised of nonprofits, for-profits, political agencies, educational institutions, and public sector enterprises. And after several years of initial investment, the rewards of Philly’s green economy are flourishing with successful neighborhood and citywide initiatives popping up throughout Philadelphia.
Coinciding with Mayor Michael Nutter’s 2008 pledge to make Philly “The Greenest City in America”, Philadelphia has emerged as an influential green city with an expansive array of companies and organizations comprising Philly’s environmental and social innovation ecosystem.
Community Design Collaborative - Since 1991, members of Philly’s professional design community have volunteered through this collaborative to produce pro bono design plans and services for nonprofit organizations in greater Philadelphia, raising awareness about the importance of design in revitalizing neighborhoods.
Indy Hall - Founded in 2006, Philly’s first coworking space, Indy (Independents) Hall, is inspired by the spirit and mission of Independence Hall and boasts a collection of independent entrepreneurs, techies, and artists innovating their industries.
Sustainable Business Network formed in 2007 to represent and support the thriving green economy of Greater Philadelphia. The organization educates a growing base of local businesses, policymakers, and the public about the leading sustainable business practices.B Lab - B Corporation arose in 2007 to certify a regional and national triple-bottom-line economy. The nonprofit's “Declaration of InterDependence” aims to certify the for-profit companies leading the charge to channel the power of private enterprise to create public and planetary benefit.Grid Magazine emerged in 2009 to illustrate and report the unfolding sustainable movement of Philadelphia. Grid’s monthly publication and blog educates readers about Philly’s local successes and hard-earned victories, leaving readers feeling inspired to take on their world.
EEB Hub or Energy Efficient Building Hub opened in 2011 as The DOE’s Energy Efficient Buildings Center in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard. The Hub’s primary goal is to develop methods for reducing regional commercial energy use by 20 percent by 2020.
Philadelphia Water Department kicked off their Green City Clean Water in 2011 to offer green stormwater infrastructure initiatives and alternatives, preparing the city’s infrastructure and population for the water challenges of 2025 and beyond.The Sustainability NEXUS has stepped up as the organization that will function as the connective tissue among the members of the amazing environmental and social innovation ecosystem, managing virtual and physical infrastructure for greater symbiosis, including coworking spaces, event spaces, innovative web-collaboration and social media tools, and a multitude of facilitated discourse, educational, and recreational events.…To name only a few, a very small percentage of the amazing activity out there.Just as Philly’s founding fathers discovered in each other an extraordinary set of allies with talents that could be synthesized to redefine social, economic, and governmental systems, Philadelphia’s groundswell sustainability movement is evolving to overcome complex and formidable issues together. In doing so, the city’s social and environmental leaders are turning problems into potential for economic growth today and a more livable future tomorrow. In this way, the movement has accurately interpreted the legacy of this revolutionary city, a legacy which has proven that when individual leaders convene through collaboration and effective partnerships, their movements sustain the dream upon which this city and nation were founded - “to assume among the powers of a [healthy] Earth, our [collective and] unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”____________________“People who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those who are doing it.”
-George Bernard Shaw
Author: Andrew SchlesingerEditor: Max Zahniser