Northwest Philadelphia speaks up at this year’s TEDxPhiladelphia

 Joshua Nims will discuss the development of Paines Park, shown here. (Courtesy of Franklin's Paine Skatepark Fund)

Joshua Nims will discuss the development of Paines Park, shown here. (Courtesy of Franklin's Paine Skatepark Fund)

To offer a taste of his upcoming TEDxPhiladelphia talk, Mt. Airy resident Chris Rabb said “two fish [are] swimming along, and one fish looks at the other fish and says, ‘geez, I love water,’ and the other fish says, ‘what’s water?'”


The concept of privilege we can’t even see will be part of Rabb’s session on social entrepreneurship at Friday’s TEDxPhiladelphia conference at Temple University. His talk will go beyond his 2010 book, “Invisible Capital: How Unseen Forces Shape Entrepreneurial Opportunity,” to examine how the right kind of entrepreneurship can grow “community wealth.”

‘It’s how we use them’

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“When we talk about wealth, it tends to be financial wealth,” he said, speaking with NewsWorks last week.

“Community wealth is collective value that is experienced beyond having or making money,” including the essential but often intangible benefits of public safety, education, and a society of equal opportunities.

Rabb’s topic fits in well with the TEDxPhiladelphia 2014 theme: “The New Workshop of the World.”

An author, consultant, teacher, and former U.S. Senate legislative aide, he’ll talk about why “technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation” are all “things that are not inherently good or inherently bad. It’s how we use them.”

Rabb, an adjunct professor of social entrepreneurship and organizational innovation at Temple’s Fox School of Business, will join four other TEDxPhilly speakers who hail from Northwest  Philly neighborhoods, including Germantown’s Sonia Sanchez, the internationally known poet, scholar and activist.

The skateboarding lawyer

Mt. Airy’s Joshua Nims is also speaking. Nims is the operations manager for Schuylkill River Development Corporation. The South Carolina native and lifelong skateboarder will tell the story of bringing Paine’s Park — opened last spring — to the banks of the Schuylkill, next to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

Nims co-founded the Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund in 2000, a few years after law school at Temple brought him to Philly.

“Skateboarding is part of Philadelphia’s 21st-century identity,” he said, describing his evolution from advocacy for skateboarders in the “underutilized urban space” of Love Park to helping develop a whole new park for skateboarders and others within the city.

And with the story of building Paine’s Park, Nims also wants to tell a larger “parallel” story of how Philadelphia itself has evolved over the last fifteen years. He said the city’s burgeoning arts and music scene, and the revitalization of its parks and recreational trails, has helped to remake the region into a vibrant place that attracts young graduates and families to a physically and culturally active urban life.

“If you stay with something long enough, no matter what it is, no matter how crazy it is, there’s a chance you can actually get it done,” he said of telling the Paine story.

He also wants to spread the word about Philadelphia on the rise: he believes it’s the first decade of a “massive birth and rebirth on the international scene,” and skateboarding is part of that.

More makers

Chestnut Hill resident Andrew Dahlgren is also well-qualified to tackle the “Workshop of the World” theme.

“We need more makers of all kinds,” said Dahlgren, a Virginia native trained in industrial design who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and Parsons The New School for Design in New York.

He’s especially interested in textiles and knitting machines, and said there’s a resurgence of interest in exactly how and where the products we use every day are made.

“People want to know the whole story,” he said of getting reconnected to locally-made products, and learning how to make more things for ourselves. He said America’s current academic environment doesn’t foster the “making” skills that people of past generations had.

He’ll talk about “the positive impacts I see in the world of designer-makers,” when locals participate in making the things that the community needs.

Jazz and business: chaordic systems

Natalie Nixon, a Mt. Airy native, learned that “the grass is not greener” after an education that took her around the world. She earned her bachelor’s from Vassar, her master’s from Philadelphia University, Israel’s Shenkar College and Germany’s Reutlingen University, and then got her Ph.D. from the University of Westminster in London.

Now the director of Philadelphia University’s Strategic Design MBA program and an associate professor in fashion merchandising and management, Nixon spoke with NewsWorks right after a trip to Finland with some graduate students.

She’ll be using jazz as a metaphor for the value of “hybrid environments” that allow workers to “integrate creativity and structure,” just like jazz masters need a deep knowledge of things like chord progression and music theory to improvise beautiful music.

That mash-up of chaos and order has its own name: “chaordic system,” and her talk will focus on the modern environments that are already embracing it, from kinesthetically collaborative workspaces and classrooms (versus traditional desks and cubicles) to crowdsourcing to “emergent leadership” instead of traditional top-down models of business.

In the modern economy, creativity shouldn’t be an add-on, she said.

“It’s critical to innovation,” but it’s downplayed in education, and then too often relegated to one department, or outsourced to another agency.

“You should be building that competency in your organization,” she explained of grasping the “structure and flow” of creative chaordic environments.

TEDxPhiladelphia, the city’s third independently organized TED conference, is coming to the Temple Performing Arts Center on Friday, March 28 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The event is sold out, but a live video webcast of the speakers (via PhillyCam) will be available online, and many local organizations are hosting free live stream viewing parties.

In addition, a series of “New Workshop of the World” talks and tours will run through March 29. For more information, visit the TEDxPhiladelphia website.

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