Innovation Needs Inclusion, Inclusion Needs Innovation (Part I)

In my job I have the pleasure of serving universities throughout the country by helping them tell their economic and social impact stories.  It is work I deeply believe in because I live it.  Penn brought me to Philadelphia, importing my intellectual capital and my purchasing power where it can benefit the local economy.  Speaking of money, all of that spending by students and employees supports a bountiful mix of retail and restaurants that my household is happy to also have access to.  And its investments in this part of Philadelphia have yielded a safe and well-lit urban neighborhood for my family and an award-winning public school for my kids.  I have worked on studies for just about all of the other schools in Philadelphia and they have all had similar impacts throughout the city. 

An increasingly important aspect of regional economic competitiveness is innovation, and an increasingly important aspect of innovation is anchor research institutions.  Innovation matters because our modern knowledge-based economy is driven by scientific discovery and entrepreneurial muscle.  And anchor research institutions matter because they draw in the human and financial capital that innovation activity requires to thrive.

Try to visualize the quintessential innovation location 50 years ago and you would imagine a corporate office park in an isolated suburban location.  Think Bell Labs.  Nowadays, all people talk about are what Brookings Institution coined “innovation districts.”  These are not singular buildings or even campuses but collections of buildings and campuses, anchored by one or more research institutions but you will also find a whole ecosystem of firms of all sizes and functions.  They are distinctly urban, which is to say they are well-served by transit, easily walkable, and amenity-rich.  They are also the opposite of set-aside office parks, in that they are mixed-use, which means plentiful retail and restaurant options; it also means residential neighborhoods, which bring with them real people and real architecture and real foot traffic.  This is now where innovation takes place and where the next wave of innovation workers and innovation funding wants to be.

Guess what?  I just described the place I’ve lived for the past 26 years. 

It is critical to note that my neighborhood also has baggage, from not so commendable moments in its past (and, some might argue, in its present).  Whether it was the “urban renewal” of the 1960’s or modern-day cries against gentrification, many long-time residents of the area have suffered displacement or have reaped very little of the tremendous growth that has occurred here. 

Innovation requires inclusion.  This is true in two ways.  One is that innovation is inherently a social activity.  The myth of the singular innovator having an “a-ha” moment is just that: a myth.  Real innovation happens in groups, and the best innovation happens when those groups are diverse.  One cannot possibly innovate if entire groups of people are systematically excluded from participation, because of race/ethnicity, gender, income, or education.  This is why, when we talk about universities, we are sure to not only talk about innovation and also about access (for these are two hot-button issues that all schools want to highlight) but also the intersection of the two: diversity and financial aid and supportive resources are their own story, and they support a school’s ability to be innovative by making sure that that learning community is inclusive of multiple walks of life and multiple perspectives.

The other way that innovation requires inclusion is what I was saying above, which is that innovation takes place in a place, and that place needs to be inclusive if it is going to be successful.  Innovation people, especially but not just millennials, seek authentic urban spaces to thrive, and part of what makes those spaces authentic and urban is that they are diverse and inclusive, and part of what makes those spaces diverse and inclusive is that people work hard to make it so. Said another way, places that are not diverse and inclusive, and that don't work hard to become diverse and inclusive, languish because innovation people shun them.

Silicon Valley is slowly learning, the hard way, that innovation requires inclusion.  But it’s a difficult and necessary lesson for us all.  And tomorrow I want to talk about how inclusion requires innovation.


Lazy Linking, 185th in an Occasional Series

Stuff I liked lately on the Internets:

185.1 What’s the impact on traffic when a major highway closes? Smaller than you think bit.ly/2o6h5Mg @citylab
185.2 Irony: at big schls you can seek out ppl like you; at small schls you end up w/more diverse friends bit.ly/2ockiaF @SagePubIndia

185.3 Seattle breaks the strangehold unelected community assns have on nhd real estate devt bit.ly/2pjh5qL @ericacbarnett ‏

185.4 Let’s get rid of prison bc there are economically superior alternatives bit.ly/2oH63xi @ssrn

185.5 Philly's newest museum tells the unvarnished story of the American Revolution bit.ly/2ouEdlU @billy_penn


Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet LXX

Here's an excerpt from a book I recently read, "The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia," by Mike Dash:

Though useful, insofar as they did dirty jobs that earlier immigrants now thought of as beneath them, Italians from the southern provinces were regarded with hostility by many New Yorkers. Their dark complexions, lack of English, and devotion to an alien food were all regarded as distasteful. They were much more volatile than northern Europeans, it was commonly supposed, and prone to deadly knife fights and vendettas. Worse, only a minority embraced American institutions with the fervor expected of immigrants. Few Italians mixed with men of other nationalities, and well under half actually applied for U.S. citizenship. For many Sicilians and Neapolitans, the United States was a place to work hard, spend little, and save ferociously; many planned to return home with their savings. These were habits many Americans regarded as ungrateful and insulting.

Opinion hardened further at about the time the Terranova family first came to Manhattan. There was concern at the number of anarchists and socialists pouring into the country to preach revolution. There was concern at the number of criminals. Nineteen Italians in every twenty of those passing through Ellis Island were found to be carrying weapons, either knives or revolvers, and there was nothing in American law to stop them from taking this arsenal into the city. The Sicilian police were said to be issuing passports to known murderers in order to get them out of the country—a calumny, it transpired, but there were still real reasons to take such problems seriously. So many Italians were passing through Ellis Island every day that it was not possible to check their statements properly. But when the 1,400 passengers on board the SS Belgravia were subjected to a spot investigation, one in six was found to have given false information. “Statistics prove,” the Herald trumpeted in one alarmist feature article, “that the scum of Southern Europe is dumped on the nation’s door in rapacious, conscienceless, lawbreaking hordes.”


17 Years of "For Better and for Worse"

Seventeen years ago late last week Amy and I said "I do" to a shared journey of "for better and for worse."  Of course, late last week was also one of those "worse" moments, in that we went from waiting to board a plane to meet our baby girl to finding out that the adoption might be off, a verdict that was finally made official earlier this week.  Amy and I are still grieving, and it hurts all over.  Sometimes my heart aches so much and I am so out of breath that all I can do is hold my chest.  Other times my legs turn to mush and I feel like someone has punched me in the stomach.  And Amy feels even worse.

We will continue to go through the mourning process, and in fact it is probably going to take some time.  Indeed, it is a loss we will probably go to our graves feeling.

But to heck if I'm going to miss the chance to take a moment to celebrate our marriage and my wife in the midst of all of this.  One of the things I love about Amy is that she is not afraid to love big, even at great cost to herself.  She is on one level a very conservative person: she dresses modestly, is quiet and shy, and does not do crazy things for fun.  But on another level she is fearless about risking it all in the name of love, even making room for three (and, we continue to hope, someday four) children despite the possibility each time that her hopes will be dashed and her dreams crushed.  She puts her heart on the line, exposing herself to the potential for ruinous and devastating loss, and as we are finding out this month those losses are not theoretical but real and painful.  But for her, love makes it worth it.  For that I am grateful, and for that I say happy anniversary to my beb.


Recommended Reads, 26th in a Quarterly Series

Stuff I'd recommend from my past three months' reading consumption:

* Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success (Grant).  Loved the vocab it gave me, in terms of givers and takers and matchers.

* Between the World and Me (Coates).  Must-read for parents of black kids.

* Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (Johnson).  One of my favorite authors, and this book doesn't disappoint.

* In Other Words (Lahiri).  Stumbling as I am through learning Mandarin, I found this beautiful and poetic.

* Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain (Eagleman).  The brain is so interesting and we have so much more to learn about it.

* The Road to Character (Brooks).  Character still matters, and David Brooks says why and how.



Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet LXIX

Here is an excerpt from a book I am reading, "The Gospel According to Jesus," by John MacArthur:

Contrast their reaction with that of the Pharisees, described in Luke 15:2: “Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble,’ saying, ‘This man receives sinners.’  In essence, that is precisely what the Samaritan woman told the men of Sychar: “He is the Messiah, but He receives sinners!”  What was repugnant to the scribes and Pharisees was good news to these Samaritans, because they were willing to admit they were sinners.


Preservation Achievement Awards

As a new board member of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, this is my first time to hit you all up for tickets and sponsorship for our annual fundraiser, the Preservation Achievement Awards.  In addition to it being a really good networking opportunity, it is inspiring to learn about and celebrate good preservation work throuhere to join me as an event attendee and/or to join my firm as an event sponsor.  
ghout the region.  It just reminds you of how many historic treasures are in our midst, and how many thoughtful design professionals, developers, and community advocates there are in our region who are making sure that these treasures are, well, treasured.  Click