4 urban service models that could affect social change in the near future - Generocity Philly


Dec. 7, 2015 12:47 pm

4 urban service models that could affect social change in the near future

Johns Hopkins' Social Innovation Lab's Darius Graham took the stage at Rise in Philadelphia to talk about how four programs in Baltimore are driving innovation in food access, community health, education and government.

Darius Graham discusses cities in five years' time at #RiseConf15. (Photo by Tony Abraham)

(Photo by Tony Abraham)

“We see cities as these complex and complicated places that must serve many different types of people. How do we take all of these beautiful differences, people and opportunists and make our cities great?”

That was the question posed to the audience at Technical.ly’s Rise Conference by Johns Hopkins’ Social Innovation Lab director Darius Graham. One answer, Graham said, is innovating service structures to accommodate and revitalize our cities’ lower-income neighborhoods.

Access to basic services across the entirety of the socioeconomic spectrum is imperative, and Graham used four Baltimore services addressing food access, community health, education and government as models he hopes will be more prevalent in cities five years from now.

Food Access

So much of how and what we eat depends on economics and location, Graham said. And while community gardens and urban farms serve a valuable purpose, they are limited in their capacity — most cannot feed a community year-long.

Urban Pastoral, Baltimore’s first aquaponic farm, is partnering with local government, community organizations and real estate developers to provide fresh produce to underserved communities on a commercial scale.

“My hope is in the next five years we’ll see and think about food as something much more grown here in our city by people in our city, consumed by people in our city,” said Graham.

Community Health

Graham stressed the importance of easy and affordable access to healthcare. He cited Baltimore social enterprise Access Hears as a company community health pioneer. Hearing loss in older adults might seem like a peripheral issue, he said, but can lead to social isolation.

It’s also expensive. Graham said the typical process for receiving hearing care can take four to six months and cost approximately $5,000. Access Hears has slimmed down the process to two hours and charges $200. By offering their health services door-to-door, the company is literally meeting people where they are.


Beyond stressing STEM skills, The Hero Lab is disrupting education in Baltimore by training students in resilience. Graham said the program helps students expand upon their education by teaching them how to cope and subsequently grow from rejection and failure.

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“Governments can be such a key resource and great partner for the work you’re doing,” said Graham, citing the rise in the number of Chief Innovation Officers in city governments. Graham predicts CIOs and government innovation teams will begin to expand their municipal stake in the coming years.

“They’re finding ways to connect outside community innovators with the scale and resources that are in government,” he said. “Think about how we can utilize people in government and connect them to community innovators.”

That’s all well and good, but how cities and communities replicate programs and public-private partnerships they’re seeing find success elsewhere? Graham said that’s the hard part.

“It really takes intentional and deliberate opportunities to say, ‘I’m going to step outside of my silo and meet with other folks and see how we can collaborate,'” Graham said. “These things don’t happen naturally.”

While Graham admitted there is no surefire, straightforward method for launching scalable community initiatives and fostering productive partnerships, he did identify one key component: scope out your stakeholders.

“One of the things I encourage folks to do is identify stakeholders or well-aligned partners in those cities doing similar work and see how you can partner with those stakeholders,” he said. “These things don’t happen naturally.”


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