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Mayor Kenney wants people to think ‘innovation’ when they think ‘Philly’

Courtney Wilburn, Stephen Tang, Keith Leaphart, Juliana Reyes and Jim Kenney. Not picitured: Bryan Mercer. May 3, 2016 Category: EventFeaturedMediumMethod
Open data, digital access and education.

These are the three most pressing issues facing the innovation field in Philly, according to the Mayoral Tech Town Hall event presented last night by Philly Tech Week and featuring Mayor Jim Kenney.

On the panel were innovators and activists Stephen Tang, president of the University City Science Center; Keith Leaphart, philanthropist and head of Replica Creative and Wallsome; Bryan Mercer, ED the Media Mobilizing Project; and Courtney Wilburn, of O3 World and Lesbians Who Tech. Associate Editor Juliana Reyes moderated.

Kenney first championed open data with his admission that the city’s release of employee salaries “didn’t make everybody who works in the city happy,” but that such gestures increase governmental transparency and will “create a culture open to these ideas.”

Kenney then told a story about his experience visiting a Coded by Kids event this weekend at Cecil B. Moore Rec Center, which had no Wi-Fi.

“These kids were there on a Saturday [struggling with equipment] in a dilapidated room with people who really want to see them succeed,” he said. “When I see this inequity and I see this dysfunction, it makes me angry.” But there’s a larger problem here: “I need to fix the system.”

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Mercer echoed the mayor’s concern about the lack of internet access in public areas, stating that Comcast‘s Digital Inclusion Alliance Fund is an opportunity to say, “Let’s get the whole of the tech community involved in inclusion” so nobody is left out.

Mercer later asked for the mayor’s thoughts on internet access in the context of the Verizon franchise agreement.

“You should be able to sit in a park and get Wi-Fi,” Kenney responded. “It’s not rocket science.”

If Philadelphia’s youth had better access to new technologies and more inclusion, they’d have a better sense of upward mobility, Tang said. He added that University City Science Center’s placement near West Philly and its new Microsoft Innovation Center are its way of “encouraging participation” in impoverished neighborhoods.

If Philadelphia doesn’t fix its education system, young tech workers won’t want to stick around, Kenney said: “I’m gonna lose these guys as soon as they have kids.”

The best thing about Philly’s tech scene is its diversity, which is lacking elsewhere, Wilburn said.

“We can bring people here, we can make it more hospitable to quote-unquote marginalized communities,” she said — but we’re not championing ourselves enough.

Leaphart had a question for the mayor relating to innovation and public-private partnerships: “Does the City of Philadelphia currently have an innovation fund, and have you ever thought of partnering with philanthropy [to form that fund]?”

Kenney said he’s heard commitments from William Penn Foundation and others to refurbish rec centers across the city, but that he’s waiting on the final passage of the city budget.

It would easier to fund such projects if the state legislature was more involved, though, he added.

On why he keeps his business in Philly, Leaphart said he stays because there’s so much more work to do.

“My main goal of course is to make money as an entrepreneur, but the more we have, the more we can help people,” he said.

On the same topic, Mercer said he’s excited to send his child to his neighborhood public school and be “part of actually standing up to that challenge” of the Philly education system because that’s how people can change the resource problem and deepen community investment.

Big goals came of the last question of the night: What were the panelists’ hopes for the tech community in 10 to 15 years?

  • Mercer: Inclusion, and making sure every neighborhood can participate in the benefits of technology
  • Wilburn: Capitalization on the city’s diversity
  • Tang: Wealth creation for local companies and an attraction of immigrant workers
  • Leaphart: The uplifting of marginalized communities — “Until we change that paradigm, none of us should feel good about what we’re doing.”
  • Kenney: Innovation at the forefront — “The first thing that pops into [people’s] minds is innovation, and the last thing that pops into their minds is poverty.”


Philly Tech Week

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