Two weeks ago, I introduced you to some Philadelphians I consider to be disruptive - innovative change agents who challenge the status quo in their respective fields. Since then, you've e-mailed me a lot of other names. Some - such as fiscal watchdog Brett Mandel and mural maven Jane Golden - are no-brainers. In a town long characterized by a go-along-to-get-along culture, they have the guts to stand up and stand out.
I've been most intrigued, however, by the disrupters who have been operating below the media radar. Here are a few:
It was big news when venture capitalist Josh Kopelman's First Round Capital moved from Conshohocken to West Philly last month. But there's another VC firm in the 'burbs that Philly would be smart to recruit - if the city is serious about cultivating an Austin, Texas-like ecosystem. Wayne Kimmel's Artists & Instigators funds works out of the same Conshohocken office complex that Kopelman called home before his move. Kimmel, an ultraconnected Philadelphian, and Tony Bifano recently partnered with hip-hop fashion icon and entrepreneur Marc Ecko to form Artists & Instigators, a fund that will literally be underwriting disrupters in many realms.
Ecko is a quintessential disrupter himself, part P.T. Barnum, part Mark Zuckerberg. He's the founder of Marc Ecko Enterprises, a billion-dollar fashion and lifestyle company. He's also a publisher, artist, video-game designer, and pop-culture lightning rod, having successfully sued New York on behalf of the First Amendment rights of graffiti artists and having purchased Barry Bonds' record-setting home-run ball in an online auction for $752,467. (He promptly set up a website so fans could vote on what he should do with the ball; he ended up turning it over to the Hall of Fame after branding it with an asterisk - implying that Bonds' record was tainted by the allegations of his steroid use - which prompted Bonds to call him an "idiot.")
Along with Kimmel and Bifano, Ecko will be investing in businesses that exhibit his kind of maverick attitude, no matter the field. How cool would it be for that to be seen nationally as a Philly thing?
Jan Shaeffer made news last year when she persuaded Jose Garces to be one of the boldface names associated with her Dine In, Help Out program. (Full disclosure: Jan is a friend. And, while her tireless belief in her cause can prompt a cynic's eyes to roll, Philly desperately needs her type of true believer.)
Shaeffer, the thirtysomething executive director of the St. Christopher's Foundation for Children, can be persuasive. After all, Dine In, Help Out calls for Philadelphians to get together with friends, share a meal at home, and donate what they would have spent at a fancy restaurant to her organization, which works to improve children's health in our most distressed areas. That's right: She got Garces to publicly urge potential customers to stay out of his restaurants for at least one night.
And that's not even the most innovative thing Shaeffer has done. How about getting doctors to write "prescriptions" for food?
In North Philly, one of the nation's worst food deserts, nearly 70 percent of the children living near St. Christopher's Hospital for Children are either overweight or obese, which led Shaeffer to develop the FreshRX program. Doctors write prescriptions that are really $10 coupons for fresh fruit and vegetable boxes at the hospital and other nearby "Farm to Family" sites.
"We needed to get across that food is the medicine that can combat obesity and its associated illnesses," Shaeffer says. To date, 13,000 boxes, or 65 tons, of fruits and vegetables have been sold.
On Oct. 5, ground was broken on Franklin's Paine Skatepark, on the banks of the Schuylkill in the shadow of the Art Museum. It's a $4 million marquee skate park, funded by the state and city.
It's easy to underestimate what a triumph this is. Ten years ago, Philly skateboarders were seen by the powers that be as quality-of-life outlaws. They were banned from LOVE Park by then-Mayor John F. Street, prompting 92-year-old legendary city planner Ed Bacon to ride a skateboard in protest. Vincent Kling, the 86-year-old architect of LOVE Park, proclaimed: "I built this place so that people could enjoy it. And that includes skateboarders."
Josh Nims, board president of Franklin's Paine Skatepark Fund, was one of those skateboarding kids a decade ago. Now a graduate of Temple Law, the South Carolina transplant has argued that skateboarding has consistently produced the next generation of our city's creative class. If they're not crankily shunned, yesterday's skateboarders become today's Web designers and architects and techies, and potentially tomorrow's civic leaders. But, in a city afflicted by chronic brain drain, they first need to hear from elected leaders the message that Bacon and Kling tried to deliver a decade ago: This is your city, too.
Instead, we're still seeing political scapegoating in action, as when the Nutter administration recently offered a bill that would disproportionately punish skateboarders for acts of vaguely defined vandalism. Skaters appeared before Council, made a forceful case, and the bill was tabled. Speaking truth to power was, Nims suggests, consistent with the ethos of skateboard culture. "We're calling it Franklin's Paine Skatepark because two Philadelphians, Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine, inspired us with their youthful enthusiasm for liberty," he says.
When the state-of-the-art park opens for public use, it will mark quite a turnaround in skateboarding's public perception from a decade ago, which is why Nims says the intensity of skateboard culture here is unparalleled. "I decided to stay in Philly because there's a long-term revolutionary culture here," he says.
Here's to the revolutionaries among us. Keep e-mailing me about those who you think can't help but challenge this maddening town to change, and I'll keep telling you about them.