Within the far-reaching extensions of Philadelphia’s innovation ecosystem grows a new center for civic problem-solving.
The Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics was established last week.
The office will facilitate research and development in a new way. Ideas and technological solutions will be sourced interdepartmentally as well as from entrepreneurs and civically-engaged citizens. These solutions will then be incubated in a small, controlled setting, rather than being immediately implemented throughout the city. This approach will allow the New Urban Mechanics to experiment, learn, and inevitably solve civic challenges with less risk than a larger entity would have to consider.
Jeff Friedman and Story Bellows will lead the new office. Jeff Friedman has been with the city since 2008. He has previously served as the Philly 311 Project Manager, the Chief of Staff to the Chief Technology Officer and the Manager of Civic Innovation and Participation. Story Bellows came to work for the city in April of this year. Previously, she served as the Director of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design in Washington, D.C.
Although the office was officially established last week, Friedman and Bellows have been at work on a number of projects for months. One of these projects was Textizen, a SMS-based tool used to pipeline communication between the public and the city planning commission. The New Urban Mechanics partnered with Code for America to create and test this solution and it plans to use the technology for a number of different departments.
“We think the real area of our focus should be on delivering services to our citizens.” Bellows said in the press conference announcing the establishment of the Mayor’s Office for New Urban Mechanics. “Health, public safety, sustainability, quality of life issues are really where we would like the office to focus substantively and then cross-cutting themes that we really want to embrace and promote are entrepreneurship, customer service and civic engagement.”
The City of Philadelphia’s Mayor’s Office for New Urban Mechanics is only the second of its kind in the U.S. following Boston’s lead.
Please stay tuned for future posts about what Jeff, Story, and the New Urban Mechanics staff have accomplished.