Lifehacks for living in Philly (and probably other cities too)

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[Thanks for the love r/Philadelphia and Zagat and Reddit again]

Update: I presented some of my favorite hacks at Ignite Philly. Watch the presentation below and find the slides here:

Any city worth its existence has enough culture that exists there that small quirks exist that can help you get by.

In my short nine years living in Philadelphia, a few lifehacks have become pretty common to me but are perhaps worth sharing.

Here are a bunch. I’d love to hear yours:

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Are you experimenting, focusing or executing?

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If you are leading an organization, it seems there are three main speeds you should be going.

  1. Experimenting — new ideas, creative thought, innovation
  2. Focusing — paring down the projects and efforts to get to our clear mission
  3. Executing — moving forward toward that mission

The trouble seems to come when we’re trying to do all of them — or none of them — at the same time. That’s when we get distracted and lose our way.

Staying focused on one of those speeds at a time is more than difficult enough. Now think about being able to cycle through them in the life of an organization when you know you either need new ideas or to find a focus or to make good on that mission. That takes remarkable leadership.

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The Path Between the Seas: how the Panama Canal was constructed

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The classic, National Book Award-winning 1977 historical narrative by David McCullough on the Panama Canal’s construction called the Path Between the Seas was perfect reading material leading into, during and after my 10-day trip to the Central American country.

In large scale projects, preparing to do the work is often more important than doing the work. That was likely the biggest lesson I drew from the book, which chronicled a failed attempt by a consortium of French government and business leaders to build a sea-level canal and then a painful but ultimately successful American attempt that used locks and came at the heels of advancements in understanding how to deal with yellow fever.

I also drastically underestimated the magnitude the Panama Canal represented as an engineering and public health campaign. My previous ignorance to this period of human history is embarrassing.

As I often do when I read a book of relevance to leadership and history, I share my notes here.

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Experiments are hard to transition: a Philly public media example

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Organization-wide experiments can often be tougher to launch than learn from or reorient around. Once staff is brought on and workflows established, changing anything may be more challenging than ever launching the project to start. That’s when bold leadership is most needed.

That’s been on my mind recently when I’ve thought about the wonderful progress that has come with NewsWorks.org, the online news home for WHYY, the Philadelphia region’s public media outfit. Let’s look at its three-year history and its future and use it as an example for being bold enough to experiment and then knowing when to act on that experiment.

[Full Disclosure: I have friendships and close relationships with nearly a dozen people at WHYY and also sit on their community advisory board, but, while surely that insight informs my perspective, these conclusions are my own and don’t incorporate anything more than what is already public.]

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What if we instituted *maximum* ages for legislative office?

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When we’re younger, we’re better at fresh thinking. When we’re older, we’re better at contextual thinking. So why don’t we operate our world like we know that?

A struggling economy-backed entrepreneurship craze and a fast-paced period of consumer technology advancement have conspired to create an age that celebrates youth. But while I find being in my 20s beneficial in fitting into this era, I still find many of my peers struggling to break through what amounts to intern syndrome — being passed over for leadership roles in existing organizations and institutions because they don’t look the part.

Similarly, the stories of people near retirement losing their jobs, sometimes simply because they seem the most expendable are heart-wrenching. It seems we could be a lot savvier about age.

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First thoughts on Axis Philly next steps: journalism collab CEO leaves

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After four years of planning, there will be another strategy direction in the coming months for the collaborative journalism effort that has been an interest of the high-profile William Penn Foundation for the better part of a decade.

Last March, some movement was taken by Neil Budde, the former news executive who was brought into town to take leadership of the now branded AxisPhilly.org, but, citing a growing gulf in expectations between him and funders, his departure was announced earlier this month after just a year and a half on the job. As it was said in the official release: Budde agreed to step aside “in light of its inability to raise sufficient second-round funding to support an aggressive initial business model.”

In other words, Budde spent more and made less than his funders desired and was heading in a direction that didn’t have the full support of the leadership and advisers at the Center for Public Interest Journalism, which is housed at Temple University and is administering the William Penn grant (updated: changes at the top of Temple’s communications school may also impact here, I’m reminded). But, as I’ll share below, Budde might likely argue he didn’t get the time he needed to get where he wanted to go.

In either case, in the coming weeks, an advisory board, foundation officials, consultants and university administrators will lead a group of identified stakeholders and Axis staff members through another strategy effort to, again, steer what is left of the funding toward a goal that, at its origins, was to grow the level of public affairs journalism and civic dialogue in Philadelphia.

As an interested observer and in an effort to gather my thoughts, I want to share here what I think could come next for Axis Philly, expecting to want to refine this after getting feedback. As per usual when I write these things, this is a massive collection of thoughts, not a neatly curated treatise.

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Why I think this parklet is misguided and other thoughts on parking

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This is a photo of a parklet outside of my office in the University City neighborhood of Philadelphia. Parklets are essentially raised platforms put in parking spots meant to offer pedestrian-friendly seating in dense city communities. They also become something of a rallying cry for anti-car urbanism, by taking something for an automobile and giving it to pedestrians.

I am a pedestrian — I bicycle to work and use mass transit whenever I don’t. What’s more is that I sit in this parklet a lot. I benefit from it plenty — it’s very pretty — and I like and use parklets throughout Philadelphia. I think the parklet movement is a cool one. That said, I also think this particular parklet’s placement is misguided.

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