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Oct. 15, 2012 10:31 am

‘We’re the office of yes’: Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics aims to be public/private incubator for problem-solving

There’s a new office in City Hall, but it doesn’t sound like the stodgy bureaucracy you might expect. City of Philadelphia’s new Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics Co-director Story Bellows calls the new office a public/private partnership, which means that you can help. If you want to get involved with the Mayor’s Office of […]

The Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics hopes to change the way city government solves problems. Here's City Hall in 1930. Photo from phillyhistory.org

There’s a new office in City Hall, but it doesn’t sound like the stodgy bureaucracy you might expect.

City of Philadelphia’s new Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics

Co-director Story Bellows calls the new office a public/private partnership, which means that you can help. If you want to get involved with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, reach out to Story Bellows at story.bellows AT phila.gov and Jeff Friedman at jeff.friedman AT phila.gov.

The small office, with its two co-directors and two temporary staffers, will test out new ways of solving old city problems. It hopes to inject this spirit of innovative problem-solving into the city’s many agencies. And get this, the mayor wants them to fail — fast, and learn, of course.

“The mayor said if we don’t fail, we’re not trying hard enough,” says co-director Story Bellows. “And we’ve certainly taken that to heart.”

Inspired by Boston’s office of the same name, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics is bringing the startup mentality into City Hall. Most city departments are running programs and can’t spend their days thinking up new ways to improve quality of life in the city, Bellows says. That’s where Bellows and her co-director Jeff Friedman come in.

“We’re the office of ‘yes,” Bellows says she and Friedman like to joke.

Story Bellows is co-director of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. She moved to Philly from Washington, D.C. six months ago to join Mayor Nutter’s team.

They know there are Philadelphians who are already working on innovative ways to make the city better. Bellows says her office, branding itself as a public/private partnership (much like the Open Access Philly network), wants to be the bridge between those problem-solvers and city government.

The office’s first project was piloting an effort to crowdfund the city’s tree planting campaign with startup Citizinvestor. Next up is sharing Code for America-built civic input tool Textizen with the city’s departments (the Planning Commission piloted the tool) and launching Neighborhow, a Code for America-built guide of neighborhood best practices.

While the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics is currently working as part of the Mayor’s Office and doesn’t have its own budget, Bellows says an executive order to officially create a separate office is in the works.

Jeff Friedman is co-director of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. He previously held the title of Philly’s Manager of Civic Innovation and Participation.

Bellows previously worked in Washington, D.C. as the Director of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design. She moved to Philly six months ago to join the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. Friedman previously held the title of Philly’s Manager of Civic Innovation and Participation. He was also former Chief Technology Officer Allan Frank‘s chief of staff and started working for Philly’s city government when he graduated from law school. [Updated, see below]

For more, check out this article on TechPresident.

Updated 10:54 a.m. 10/15/12: Jeff Friedman has not worked for the city since graduating law school. Rather, he started working for the city after law school and spent seven years as a consultant to governments across the country before returning to city government.

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Juliana Reyes

Juliana Reyes began as lead reporter at Technical.ly Philly in July 2012. Previously, she was a city services beat reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News, as part of a project called “It’s Our Money.” She is learning to drive, learning to bike (in the city) but is an expert at taking SEPTA. She grew up in North Jersey and Manila, Philippines but she left the tropics for Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in linguistics. She now lives in West Philly.

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