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Where will cities be in 5 years?

Darius Graham of Johns Hopkins' Social Innovation Lab is set to tackle this topic at next month's Rise Conference.

Darius Graham. (Courtesy photo)

Looking at cities five years in the future is as much about the groundwork that’s being laid today as it is about the new innovations that will exist tomorrow.
To Darius Graham, the move toward social innovation is a good example of this.
“It’s still a relatively new thing,” said Graham, who directs Johns Hopkins University’s Social Innovation Lab. “There are still a lot of ventures that have taken root recently.”
Graham will peer into cities five years in the future during a talk at’s Rise Conference on Dec. 3 at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. It’s a civic-minded conference that brings together folks from all five markets.
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The talk comes as Graham begins his second cohort at the Social Innovation Lab, which is a four-year-old incubator for early-stage ventures bringing innovative approaches to social issues. The 2015-16 ventures are a mix of high- and low-tech, with one project seeking to get teachers to share supplies, while another is developing alternative energy in Tanzania.
Using data and technology to look at solutions is important to many of the ventures, but to Graham it’s also about rethinking how people interact with institutions. A key question toward improving cities, he said, is this: “What does it look like when you have a person or resident interacting with a city agency, and how do you make that better or more efficient?”

One of the projects that looks at this relationship is Ryan J. Smith’s Baltimore Tax Credit Map, which was already a hackathon winner at JHU and is among the projects being supported over the coming months by the Social Innovation Lab.
The project visualizes homeowner tax credits available in Baltimore, based on location on a map. Smith, who is no stranger to making maps using civic data, conceived the project because many people don’t know about the tax credits. Along with providing the map, Smith’s project also presents an opportunity to partner with nonprofits and get more information out.
Graham said Smith’s project is one of eight from this year’s cohort that looks specifically at Baltimore, which he called “a big shift for us.” In some ways, the Social Innovation Lab move to open up applications to the entire Baltimore community this year is one example of an institution rethinking its place in the community. And that’s been a broader theme throughout Baltimore in 2015, both in terms of new attention toward solving entrenched issues following the death of Freddie Gray, and moves by the city’s big institutions to grow their own place in the community.
Among the biggest development moves, Hopkins opened a new incubator, laid out larger plans for a new Science and Technology Park and explained how they want to create an “innovation ecosystem” to capitalize on the university’s research, and create new breakthroughs. The University of Maryland-Baltimore is also looking to expand its BioPark. And in South Baltimore, Kevin Plank also has big plans for redevelopment in Port Covington. Taken with the plans for a host of makerspaces we’ve seen, the Under Armour founder is also one of the leaders of a movement to grow light manufacturing within the city limits.
This reporter posed all of these moves to Graham in the context of what Baltimore could look like five years in the future.
“2015 is the year where all these things are starting and bubbling up, but think about where we could be five years from now,” when they’re all in place, he said.
At the same time, Graham said he is equally intrigued by the speakers who will follow him at the conference.

“I’m excited to see what the 15- and 50-year people say,” he said.
Companies: Social Innovation Lab / Johns Hopkins University

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