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3 Baltimore social enterprises that show how cities may operate in 5 years

At Technical.ly's Rise Conference, Darius Graham of Johns Hopkins' Social Innovation Lab said the future isn't so far away.

Darius Graham speaks at Rise. (Photo by Chris Kendig Photography)

Self-driving cars from Uber in 15 years? Slow down. Ariella Cohen said there’s room to improve a company that’s “nothing more than gypsy cab driving around using a billionaire’s app” first.
Flying cars in 50 years? Ground stop. Andrew Buss is more interested in sustainable public transit.
At the second edition of Rise, a two-day civic innovation conference organized by Technical.ly in Philadelphia last week, a trio of speakers explored the future of cities in increments of five, 15 and 50 years. If past predictions have taught us anything, it’s to stop trying to predict tech trends. Instead of jetpack renderings, the speakers came with examples of problems that current cities face and examples of organizations and governments using innovative ideas to address them.
Representing the five-year track, Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab Director Darius Graham used examples of organizations working in Baltimore to show work that is starting today. Here are three local groups (which are current or past Social Innovation Lab cohort members) that he spotlighted:

  • Urban Pastoral: This urban farming-focused group shows how cities will approach food in five years, Graham said. Working to build Baltimore’s first commercial-scale hydroponic farm, the work of Urban Pastoral points toward a future where food is “grown here, by people here, and consumed by people in our city,” Graham said. Right now, Urban Pastoral is looking to start with one greenhouse to help get local food to up-and-coming neighborhoods.
  • Hero Lab: This organization was founded in Mumbia, India, and also has a presence in Baltimore. Graham drew on Hero Lab’s work that uses design thinking to describe what education might look like in the near-term. The model focuses on students’ mental health as well as education, teaching them “resilience, grit and perseverance,” Graham said. The idea is to help students focus on long-term goals and reject failure.
  • Access Hears: Using a lower-cost technology that typical hearing aids, this startup looks to stem hearing loss among older adults. Hearing aids typically cost $3,000-$5,000, but Hopkins Department of Otolaryngology resident Carrie Nieman is working to bring personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) to people. The social enterprise also provides device training and counseling. Graham said this type of solution based on innovative products and community engagement shows how health may look in five years.
Companies: Social Innovation Lab

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