StoryCorps is a great nonprofit whose mission is:

to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives. We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.

The conversations and recordings they collect are archived at the Library of Congress and on their website. I consider what they’re doing to be an example of cultural conservation—of conveying cultural knowledge from one generation to another that reflects the specialness of place of the local community. It’s also in this vein that I like that StoryCorps sorts their stories for browsing by state as the primary filter.

But I think their work deserves to have a much broader impact than it is at present. I think an enormous opportunity exists for StoryCorps to partner with colleges and universities, specially their alumni associations. This could bring in earned income for StoryCorps while also providing major alumni associations a compelling program component and membership enticement.

We shouldn’t just share the stories of people and place, but also stories at the intersection of people, place, and the institutions they shape.


A side project I’ve been working on intermittently over the past few years is helping my family get its history in order. So much of any family’s history is lost as mementos and heirloom materials is divvied up and typically rarely thought of. I know this has been the case in our family from time to time. What I’ve been doing is getting things together for long term storage and fireproof safekeeping.

Over the course of this project I’ve encountered so much that I had seen at one point or another but had slipped from active memory. One example of that is the World War I Victory Medal I’m sharing here. This is something from my great grandfather Phillip A. Bruce‘s time in the Great War, and two of the surviving bars speak to some of his service—specifically in the Army at St. Mihiel from September 12-16, 1918 and at Meuse-Argonne from September 26-November 11, 1918. After the war, Phillip became a Philadelphia police officer and served for five years before being killed in the line of duty. His Victory Medal has survived nearly a century, and it’s something we want to take better care of to ensure it lasts another century.

The idea that “the past is a foreign country” becomes very real when you’re able to encounter relics from that foreign country.

Ed Rendell

There’s only so much you can expand Center City. Here’s an amazing statistic: When I took over as mayor in 1992, there were 58,000 people living in Center City. There are now almost 200,000, and the median income of those folks is like $90,000. That type of spending power gives downtown an incredible vitality.

Well, when you have that downtown, it also helps the neighborhoods. Because the people holding the jobs in Center City — in the restaurants, the hotels, the shops, the stores — are people who live in the neighborhoods.

Billy Penn’s interview with Ed Rendell has been sitting in my Safari since it was published two weeks ago. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while.

I’ve respected Rendell for a while, but it wasn’t until I read A Prayer for the City last summer that I really came to understand and love what he did for Philadelphia. He’s a great example of the cheerleader politician, and the closest thing Pennsylvania’s had to a realist in office in many years.

The Billy Penn piece is great reading for understanding Rendell’s perspective on the changing city, especially for suburbanites who might lack perspective on the scale of change that has occurred and remains underway.

Penn State training days

I spent an hour rewatching this ESPN feature on Penn State football during the Bill O’Brien era that Penn State News shared when it debuted.

It’s a great way to mentally prep for the season that’s about to start, and it’s a great reminder for how far the program has come and how remarkable it is that its pride and identity have survived undimmed and unchanged through times of incredible crisis. They’ve emerged stronger.

The segment where Chris Herren addresses the team about what they’re ultimately there playing for is powerful. Those are the old school, Paterno-era values in miniature: you’re there together to be a team, to win games as far as the team can, but most importantly to learn how to be men.

Penn State doesn’t subordinate academics for the sake of athletics, and I hope that never changes.

Evolving etiquette

A new study from the Pew Research Center reveals just how attached we all are to our phones—and how we’re writing new etiquette rules around them.

Among the 3,217 respondents, there was a surprising degree of consensus on certain cellphone do’s and don’ts. 77 percent of Americans think it’s OK to use a cellphone while walking down the street, and 75 percent think it’s OK on public transportation. Meanwhile, upwards of 80 percent consider cellphone use to be off limits at family dinners, meetings, church, or movie theaters.

These results belie the generalized grumbling about gadget-obsessed “kids these days” that tends to dominate op-ed pages. Although younger people are more tolerant of cellphone use overall, Americans of all ages agree that mobile devices are permissible in public settings and not in quiet, intimate ones.

This comes from Vicky Gan at CityLab, and includes a really important point, which is that the study doesn’t clarify what constitutes “cell phone use.” If older people interpret “use” to mean “making calls,” there’s a wide gap between that older view and the new reality, which is that these mobile devices are pocket supercomputers.

In any event, it’s fascinating to see that a loose etiquette for new devices has formed organically within the same decade that the iPhone’s debut.

New Philadelphians

New York to Philly Among Largest Metro-to-Metro Migration Flows, Says Census Bureau:”

As mentioned earlier, Philly’s metro-to-metro inbound mobility proved in large part to be dominated by New Yorkers, with up to 26,957 per year moving to the Greater Philadelphia Metro during [2009-2013]. We’ve known this has been happening for awhile, so Property dug a little deeper to find the next two metros whose residents up and left for Philly.

The results? An estimated 5,182 folks from the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria Metro Area moved to our neck of the woods during that time as well, as did almost 4,759 from the Baltimore-Columbia-Towson Metro Area. Interestingly, included in the metro-to-metro chart were international regions, with Philly’s largest influx of residents from abroad hailing from Asia for an estimated 13,762. … next time you meet a fresh transplant, whether from the ‘burbs, New York or wherever else, indirectly thank them for all the pretty things Philly is getting.

Philadelphia too often compares itself to other cities in ways that don’t make sense, or that neglect the distinctiveness of the city and its surrounding counties. This on the other hand is a reminder that sometimes Philadelphia looks to New York because there’s cause to.

Small private online courses

Alan Jacobs writes on “the humanities and the university” and highlights SPOCs, or “small private online courses” as a counter to the MOOC boosterism of the past few years:

James Poulos has recently written about SPOCs — not MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, but Small Private Online Courses: “In small, private forums, pioneers who want to pursue wisdom can find a radically alternate education — strikingly contemporary, yet deeply rooted in the ancient practice of conversational exegesis.

Everyone wins if that happens. Wisdom-seekers can connect cheaply, effectively, intimately, and quickly, even if they’re dispersed over vast distances. Universities can withdraw fully from the wisdom business, and focus on the pedigree business. And the rest of us can get on with our lives.”

Conversations enabled by live streaming are just starting to get to the point of push-button ease. Skype of course is the long time complicated example of tech enabling real time video conversations. Periscope is an example of a still evolving platform. 

In higher education, I think Canvas and other app and cloud LMSs have the potential to elevate SPOCs as a standard feature of the learning experience. But the tech has to become invisible, or “conversational exegesis” won’t occur to its fullest extent because the focus will remain on connecting to tech rather than connecting with people.

Car cutting

Megan Quinn, a former partner at Kleiner Perkins and investor in Uber, writes about her experiences over the past few years since ditching her car and living on Uber. It’s a great read and worth the time especially in light of what I wrote the other day about walkability and being carless.

One of Quinn’s key insights: “Uber has reached such high city density, geographic ubiquity and price diversity that it can truly be an economical replacement for car ownership for some people.”

I think this relates to the topic of walkability, too. I know that since selling my car there have been lots of instances where in the past I would have driven without giving it much thought, but today am comfortable with even long walks of up to two miles or more. And with an iPhone and earbuds, what time are you losing in most instances?

The Uber lifestyle, if fully embraced, I think can lead to greater mindfulness about where you physically are, and what the best way to get to the next place might be. It might be an Uber, but it’s probably not. Either way, it’s a positive.


Great perspective from Gracy Olmstead with Why Walkability Matters:

[I] wonder whether the decline in home and/or property ownership has only made the car more important to Americans: because at least traditionally, it’s the home that we would associate with these feelings of pride and autonomy. But fewer Americans own property—and of those who do, fewer regard such ownership with the same sort of long-term allegiance. Owning a home is often a commercial endeavor, a rung on the ladder to bigger dreams and more square footage elsewhere. Thus, cars often help us express our sense of autonomy and personality in a way home ownership may have in the past.

Yet in the decline of walking—and correspondingly, in the decline of walkability—there are certain elements of community and culture that we may lose. Because despite its inefficiency or tediousness, walking provides several goods that the car cannot.

Intuitively this feels right, that as ownership of bigger things like homes becomes less attainable, we shift to attainability of the smaller things like cars.

I haven’t regretted once the decision to sell my car three years ago. When I made that leap of faith it was partially with the hope that technology would bridge the gap. Uber has been the bridge for me from cities to small towns to even suburban areas, and is way less for me than car ownership ever was. I want a lifestyle and a home that negate the need for car ownership except as a true luxury. Other than maybe a Tesla eventually, I never want to own a car again.

This isn’t simply because of financial cost, but also because I know I was paying and producing massive social costs with ownership, and I wasn’t comfortable with either side of that coin. Walkability is key.

“The more we insulate ourselves from those around us,” Olmstead points out, “the less safety and community we are able to enjoy.”

Electric Objects

I was sitting on a roof in Old City, Philadelphia last summer catching up with a friend when the topic of art came up.

I had mentioned I that I’m a fan of art that’s special enough to be heirloom potential—stuff that has meaning, but that’s also thoughtfully presented and made with quality enough to last a century. Electric Objects was brought up as a semi-counter, with the idea that art like so much else might simply become another internet of things component in the home.

Ever since seeing the Kickstarter that launched Electric Objects I’ve been a fan of the concept. There’s definitely a place for it in the home. The idea of buying digital licenses for art on a regular basis is compelling, too.

All of this came back to me last night in Ocean City when I walked into Steele’s Fudge Shop and saw their display of live video feeds from throughout the town. The quality was generally poor, but the idea feels neat.

Imagine your home office with a displaying that cycles through live cameras of your college town, your favorite vacation spots, maybe where you grew up.