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State of Young Philly has never looked better

If you want to know how young Philly's doing, let me sum it up for you: smart and good looking. From the highest reaches of government right down to our youngest up and comers, there's never been a more attractive bunch of people in charge.

The second annual State of Young Philly, convened by the all-volunteer Young Involved Philadelphia for a two-week run, was a series of six events designed to engage, connect and represent citizens. Targeting community engagement, education, sustainability and the creative economy, State of Young Philly drew close to 1,000 young professionals and representatives from over 50 organizations in the city, according to organizers. From the first packed event at World Cafe Live on Oct. 4 to the standing-room only crowd at the finale at The Gershman Y, the crowd was diverse in age and background and alike in its forward-thinking approach.

Claire Robertson-Kraft, Young Involved Philadelphia Board Chair, says, "When I first moved to Philadelphia just over a decade ago, I was initially struck by the negativity of the city. But the spirit in the discussions over the course of the past few weeks has been very different than that initial perception I got when I first moved here. Rather than focusing solely on what was in need of improvement, each of the discussions was as much about how to build on already existing innovation and assets the city has to offer."

Alain Joinville, Public Affairs Coordinator for the city's Department of Parks and Recreation and a Young Involved Philly board member, adds, "It was easier to get partnering organizations involved. The State of Young Philly series is the biggest and most audacious project our organization has undertaken in its 11-year history, and we did it pretty well last year, so we are seen as a credible organization in the eyes of the City's leaders and leading organizations."

Robertson-Kraft points to several initiatives that launched in the lead-up to this year's State of Young Philly: a local version of the online web portal Change By Us,a partnership with United Way to improve Philadelphia public education, entry into the Open Data Philly challenge, and social media hashtags #WhyILovePhilly and #PhillyArts.

But ultimately, the draw of State of Young Philly is the promise of doing good combined with a commitment to fun. Reports Robertson-Kraft, "Let’s just say that the after-party went into the late hours of the night. At all of our events, we strive to achieve that perfect balance of meaningful conversation and a good time."

It's a whole new take on a thousand points of light.

Source: Claire Robertson-Kraft, Young Involved Philly
Writer: Sue Spolan

Open Data Race lets you vote for data sets that are most fit for public consumption

Data collection and dissemination: how much fun is that? If you are participating in Philadelphia's Open Data Race, you might actually squeeze a good time out of otherwise flat statistics. Voting in the Open Data Race is open to the public until Oct. 27, and currently, you can make your opinion known on which of 24 data sets you would like to see made public.

"We hope to generate excitement around open data," says Deborah Boyer, project manager at Philadelphia-based Azavea. Nominations contributed by non-profit organizations were reviewed by OpenDataPhilly partners, namely Azavea, NPower Pennsylvania, The William Penn Foundation, and Technically Philly.

It's probably too early to judge, but right now the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia's request for stats on reported bike thefts is atop the rankings with 55 votes, followed by Demographic Info for Individuals Accessing Shelter Services submitted by Back on My Feet with 50 votes. Other organizations represented in the voting ranks include the Committee of 70, The Urban Tree Connection and The Sustainable Business Network.

Boyer says, "Public participation has been a key feature of OpenDataPhilly and is also crucial to the Open Data Race. We encourage people to submit data sets for inclusion in OpenDataPhilly or nominate data they would like to see made available."

Boyer points to difficulties municipalities might have in identifying which data is most needed. "Through Open Data Race, non-profit organizations have the opportunity to let the city and OpenDataPhilly partners know what information they need to fulfill their missions."

Winners, to be announced on Friday, Oct. 28, will receive cash prizes. First place gets $2,000, second place gets $1,000, and third receives $500. At that point, the fun really begins, when OpenDataPhilly works with the city to unlock the requested sets and then hosts hack-a-thons to create applications that use the data.

Source: Deborah Boyer, Azavea/OpenDataPhilly
Writer: Sue Spolan

NJ farm-to-table distributor Zone 7 doubles sales, hiring

There's a whole lot of hiring going on in Zone 7. Lest you think you've slipped into a science fiction world, Fresh From Zone 7 is the name of a fast growing company that's, well, all about growing. Founded in 2008 by Mikey Azzara, the Cranbury, N.J.-based farm-to-table distributor serving Pennsylvania and New Jersey has doubled in sales every year.

Right now, there are five job openings for energetic people who are committed to providing local food to local eaters: sales, warehouse crew, warehouse crew leader, drivers (multiple) and a sales team intern. While the positions are primarily part time, the right candidate could combine several to create a full time gig. Currently there are 9 people on staff, and the new hires would represent about a fifty percent increase. The company began with just two employees in 2008.

Azzara reports that each week of the 2011 season, Zone 7 has been adding deliveries at an almost explosive rate and at this point is maxed out in terms of staffing.

"On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, all three of our trucks are out," says Azzara of the fleet that picks up from all over New Jersey and Pennsylvania, delivering to over 80 establishments, including The Farm and Fisherman, Southwark, Garces Trading Company, Weaver's Way, Greensgrow and the Fair Food Farmstand in Philadelphia. The New Jersey territory stretches from Atlantic City to West New York, NJ.

The 40 farms that supply Zone 7 include Blooming Glen, Jah's Creation Organic, Griggstown Farm Market, and Branch Creek, where the original seed for Zone 7 was planted.

Azzara had been working for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey for five years when he sat down at the table of Mark and Judy Dornstreich, pioneers of the local food movement and founders of Branch Creek Farm, which has been growing and delivering organic produce to Philadelphia restaurants since the 1970s. "They supplied me with the truck, the name and the idea," says Azzara.

Zone 7, named for the USDA Hardiness Zone in which we live, is a 52-week-a-year operation, says Azzara, and its busiest months, surprisingly, are November and December. "Our time to catch our breath is January, February and March." Starting in April, asparagus and swiss chard are the first crops to harvest.

Source: Mikey Azzara, Zone 7
Writer: Sue Spolan

South Philly resident grows composting collection business

Your scraps are Tim Bennett's gold mine. Bennett Compost offers urban dwellers the opportunity to recycle food waste without expensive equipment or outdoor space. Bennett began the business out of a personal need. "At the time, where I was living in South Philly, I wanted to compost, but I had no backyard." After dissatisfaction with home composting systems costing around $300, Bennett created a composting service that would benefit city homes and businesses at a fraction of the cost.

For a $15 monthly fee, residential customers receive a covered bucket, and Bennett's truck swings around once a week to empty and return the container. Commercial customers, including coffee shops, a florist and some restaurants, pay on a sliding scale depending on volume and frequency of pickup, but Bennett adds that the cost offsets commercial trash hauling fees, and in some cases commercial customers are able to save money on refuse.

Used food and some types of paper are sent to a composting facility in Delaware and then picked up for distribution to area community gardens. Customers can opt to receive up to 10 gallons of the finished product free of charge; beyond that, compost is available at a discounted price. You don't have to be a customer to buy compost. Five gallon buckets are available to the general public for $10, and will soon be sold at area retail locations including Essene Market and Green Aisle Grocery.

Current offices are based in South Philly at Bennett's home, with a North Philadelphia warehouse. Bennett was able to quit his day job at Temple University last summer to devote his career full time to compost. "We bootstrapped our way up. Now we are profitable enough that I am able to pay my own salary, and we have three part time employees." The business continues to grow, with 300 residential customers and 20 businesses distributed across the entire city.

Source: Tim Bennett, Bennett Compost
Writer: Sue Spolan

FLYING BYTES: SEPTA's TransitView, MAC founder raises $75M, and Phila. Printworks strikes chord

Flying Bytes is a recurring roundup of innovation and quick updates on the people and companies we're covering:

SEPTA launches TransitView

Back in January, we reported that SEPTA was weeks away from launching a real-time, system wide tracking program. The future is finally here. Like SEPTA's TrainView for regional rail, the new TransitView provides live updates on the whereabouts of buses and trolleys throughout the city. Also launched: SMS Transit Schedule Information, allowing customers to receive a text with the next four scheduled trips, and Schedules to Go, a mobile website function that provides information on the next ten scheduled trips.

Shah closes $72 million IPO with Universal Business Payment Solutions

Following a hot tip, we learned that Bipin Shah, creator of the MAC, was seeking $72 million for payments startup Universal Business Payment Solutions. On May 13, UPBS (NASDAQ: UBPSU) got its money. According to Shah's partner Peter Davidson, "we closed on 12 million shares at $6.00 per share. The underwriters have a 45 day option to cover any over-allotments, which they have not exercised to date." Investors include hedge fund magnate J. Kyle Bass, who purchased about 800,000 shares.

Philadelphia Printworks up, running, finding its market

The lovely ladies at the helm of Philadelphia Printworks are going full speed with their new T-shirt business. Co-founder April Pugh reports that most of PPW's customer base has come from custom work, particularly from local indie rock artists. PPW loves its rockers right back and offers a band discount. Pugh says she and partner Ruth Paloma Rivera-Perez are now seeking partnerships with retail outlets and will be selling at upcoming summer festivals.

Specticast expands with EuroArts partnership
Digital entertainment distribution company Specticast continues to widen its reach. The company, which we originally profiled back in April, announced an exclusive partnership with EuroArts, bringing live and pre-recorded events from Berlin's Philharmonie, The Sheldonian Theater at Oxford University, and Madrid's Teatro Real, according to Mark Rupp, SpectiCast president.

Source: Andrew Busch, SEPTA; Peter Davidson, UBPS; April Pugh, PPW; Mark Rupp, Specticast
Writer: Sue Spolan

The Social Knitwork: Philly's yarn bomber in talks with Mural Arts

Jessie Hemmons embraces the city, literally. You've probably walked past this new form of public art and wondered who's behind the colorful knit webs that wrap trees, bike racks, and recently, subway seats on the Market-Frankford Line.

Hemmons is a yarn bomber, a growing network that subverts the old fashioned craft of knitting to put a feminist stamp on underground street art. When she's not riding her bike, Hemmons goes by the handle "ishknits" and spends hours working big needles and skeins of acrylic yarn on public transit. Hemmons, who's also a therapist for families facing drug and alcohol addiction, is not the first person to engage in yarn bombing nationally. The practice originated in Austin, when a failing yarn shop's overstock became fodder for public art. Hemmons says she is the only yarn bomber in Philadelphia, with 30 installations to date, including one commissioned by Urban Outfitters for the company's Navy Yard headquarters. She's also selling knits on etsy.

Consider the masculine spray of graffiti, as opposed to the warm womanly embrace of knitwork. "I am feminizing street art," says Hemmons, who is now entering talks with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. "My whole goal is to empower communities. The ideal yarn bomb would be to wrap an abandoned house." Public knitting is passive intervention, and a way for Hemmons to communicate that someone is paying attention to blighted neighborhoods.

Source: Jessie Hemmons, ishknits
Writer: Sue Spolan

Something to Bank On: City Partners Up to Boost Recycling Rewards Program

So by now you're a recycling pro: Your carefully sorted blue bins are first on the curb, and your trash can is light. And it's doubly awesome that you're so passionate about it, but you know, you could be getting something for all this. That's part of the message from RecycleNOW Philadelphia, which announced on Monday a partnership with the City of Philadelphia and RecycleBank to help boost citywide recycling rates. The program is centered around RecycleBank's Philadelphia Recycling Rewards program, which incentivizes recycling by offering points for regular recycling that can be cashed in for discounts or freebies at participating local and national businesses.

More than 100,000 Philadelphia households are already signed up for the rewards program, but the new partnership has RecycleNOW enlisting and training city residents to be neighborhood recycling advocates, who will sign up their freinds, neighbors, family and co-workers to earn their own incentives.

"This partnership will help us reach even more residents and provide them with the motivation to start recycling or recycle even more and get rewarded for it," says Denise Diorio McVeigh, Philadelphia account manager of RecycleBank, in a statement released Monday on America Recycles Day. RecycleBank launched its successful pilot program in Philadelphia in 2005, when it tripled recycling rates in Chestnut Hill and quadrupled them in West Oak Lane.

RecycleNOW's first neighborhood recycling advocate training will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 23 at 6 p.m. at 1500 Walnut Street (Suite 205). For more information, contact Katie Edwards here. The Recycling Alliance of Philadelphia is led by Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), the Clean Air Council, Clean Water Action and Niche Recycling.

Source: PennFuture
Writer: Joe Petrucci


Niche Recycling brings composting dumpster, waste management systems to Navy Yard

When Mayor Michael Nutter unveiled 500 Big Belly solar garbage compactors all over the city in April 2009, there was skepticism as to the effectiveness of this new technology. But when this test run was complete and the Philly Throws Green case study was released in June, city officials found the compactors would save over $1.5 million in waste collection man-hours per year. The city hopes its newest garbage-related investment in composting will yield the same results.

In an effort to conduct a real-world test of its effectiveness, the city of Philadelphia has granted $18,700 to Niche Recycling for one of its composting "Bio Bins." By trapping in natural gasses released from food waste using a sealed bin, a recirculating air system and wood chips, Bio Bins break down food waste so that fewer collections are needed.

"With food waste, you typically have three days before you start to get anaerobic conditions and smell," says Niche Recycling founder Maurice Sampson II. "With Bio Bins, you can handle this on-site. There is a tremendous savings to not have to collect every other day and, unlike a typical composting operation, we can use normal garbage trucks."

The grant comes as part of the Greenworks Pilot Energy Technology (G-PET) program, which is funded through the federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program. With the exposure of this project and the recent opening of the Wilmington Organic Recycling Center, Sampson hopes to offer a full composting service that will give him a competitive advantage over trash collectors.

"We are very proud to be selected for this grant that is about commercialization, so that we can test it and find out what the criteria are," says Sampson. "Composting is not something we typically think of in America but oh my goodness, it is going to make such a difference."

Source: Maurice Sampson II, Niche Recycling
Writer: John Steele

Interactive mapping platform launched to connect Philadelphians to their local communities

It's one of life's great mysteries: you can travel to a thousand cities and eat at a hundred fancy restaurants and drink a dozen craft beers at each of the bars along the way. But a meal never tastes as good as one at your favorite neighborhood haunt. And according to Philadelphia's sustainability leaders, this phenomenon is not just good for your appetite, it can be good for your neighborhood and your city as well.

Based on a concept created by the William Penn Foundation, partners from the Sustainable Business Network, Azavea and NPower created Common Space, a new mapping platform that creates a network of neighborhood establishments within a certain walkable, bikeable or busable distance to help residents support local business.

"The really cool thing is, I can map my friend's common space as well as my own," says SBN Executive Director Leanne Krueger-Braneky. "So if I am leaving from my office in Center City and meeting my husband who is coming from our house in West Philadelphia, he could say he is going to bike for 15 minutes and I could say I was going to walk for 20 minutes and Common Space will map the area where we would be able to meet up and map local culture events and businesses in that field."

Partnering with tastemakers like UWISHUNU and Yelp, Common Space shows you the best spots in your transit area, allowing you the most sustainable way possible to hit your next favorite haunt. After their trial run, organizers hope to partner with citywide festivals and cultural events like LiveArts and Philly Beer Week.

"Sustainability was one of the values William Penn outlined, which is why they wanted to partner with us," Krueger-Braneky says. "Because the application does encourage walking, biking, and public transit, it's a way of showing what's going on in the city while encouraging alternative transit."

Source: Leanne Krueger-Braneky, SBN
Writer: John Steele





SEPTA subways go hybrid with lossless battery storage system

Philadelphians know SEPTA's Market-Frankford El as the Blue Line. But a new pilot program, which stores leftover power from the subway's regenerative braking system in a massive battery, would make the Blue Line a little greener, and provide SEPTA some much-needed capital.

Earlier this month, SEPTA and Conshohocken smart-grid firm Viridity Energy announced receipt of $900,000 from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority to install a massive storage battery--about the size of a cement truck--at SEPTA's Kensington electrical substation. The current regenerative braking system transmits electricity, collected as trains enter stations, to other electric vehicles. But if no other vehicles are in range, the electricity is lost. The battery, capable of storing up to a megawatt of electricity, would siphon energy to be resold to the power grid. Viridity estimates that this one battery will generate $500,000 a year in clean, green profit. SEPTA has already applied for new funding to install these battery systems at all 33 substations across their service area.

"With this technology, SEPTA can be very strategic with their power; when they are using it, when they are storing it and when they are selling it back into the grid," says Viridity Director of Business Development Laurie Actman. "At peak periods, the grid is willing to pay premium prices for sources of reliable load."

Since 2008, SEPTA has struggled to execute capital improvements to its transit infrastructure. Most recently, a proposed switch to SmartCards has drawn scrutiny from city media and transit bloggers. When Governor Ed Rendell made a play to turn state thoroughfare I-80 into a federal toll road, he promised a chunk of the resulting revenue to SEPTA. Since Rendell's proposal was defeated, SEPTA has been looking for other ways to fund improvements, from fare hikes to advertising on the sides of trains. The battery system technology could be the answer they have been looking for that will finally bring the Philadelphia subway into the 21st century.

"As we all know, SEPTA has always had a constrained budget and not enough money to invest in its infrastructure," says Actman. "For so long, SEPTA's infrastructure, that was built nearly a century ago, has been a liability. We are turning that into an opportunity."

Source: Laurie Actman, Viridity Energy
Writer: John Steele

City's most involved young professionals imagine Philly's future with city-wide summit

Studies in recent years have revealed that while Philadelphia welcomes up to 50,000 freshman to its colleges and universities every year, less than half remained in the region after graduation. That statistic, in part, is what motivates Young Involved Philadelphia, a comprehensive network of young professionals and student groups producing advocacy campaigns and social events to make Philly a better place to live.

This week, the group opens the State of Young Philly: Imagining Philly's Future summit, a massive, two-week event hosting over 30 partnering organizations for speeches, roundtable discussions and brainstorming sessions to make Philadelphia a more attractive place for young people. The summit will focus on four key areas--Community Engagement and Volunteerism, Government and Leadership, Business and Entrepreneurship, and Arts and Culture--in an effort to "engage, educate and empower" young Philadelphia.

"For the first time since the '50s, the city is gaining population, and although we don't have the newest census data yet, we would venture a guess that this growth is due partly to an increasingly vibrant youth culture," says YIP board chair Claire Robertson-Kraft.

With speakers as varied as former Mayor John Street and the Mural Arts Program's Jane Golden, the summit hopes to gain a wide-reaching perspective that can be gleaned into an agenda ranking priorities and creating concrete deliverables. This agenda will inform an ongoing blog and will serve as YIP's action plan for the coming year. YIP hopes to make the summit an annual event, creating a constant barometer on youth culture in Philadelphia.

"The most important thing we hope people take away from the event is a sense of empowerment," says Robertson-Kraft. "As young Philadelphians, we should be organizing, demonstrating our ability to contribute to the debate, and doing more to ensure our voices are heard."

Source: Claire Robertson-Kraft, Young Involved Philadelphia
Writer: John Steele

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