Will TEDx Make Philadelphia “the City of the 21st Century”?

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November 9, 2011; Source: Philadelphia InquirerFor those of us who can’t possibly read the explosion of 140-character items on topics of interest to us, the November 16 issue of the @KnightFdn summary of news and commentary from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is a neat compilation of the foundation’s tweets. Thank you, Knight! One of the interesting items in this issue was a clip from the TEDx conference in Philadelphia, aimed at reimagining Philadelphia for the 21st century, a program clearly supported by the Knight Foundation, as Philadelphia is one of Knight’s geographic focus areas (the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News were members of the Knight Ridder newspaper chain until 2006). “TED” (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) was created in 1984 as a high-level conference to bring the best minds from those three worlds together, but has expanded or evolved into an elite series of gatherings and programs focused, as the TED site says, on “Ideas Worth Spreading”. TEDx programs are independently organized on a community basis, and seem to be held in many communities with increasing frequency. The TEDx website lists upcoming programs scheduled for the next couple of weeks in places such as: Bath in the U.K.; Guatemala City; San Luis Potosi, Mexico; Tampa Bay, Florida; Singapore; Johannesburg (Soweto); Austin, Texas; Doha, Qatar; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Huntsville, Alabama.

@Knight links to a press report on the TEDx program in Philadelphia, which reportedly attracted 600 people—along with “kickoff speaker Mayor Nutter”—to brainstorm new ideas about urban life in the City of Brotherly Love. Among the idea-generators were people from the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), and Code for America (a highly touted nonprofit from San Francisco that provides technology assistance to cities—also a Knight Foundation grantee. Although generally complimentary of the TEDx gathering, the Inquirer article noted the juxtaposition between the gathering and the nearby Occupy Philadelphia encampment. What wasn’t clear from the article was what actually happened at the event, where the discussion led, what’s going to happen next. What does a TEDx community program do for the community?

Have you been a TEDx participant? Are TEDx conferences useful, energizing, and creative “idea flea-markets”—or are they gatherings for the elite to show off their wares to each other? Tell us about your TEDx experience.—Rick Cohen