Tell us about yourself
I’ve called State College home for 12 years after moving here as a student and instantly feeling a connection to this place. It was the perfect combination of big city talent, small town trust, and connection to nature. After graduating, I launched New Leaf Initiative, a community innovation center for the community which gave me the opportunity to better understand the needs and assets of our region. From that, I began launching a variety of intiatives and ventures to tackle issues in town, most notably the co.space which is an intentional communities for young changemakers. You can learn more at www.iamspud.com.
Explain your Community Project idea:
To highlight the countless, although somewhat hidden, innovative initiatives in State College, I plan to launch ‘Innovation Trailheads’ around town. Our town is extremely familiar with the outdoors – and the role that maps and trailheads play in orienting you when hiking.
It’s time that we develop similar trailheads for our emerging innovation ecosystem.
These ‘Innovation Trailheads’ will appear similar to what you would see in the woods – sculpted signs – but rather placed in downtown State College and direct folks to ‘local innovation nodes’. Some may feature interactive video displays to better highlight ways the community can get involved.
Describe three meaningful impacts that this project will have to improve public space, active mobility, and/or civic engagement:
Raise awareness: This project will most importantly increase visibility of the incredible work already happening in town. Most students do not realize what opportunities are already available to them for getting engaged.
Increase engagement to retain young professionals: Once awareness has been increased, this project will encourage young people to get involved in the work already happening around town, with the long-term hope that they might stay in town post graduation.
Pave the way for bigger space: These trailhead sculptures will point to a bigger space we hope to launch in town – think of this as the ranger station – which will serve as the central innovation destination in town. We have a lot of support / interest around this concept and are working to demonstrate small-scale wins to build momentum.
Describe the neighborhood you want to help change:
One of the problems that haunts State College is the fact that students don’t know what exists ‘beyond Beaver Ave.’ Beaver Ave is one block away from the university and represents the intense bubble that young people live in. Students view our town as merely a four-year vacation because they are unaware of what exists beyond this bubble.
Fortunately, this bubble contains the most walk-able part of town. Yet these public spaces are rarely used to tell the story of what is happening in our innovation ecosystem. We expect people to find obscure websites or read hard-to-find news articles in order to know what is happening. By prioritizing our public spaces and bringing this information to the streets, I want to create opportunities for spontaneous collisions.
I love State College – especially the countless opportunities that exist beyond Beaver Ave. I want others to be exposed to these similar opportunities.
What is new and/or innovative about your project?
There are other groups that make signs to improve walkability in a community (like WalkYourCirt.org). But we want to make these signposts more artistic and engaging.
Some of the trailheads will feature live-feed videos to show the community a real-time look into what’s happening around town. I built a prototype version of this a few years back for an event and it was a huge hit. Using Cameras would be placed at a variety of ‘innovation nodes’ and broadcasted to central ‘innovation trailheads’ around the community. The ‘innovation trailheads’ will consist of a simple sculpture mounted with a video display and placed in convenient outdoor locations – like bus stations or the town square.
I also plan to gamify the trailheads to encourage users to uncover ‘hidden innovation nodes’ around town and then plug them into the digital map to unlock new spots.
How does your project build on existing work and/or leverage assets in the community?
Over the past 5 years, a multitude of ‘innovation nodes’ have popped up in State College (maker space, co-working offices, farm-to-table restaurants co-living homes). Our community has started to compile this list of nodes, but no one made them easy to access, especially in public spaces.
State College is home to some of the most accessible hiking areas in the country. In town, Purple Lizard Maps (www.purplelizard.com) have become a staple for anyone adventuring outside and are proudly displayed in many local shops. Small purple lizards scatter the maps which indicate “cool places, scenic vistas, or a local legend.” Countless community members explore our woods simply to find out what those purple lizards represent.
Bringing it together:
I want to merge those two ideas together. Develop maps and physical trailheads around town that highlight the small purple lizards of the innovation ecosystem, rather than scenic vistas.