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Welcome to Innovation in the Burg, a podcast about science and innovation in St. Petersburg. If you’re a self-described science or technology geek, or even if you aren’t, this will be a fun and informative conversation. Each week, we’ll be joined by a local science or technology expert who will talk about what they’re working on. But to make sure we keep this in perspective and we don’t become too technical, we have a community member joining us. Our hope is that you learn something new and enjoy our conversation.

03/08/2019 | Episode 005 | 27:56

Innovation in the Burg: Let's Talk Social Innovation

Alison and her guests talk social innovation and how organizations are driving inclusive growth in St. Petersburg

On this episode of Innovation in the 'Burg, Alison is joined by two guests whose organizations are driving inclusive change in St. Petersburg - Laura Cantwell of AARP Florida and Dr. Keesha Benson of Grow Smarter. Grow Smarter's mission is to have collective impact that creates inclusive prosperity and wealth for everyone. AARP's local and national work looks toward those same outcomes, while representing older adults 50+. The two organizations' work in social innovation covers hot topics like place making and inclusion, housing, transportation and beyond.

Key Insights

  • On this episode of Innovation in the Burg, we take a break from talk about science and move to the topic of social innovation.
  • Today's guests are Dr. Keesha Benson of Grow Smarter St. Pete and Laura Cantwell of AARP Florida. They talk innovation, equity, and inclusion in St. Petersburg and beyond.
  • Dr. Keesha Benson serves as the facilitator of Grow Smarter St. Pete. This collaboration launched in 2014, but funding from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg gave the organization the legs and structure to move the mission forward.
  • Laura Cantwell serves as Associate State Director of Advocacy at AARP Florida. While she's based in St. Petersburg, Cantwell serves state-wide advocating for the interests of older adults.
  • One major intersection of their work? Housing. Grow Smarter recently started a housing work group, and AARP has done a great deal of research on the topic themselves - not just at the cost of housing but the type of housing available.
  • Cantwell talks the "missing middle" defined as the "range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living." According to Cantwell, that "middle" housing lets people age in place.
  • In AARP's latest national housing preferences survey, they polled both younger and older adults, 18 and up. The results surprisingly showed that older adults have very similar needs to millenials.
  • According to Cantwell, older adults are realizing they may not be able to stay in their home but they want to stay in their community. They are likely to want something smaller, closer to public transportation and grocery stores.
  • According to Dr. Benson, Grow Smarter views housing with a focus on economic development. Housing and home ownership is a pathway to wealth.
  • Grow Smarter is looking at citywide zoning and land use changes that could encourage inclusive growth. With booming economy in Tampa Bay, how do we ensure that the residents that have been here a long time can still afford their houses and stay in their homes while still attracting people to the area.
  • Transportation is another shared hot issue: Complete Streets and increased public transportation battle social isolation in adults of every age, especially seniors.
  • Challenges: Grow Smarter - helping community members and business partners to understand what Grow Smarter is and that it’s owned by St. Petersburg itself.
  • Challenges: AARP - communication, there are so many programs and services available. How do we package them so that people know they exist?
  • AARP has been encouraging innovation in the caregiving space for three years now. Their Caregiver Accelerator program holds pitch competitions to get innovative ideas about how technology can play a role with helping people age in place, telemedicine, and caregiving.
  • Target Job Sectors of Grow Smarter: Marine and Life Science (and their convergence), FinTech, Creative Arts and Design, Data Analytics, Specialized Manufacturing.
  • Grow Smarter will kick off their new workgroups in April. Since last fall's summit, Grow Smarter has been building up a 2.0 plan with the help of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.
  • Dr. Keesha Benson: "I was born and raised in St. Petersburg and I've been gone for 20 years. Doing the work I love in the city I love is really important to me."
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About the host

Alison Barlow is the Executive Director of the St. Petersburg Innovation District. Her role is to harness expertise in health science, marine science, education, and art to form unique collaborations. These multi-sector, cross discipline collaborations strive to identify innovative solutions that will grow the economic and social vibrancy of St. Petersburg and address key global issues. Alison grew up in St. Petersburg, graduated from Boca Ciega High School, received a Bachelors in Hospitality Administration from Florida State University, and later a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Management of Global Information Systems from American University in Washington D.C. For 17 years, Alison worked as a business and technology consultant based in Washington DC, often for the Department of Defense. She focused on strategic planning, process improvement and technology collaboration. Following her relocation back to St. Petersburg, Alison became the manager and a lead facilitator for Collaborative Labs at St. Petersburg College. Alison joined the St. Petersburg Innovation District as its inaugural Executive Director in June of 2017. In addition to her work, Alison is involved with the Leadership St. Petersburg Alumni Association, Friends of Strays Animal Shelter Board, and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce.


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