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Remembering Jeremy Nowak

July 28, 2019

In the year following the untimely passing of Distinguished Visiting Fellow Jeremy Nowak, we at the Lindy Institute continue to miss his incredible vigor, humor and humanity, and especially his fearless approach to urban challenges. We are fortunate to have benefited from his wisdom, and recognize the anniversary of his death with the below remembrances from the Lindy Institute Urban Innovation Fellows, who were grateful recipients of his mentorship: 

Priya Mammen

Priya E. Mammen, MD, MPH

I stood in front of a room full of people - ranging from students to professionals, academics to consultants, public and private sectors and everything in between. Behind me was the screen of slides illustrating my ideas, to my left was a panel of experts who were primed to chime in and guide. This was the culmination of a two day summit for the Lindy Institute Urban Innovation Fellowship. Three of us were selected as Fellows based on our ideas to tackle unique urban issues in Philadelphia. My proposal focused on capitalizing on the role and reach of the urban Emergency Department as a tool of health equity and urban resilience. With the example of the opioid crisis in our midst, I made the argument for EDs to be seen as critical partners in addressing the needs of a community and city as a whole. 

I finished my presentation to applause and some blank stares, including from the panel of experts. The questions and comments that followed further clarified the fundamental error I made in assuming that anyone could imagine what we see and do in Emergency Departments every day. It was clear few if any in the room had any idea of the basic context of my idea and yet felt compelled and secure in the judgments they passed and the questions they posed. Except for one. Sitting front and center, Jeremy Nowak vigorously shook his head in affirmation, clapped, and gave me an emphatic thumbs up sign as final punctuation. Unlike the others, Jeremy joined my discussion group earlier that day with the simple “I don’t know anything about your area of expertise, so thought I’d come and try and learn a little bit.” This is how our time together began. Read more...

Michael O'Bryan

Michael O'Bryan

 “Give yourself permission.” Those are words from Jeremy Nowak that have echoed like chimes in my soul ever since he first shared them with me. He would use that phrase many more times over our nine months together, each time getting more and more specific. “Give yourself permission to be...” successful, to make money, to be wrong, to increase your impact....

My project focused on workforce development and the seemingly intractable issue of income access for the city’s most economically marginalized populations. I approached the subject matter as a novice researcher with a considerable amount of on the ground work, both within and alongside communities impacted by the poverty epidemic and years of planned disinvestment. In October of 2017, the kickoff for the inaugural Urban Innovation Fellowship, I delivered a presentation to a room of experts from varying disciplines relevant to my subjects of interest. Only one expert in the room though had chaired the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and literally scared the daylights out of me. Not because his presence was intimidating or mean but because I knew he’d be able to sniff out any fraudulent or half-baked ideas. Read more...

Chris Spahr

Chris Spahr

Jeremy Nowak, an inspirational force in the city of Philadelphia, also became an inspirational force in my life during the short time that I knew him. As a Lindy Institute Urban Innovation Fellow, I had the great honor of calling Jeremy my mentor for nine months. My meetings with Jeremy were a practice in determining how to be in the same room with my strongest critic and biggest champion at the same time. Jeremy had a knack for questioning my thought process. While he always respected my opinion, he also knew that there were multiple ways to address the critical urban challenges of our day. Coming from someone for whom creativity is not natural, Jeremy’s ability to force out of the box thinking is the quality I most appreciated.

As I adjusted to Jeremy’s style of mentorship, I also became one of his biggest fans.  I could usually be found in the audience at his speaking engagements when on a promotional tour for the New Localism with Bruce Katz. During these times, I learned a lot, but mostly I laughed my sides out. Jeremy’s speaking style, a mix of stand-up comedy and professorial teaching, was so candid and peppered with humor that I often did not realize how much knowledge I was consuming. Read more...

Drexel honored Jeremy's legacy in 2018 by creating the Nowak Metro Finance Lab, an initiative he conceived of to explore ways of financing what he called the inclusive city — in other words, a metropolitan area that works for all its residents. The lab’s founding director is Bruce Katz, Jeremy’s friend and co-author of their book, The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism.