“Yellooo!” Josh Nims, 38, said as he picked up the phone.
It’s not the sort of familiarity one might expect from an alumnus of the Beasley School of Law, but maybe it’s all the fresh air he’s been getting.
Nims, 38, is a cofounder of Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund, an organization created with the goal of building free, public skate parks within a 10-minute walking radius of all young skaters. Nims also serves as the operations manager for the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, where he spends most of his time on the trails around the art museum, overseeing cleanup and maintenance.
Both jobs keep him out of an office and elbow-deep in the community – an engagement that has not gone unnoticed.
In addition, Nims is one of 19 speakers nominated to headline the TEDxPhiladelphia conference hosted at Temple’s Performing Arts Center on March 28 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
TED, a nonprofit organization committed to “ideas worth sharing,” is best known for its biannual conferences, which feature a host of notable speakers. Past highlights have included Bill Gates, Jane Goodall and author Isabel Allende. Each conference is comprised of a collection of 18-minute speeches delivered on topics of varying disciplines. TED’s intention is simple: to spread innovative ideas that spur fresh conversations.
TEDx is the independent version of this event. Scaled down to a localized level, TEDx brings together some of the city’s greatest doers and thinkers to discuss their involvement within the Philadelphia area.
At TEDxPhiladelphia’s third conference, the 2014 talk will take a look at Philadelphia through a novel lens: its up-and-coming status as “The New Workshop of the World.”
Emaleigh Doley, producer and co-organizer for TEDxPhiladelphia, said in a press release that this year’s theme was inspired by two questions: “What attributes made Philadelphia so resilient during its industrial heyday? And could those attributes be the key to its economic and social future?”
To answer these, Nims plans to use his skateboard as a jumping-off point.
A passionate skateboarder since he was 7 years old, Nims is well-versed in the bad reputation that urban skateboarders have become accustomed to.
“Whether you have a law degree or whether you’re someone who bags groceries, you’re going to be hassled by the police,” Nims said.
In his final years at Beasley School of Law, the severity of increased fines for skateboarders without a skate park to call their own drew Nims to become a champion for the issue.
“There was just a day in my third year of law school where one of my friends whispered to me that there was a hearing going on in City Hall about skateboarding being legal and was like, ‘You should go.’ So I went and I never looked back.”
Nims no longer practices law. Instead, he gives educated advice as a consultant about skateboarding and city planning, along with managing the day-to-day operations of his Schuylkill River trail. However, he said he considers his law education invaluable.
“It made me ready to want to help people out and want to use the system to do the right thing,” Nims said.
For Nims, this is what the issues with skateboarding are all about.
“It’s young people who have found an outlet for themselves physically,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we support this?”
This passion for doing right by his community is the platform Nims will use for his TEDx talk this Friday.
“Skateboarding symbolizes Philadelphia’s 21st-century government,” Nims said. “In the 20th century, we worried about, ‘Oh gosh, they’re skating at Love Park and people are disturbed while they’re eating their lunches. What can we do?’’
Nims admitted that while these worrisome undertones still exist, “there is also more backing from city government for supporting this culture.”
This rejuvenated involvement in city planning and government function is what’s bringing people back to Philadelphia and what can support its growing status as “The New Workshop of the World.”
“The city needs people to live here, so it better be cool and it better be awesome,” Nims said. “And if it’s not awesome, they’re going to go somewhere that is. Philadelphia has become exponentially more awesome in the last 10 years. Skateboarding symbolizes that transition from dodgy, just-can’t-get-it-done 20th-century Philadelphia to looking to the future, to growing and to creating.”
Suzannah Cavanaugh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.