KnightBlog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Communities
Mar 31, 2015

32 civic innovators receive $5 million in funding in first Knight Cities Challenge

Posted by Carol Coletta

Civic innovators from across the country, including the Knight communities, helped review more than 7,000 applications for the first Knight Cities Challenge.

Just six months ago, we launched the first Knight Cities Challenge. It attracted more than 7,000 applications, and we were, at once, thrilled and overwhelmed – thrilled because there are so many people who want to test their ideas for making their cities more successful, but overwhelmed by the number of good ideas submitted. 

We are so grateful to everyone who shared their ideas with us.

After a lot – and I mean a lot – of reading by our national panel of reviewers, we chose 126 finalists. Today, we are proud to congratulate 32 civic innovators who will share in $5 million in funding.

Each Knight Foundation resident community, places where program directors guide our work, had at least one winner: Akron, Ohio; Charlotte, N.C.; Detroit; Macon, Ga.; Miami; Philadelphia; St. Paul, Minn.; and San Jose, Calif. They are joined by four nonresident Knight communities: Bradenton, Fla.; Columbus, Ga.; Gary, Ind.; and Lexington, Ky.

The awards reflect big ideas of all sizes; the median grant is $124,300. The largest grant goes to a project from Gary. Rebuild Foundation receives $650,000 for its “ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen” idea, which will repurpose a vacant space as a culinary incubator and café. The smallest grant goes to another big idea, this one from the Central Roxborough Civic Association in Philadelphia for a “Neighborhood Conservation Kit,” to help residents take hold of the future of their communities and create a special zoning designation.

Several themes emerged among the winning applications, which all sought to accelerate talent, opportunity or engagement—the three primary drivers of city success—in some way. “Bringing life back to public and vacant space” was the theme of our largest category of winners, representing almost a third of the group. The second largest category was “changing the stories people tell about their cities” with almost 20 percent. Three more themes each represented 13 percent of the winning ideas: “reimagining the civic commons,” “retaining talent” and “promoting civic engagement.” A full list of the winners appears below.

We can’t wait to see what the Knight Cities Challenge winners will do for their cities. We expect to learn from their efforts in ways that will inform our future grantmaking.

Watch for the launch of the second Knight Cities Challenge later this year. Meanwhile, you can keep track of the conversation around civic innovation by listening to our “Knight Cities” podcast, which is posted every Wednesday, or by following us on Twitter at #knightcities or @knightfdn.

Carol Coletta is vice president of community and national initiatives at Knight Foundation. Follow her on Twitter @ccoletta.

2015 Knight Cities Challenge Winners

Akron, Ohio

Better Block International Hostel on AirBnB, $155,000 by Team Better Block (Submitted by Jason Roberts): Turning a vacant property into an AirBnB hostel and cultural hub in Akron’s North Hill to tap the entrepreneurial potential of the neighborhood’s growing Bhutanese population.

Unbox Akron, $52,168 (Submitted by Chris Horne): Fostering a stronger connection to the city by creating a subscription service that celebrates Akron with a monthly selection of local goods and experiences delivered in a box. 

Bradenton, Fla.

ReuseReCONNECT, $90,140 by Realize Bradenton (Submitted by Morgan Bettes): Engaging millennials in Bradenton by experimenting with pop-up events that temporarily transform outdoor spaces into places for conversations on local topics.

Charlotte, N.C.

No Barriers Project, $67,100 (Submitted by Sarah Hazel): Bringing two diverse neighborhoods together in a public park that sits on their border by creating a new common space that uses light, sound and play to stimulate conversation.

“Porch” Swings in Public Places, $28,000 (Submitted by Tom Warshauer): Fostering conversation among strangers by installing Charlotte’s signature porch swings in public spaces.

Take Ten Initiative, $74,000 (Submitted by Alyssa Dodd): Challenging municipal workers to take 10 minutes each week to connect with a city resident and report on their thoughts and ideas.

Columbus, Ga.

Minimum Grid: Maximum Impact, $199,195 by MidTown Inc. (Submitted by Anne King): Establishing a comprehensive network of bicycle and pedestrian connections among the entertainment and business district of Uptown and the 24 diverse neighborhoods of MidTown.

Detroit

RE:Brand Detroit: Innovating Detroit Neighborhoods , $164,810 by Brand Camp University (Submitted by Hajj Flemings): Changing the narrative of underserved neighborhoods by developing compelling branding and digital presences for neighborhood businesses that better tell their stories.

Brick + Beam Detroit, $87,424 by Michigan Historic Preservation Network (Submitted by Emilie Evans): Creating a new community of Detroit rehabbers who will work together to combat blight, reactivate vacant buildings and improve their city.

The Buzz, $84,055 by Detroit Future City (Submitted by Erin Kelly): Pairing barbers with landscape contractors to transform overgrown vacant lots through facilitated design workshops that teach mowing and pattern-making techniques.

Detroit Homecoming, $100,000 by Crain’s Detroit Business (Submitted by Eric Cedo): Engaging Detroit expats with a new digital community designed to keep them connected to Detroit and its opportunities.

LIVE Detroit, $40,000 by LIVE Detroit (Submitted by Rachel Perschetz): Attracting and retaining residents by creating a center for information about Detroit neighborhoods and city life that showcases the best of Detroit. 

Gary, Ind.

ArtHouse: a Social Kitchen, $650,000 by Rebuild Foundation (submitted by Lori Berko): Repurposing a vacant space in downtown Gary as a culinary incubator and café designed to reinvigorate downtown while creating jobs and opportunities for residents.

Lexington, Ky.

Northside Common Market, $550,000 by North Limestone Community Development Corp. (Submitted by Richard Young): Repurposing a vacant bus station into a market for locally grown food and locally made goods and a creative business incubator that will serve as a neighborhood hub.

Macon, Ga.

Operation Export Macon, $75,000 by College Hill Alliance (Submitted by Joshua Lovett): Fostering city pride and helping attract newcomers to Macon by sending one man in a roaming trailer to nearby cities, to showcase the city’s best food, goods and experiences.

Macon Civic Spaces, $124,300 (submitted by Geoffrey Boyd): Creating an umbrella organization to bring together individual park volunteer groups to create a network of advocates, interested in improving and maintaining local parks as vibrant community engagement venues.

Miami

The Science Barge, $298,633 by CappSci (Submitted by Nathalie Manzano-Smith): Creating a public focal point for Miami’s climate issues with the Science Barge, a floating, urban sustainable farm and environmental education center powered by renewable energy.

Multiple communities

The Urban “Consulate,” $150,000 (Submitted by Claire Nelson): Promoting cross-city cultural and civic exchange by setting up a network of new “consulates” initially located in Detroit, Philadelphia and New Orleans that offer events and an entrée into local culture.

The Swings: An Exercise in Musical Cooperation, $325,000 by DailyTousLesJours (Submitted by Mouna Andraos): Bringing people together to connect and engage in four Knight resident cities (Charlotte, Macon, Philadelphia and San Jose) with a musical swings installation that plays music when used and more complex melodies when people collaborate to use them together.

Philadelphia

The Pop-Up Pool Project, $297,000 by Group Melvin Design (Submitted by Benjamin Bryant): Introducing fun, easy solutions at city pools, which will be designed to make them more vibrant places to meet and interact with neighbors and friends.

South Philly's Stoop, $146,960 by Scout (Submitted by Lindsey Scannapieco): Transforming the vacant space surrounding the recently closed, historic Edward Bok school in South Philadelphia into a new community living room that brings community members together, encourages connections and engages people with neighborhood history.

Urban Arboreta, $65,000 by City Parks Association of Philadelphia (Submitted by Timothy Baird): Transforming vacant land in Philadelphia into urban forests that produce trees to be replanted on city streets and in parks.

Next Stop: Democracy! The Voting Signage Project, $166,394 by Here’s My Chance (Submitted by Lansie Sylvia): Making voting in local elections more enticing by creating new types of signs at polling places and commissioning artists to perform site-specific pieces on election days.

Neighborhood Conservation Kit, $20,000 by Central Roxborough Civic Association (Submitted by Sandy Sorlien): Putting the future of communities in residents’ hands with a toolkit they can use to create a special zoning designation called a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay.

Philadelphia Immigrant Innovation Hub, $261,500 by Mt. Airy USA (Submitted by Anuj Gupta): Harnessing the talent and energy of immigrants to revitalize distressed neighborhoods by providing centers that would offer immigrant entrepreneurs low-cost space, language assistance, workshops and trainings, and access to traditional and non-traditional sources of capital.

DIG Philly by The Big SandBox Inc., $149,050 (Submitted by Jacques Gaffigan): Bringing together members of the community from diverse ages, ethnic and economic groups to create a movement to reinvent schoolyards across the city using traditional grassroots outreach and new digital engagement tools.

San Jose, Calif.

Houslets, $40,000 by Houslets (Submitted by Tim McCormick): Prototyping and deploying low-cost, modular housing and workspace units to test a new model for temporary and affordable housing for San Jose’s fast-growing population.

San Pedro Squared, $139,000 by San Jose Downtown Association (Submitted by Scott Knies): Testing a new method of economic revival focused on bringing activity to the streets by installing pop-up retail units on the ground floor of a parking structure opposite the lively San Pedro Square market.

St Paul, Minn.

4 Play, $117,000 by Greater MSP (Submitted by Peter Frosch): Changing the way people perceive the city and its climate by inviting all residents to come together for an outdoor activity—whether it’s ice fishing or summer canoeing—once per season.

8-80 Vitality Fellow, $175,000 by Mayor’s Office, City of St. Paul (Submitted by Mayor Chris Coleman): Promoting a more livable St. Paul by embedding a fellow in the mayor’s office who will work across departments to manage the $42 million committed to the mayor’s 8-80 Vitality Fund, which aims to ensure that walking, biking and public spaces are a priority in all city projects.

MN Nice Breakers, $37,960 (Submitted by Jun-Li Wang): Making the city more welcoming by using existing events to help newcomers quickly establish social networks that attach them to the city.

Rolling Out the Warm Welcome Hat, $67,288 (Submitted by Jun-Li Wang): Welcoming newcomers by having city leaders hold monthly ceremonies to give them an official welcome gift, a warm hat for Minnesota winters.

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