Knight Cities Challenge awards $5 million for ideas to make cities more successful

Press Release

April 12, 2016


MIAMI — April 12, 2016 — The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced that 37 innovative projects will share $5 million as winners of the Knight Cities Challenge. Each of the ideas centers on helping cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunities and create a culture of civic engagement.

Related Link

"37 Knight Cities Challenge winners will share $5 million in funding" by George Abbott on Knight Blog, 4/12/2016

The challenge attracted more than 4,500 ideas to make the 26 communities where Knight invests more vibrant places to live and work. It asked innovators of all kinds to answer the question: What’s your best idea to make cities more successful?

The 37 winners proposed a host of ideas, from exploring Detroit’s untold history through monthly bike tours that blend storytelling with neighborhood discovery to using hip-hop to provide hands-on business training to members of low-income groups in Philadelphia, from developing a toolkit to create temporary pop-up social spaces at voting polls in Long Beach to creating a new cultural hub in West Palm Beach’s Northwest Historic District.

“At its core, the Knight Cities Challenge is about discovering and connecting civic innovators, creative interventionists who inspire positive change,” said Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president. “The winners reflect this goal. Their ideas have the potential to create stronger communities and spaces that spur learning, engagement and growth.”

Open to any individual, business, government or nonprofit, the Knight Cities Challenge has just two rules: (1) A submission may come from anywhere, but the project must take place in or benefit one or more of the 26 communities where Knight invests and (2) the idea should focus on one or more of three drivers of city success: Talent: Ideas that help cities attract and keep talented people; Opportunity: Ideas that create economic prospects by breaking down divides and making new connections; Engagement: Ideas that spur connection and civic involvement.

Winning projects are based in 19 of the 26 communities where Knight invests including: Akron, Ohio; Boulder, Colo.; Columbus, Ga.; Charlotte, N.C.; Detroit; Gary, Ind.; Ft. Wayne, Ind.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Lexington, Ky.; Macon, Ga.; Long Beach, Calif.; Miami; Milledgeville, Ga.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; Philadelphia; St. Paul, Minn.; San Jose, Calif; State College, Pa; and Tallahassee, Fla.

The list of winners is below and at:

The challenge launched in October 2015. Finalists were announced in January.

This is the second year of the Knight Cities Challenge. In March 2015 Knight announced 32 winners of the inaugural Knight Cities Challenge. The 2015 challenge winners have created innovative solutions aimed at connecting people of all backgrounds and incomes, inviting people into active civic engagement and helping keep and attract talented people in their communities. They include: the Pop-Up Pool Project, which reimagines Philadelphia’s city pools as neighborhood assets that attract a broad range of people of all incomes and backgrounds; Re:Brand Detroit, which aims to spark reinvestment in Detroit’s neighborhoods through entrepreneurship; and Minimum Grid Maximum Impact, which improves neighborhood life by creating a network of bike and pedestrian connections between Midtown and Uptown Columbus, Ga.

The challenge will reopen for submissions in fall 2016.

For more on the Knight Cities Challenge, visit and For information and updates follow @knightfdn and #knightcities on Twitter.


Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646, [email protected].


2016 Knight Cities Challenge Winners

Akron, Ohio

Cuyahoga Explore-a-foot by Brian and Tracy Davis | $70,000 

Encouraging visitors to explore remote regions of Cuyahoga Valley National Park by providing services and amenities, such as help with travel arrangements and baggage transport, that make it more accessible.

Downtown Akron Innerbelt Bicycle Park by Jonathan Morschl | $120,000

Providing new life for an abandoned section of the highway by creating a “bicycle park” that promotes cycling, encourages new riders and attracts cyclists from throughout the region and nation.

Boulder, Colo.

Tree Debris to Opportunity by the city of Boulder | $200,000 | submitted by Yvette Bowden

Expanding economic opportunity for members of the community in need of new skills and careers by training them to turn debris from infested and diseased trees into furniture and art.

Charlotte, N.C.

CrownTownHall by the city of Charlotte | $85,000 | submitted by Jason Lawrence

Helping residents more easily connect with their local government and get involved with civic issues through pop-up events where they can meet elected officials, sign up for city services, and review area planning efforts.

Can Do Signs by the city of Charlotte | $27,900 | submitted by Sarah Hazel

Rethinking municipal signs that typically tell people “what not to do,” to spur fun, imagination and positivity throughout Charlotte; the project will create signs that provide amusing, enchanting, fun options: You can dance! You can sing! You can skip!

Queen City Quiz Show by Charlotte Is Creative | $85,000 | submitted by Tim Miner and Matt Olin

Creating a mobile quiz show that will team local musicians and artists with cultural groups to entertain, enlighten and challenge diverse communities with questions about the city from the trivial to the pertinent and controversial.

Columbus, Ga.

Evolving MidTown: Lot by Lot by the Incremental Development Alliance | $174,400 | submitted by Jim Kumon

Recruiting and training a diverse group of individuals on skills to become small-scale developers; participants will use distressed or underused lots as beta projects and receive access to investors and other resources.

Urban Glen | $4,000 | by the city of Columbus submitted by Phillip Trocquet

Creating “urban glens”—inviting spaces with trees, lights and hammocks—on vacant and overgrown lots to encourage people to meet and connect, while cleaning up city-owned properties.


Pedal to Porch by Cornetta Lane | $30,000

Exploring Detroit’s untold history through monthly bike tours leading participants through different areas of the city and giving residents a chance to tell the story of their neighborhoods.

Dequindre Cut Market by the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy | $135,665 | submitted by Mark Wallace

Creating spaces for entrepreneurs to set up shop along the Dequindre Cut with shipping container pop-up shops that will add to the vibrancy of the neighborhood and attract new interest.

Detroit’s Pink Zone by the city of Detroit | $75,000 | submitted by Maurice D. Cox

Creating new opportunities for jobs and businesses by developing a new tool to streamline city development regulations and engaging design talent and developers to help reshape commercial districts.

Give a Park, Get a Park by the city of Detroit | $75,000 | submitted by Maurice D. Cox

Creating sustainable microparks in Detroit neighborhoods that are designed in response to community needs, require few resources and are easy to maintain.

Sensors in a Shoebox by the University of Michigan | $138,339 | submitted by Elizabeth Birr Moje and Jerome Lynch

Training youth to use sensors and data analytics that track environmental conditions such as traffic, noise or temperature in city neighborhoods; the project will help students answer questions about their community and build ideas to make it better.

The People First Project by Chad Rochkind | $184,080

Creating a network of tactical urbanists who collectively select a single urban challenge each year on which to focus quick, low-cost, creative improvements.

Ft. Wayne, Ind.

Tired-a-lot by Bridge of Grace Compassionate Ministries | $95,434 | submitted by Réna Bradley

Creating a design studio that will engage local youth to identify and create solutions to transform vacant lots in their neighborhood with low-cost materials.

Gary, Ind.

Steel City Salvage by Delta Institute | $385,000 | submitted by Eve Pytel

Establishing a reuse facility that would reclaim building materials, such as lumber, from vacant homes in Gary to contribute to economic growth, create jobs and support businesses, and provide opportunities for community collaboration on development projects.

Grand Forks, N.D.

New Flavors Food Truck by Pete Haga | $106,800

Offering new American residents access to a generic food truck and the equipment they need to start their own food service business or restaurant.

Lexington, Ky.

Phoenix Forward by the Lexington Public Library | $150,200 | submitted by Anne Donworth

Transforming Phoenix Park and Central Library into a place where children and families from diverse backgrounds can learn and play together; the project would involve complementary park and library programming and activities for families.

Parking Lot Diaries by the Lexington Downtown Development Authority | $87,200 | submitted by Jeff Fugate

Creating a living civic engagement lab in an underused area next to the Transit Center that tests and tracks temporary interventions and activities designed to add vibrancy to the area; the project will contribute to the city’s Town Branch Commons plan.

Long Beach, Calif.

Placemake the Vote by City Fabrick | $153,600 | submitted by Brian Ulaszewski

Developing a kit for creating temporary pop-up social spaces at voting polls in historically low voter turnout areas to encourage people to vote and provide venues to celebrate democracy afterwards.

The Outdoor Office by the city of Long Beach | $300,000 | submitted by Rachael Tanner

Transforming a portion of a public park into a space that encourages creativity, collaboration and productivity, and encourages residents to take work to the park.

Macon, Ga.

Pop-up Minimum Grid by NewTown Macon, The Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority and Macon-Bibb Government Department of Parks and Beautification | $151,900 | submitted by Josh Rogers

Creating a pop-up minimum grid that would allow citizens to explore their city safely on foot or on bicycles; the project would expand a trail system from the river to downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods.


Biscayne Green by the Miami Downtown Development Authority | $145,000 | submitted by Fabian de la Espriella

Creating a pop-up park and urban forest along Biscayne Boulevard to drive momentum for “Biscayne Green,” a proposal to redesign Biscayne Boulevard to include a pedestrian promenade.

Miami Civic User Testing Group by Code for Miami | $100,000  | submitted by Rebekah Monson

Ensuring that people building local government technology use real-world feedback throughout the development process by creating a user testing group that will identify user experience issues more quickly, while making websites and apps more accessible.

The Underline: Brickell Backyard by Friends of the Underline | $250,000 | submitted by Meg Daly

Creating a sports field and gym as part of The Underline, a proposed 10-mile linear park underneath the Miami-Dade Metrorail, to provide quality of life incentives to talented young adults.

Milledgeville, Ga.

The Democracy Lab by the Twin Lakes Library System | $25,000 | submitted by Stephen Houser

Creating a shared space in downtown Milledgeville, located next to City Hall and near a makerspace and a library, that will foster civic engagement through public events, meetings that gather residents and leaders to problem-solve, and resources that better connect civic institutions.

Palm Beach County, Fla.

The Sunset Rises Again by West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency | $171,650 | submitted by Jon Ward

Creating a new cultural destination in the Historic Northwest District of West Palm Beach on the site of the Sunset Lounge, a former prominent jazz club and surrounding land.


20 Book Clubs, 20 Co-op Businesses by Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance | $146,000 | submitted by Caitlin Quigley

Increasing civic engagement and economic opportunity by launching book clubs in 20 Philadelphia neighborhoods for participants to study cooperative businesses and then form their own.

Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers by Reading Terminal Market | $84,674 | submitted by Anuj Gupta

Building cultural bridges to Philadelphia’s immigrant communities with cooking classes celebrating ethnic food operated by chefs from Reading Terminal Market.

The Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship by Little Giant Creative | $308,640 | submitted by Tayyib Smith

Increasing economic opportunity by using hip-hop to provide hands-on business training to members of low-income groups.

The Little Music Studio by Group Melvin Design | $334,050 | submitted by Ben Bryant

Breaking down community barriers with The Little Music Studio, a traveling playground for musicians.

San Jose, Calif.

Post Street Night Market by Justin Triano | $100,000

Expanding economic opportunity with a recurring night market that features local crafts, food and entertainment.

The MayFeria by Mexican Heritage Plaza | $125,000 | submitted by Tamara Alvarado

Increasing civic engagement and expanding economic opportunity in San Jose’s Mayfair neighborhood with The MayFeria, which will consist of folk life events, a community task force, and a coordinator to help identify and make better use of cultural and civic assets.

State College, Pa.

Community Collaborative Ice Luminary Project by The Make Space | $51,450 | submitted by John Stitzinger

Increasing civic engagement through a maker event that encourages residents to make ice luminaries, share the mold for the luminaries with their neighbors, and set a record by lighting up the town.

St. Paul, Minn.

I’m Going to Vote Today by Aaron Sackett and Christopher Bryan | $170,275

Testing a new way to increase participation in local elections by distributing stickers that read “I'm Going to Vote Today” to eligible voters to wear on Election Day.

Front Lawn Placemaking Platform by The Musicant Group | $82,400 | submitted by Max Musicant

Transforming front lawns from empty expanses of grass to vibrant places full of life through the development of a toolkit that encourages residents to create community hubs on their doorsteps.

Tallahassee, Fla.

The Longest Table by the city of Tallahassee | $57,250 | submitted by Michael Alfano

Building cross-community relationships with an expanded series of community conversations over meals in 100 homes.


About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when  people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit