Launch a floating, sustainable farm in Miami’s waters. Invite artists to treat Charlotte bike lanes like blank canvases. Watch fixed benches evolve in public spaces in Columbus, Ga. Offer a new urban babysitting service that aims to get people out in downtown Akron. Pair barbers with landscape contractors to transform overgrown vacant lots in Detroit. Build warming stations where Philadelphians can build community in the chilly winter months.
These are just some of the 126 big-dreaming, city-changing ideas that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced today as finalists in its first Knight Cities Challenge. The foundation says it received more than 7,000 submissions describing visions that would benefit its 26 target communities (all places where the Knight family has run newspapers) from individuals, government (even mayors), and nonprofit groups looking for a slice of funding from the $5 million total prize.
“The challenge has introduced us to a host of new ideas and people who want to take hold of the future of their cities,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives, in a press release. “Through these new connections we hope to grow a network of civic innovators to take on community challenges and build solutions together.”
Though Knight communities range from big to small, the proposals highlight many of the challenges facing urban America today. The word “vacant” appears in 18 of them. Several deal with schools and education. Finalist and former Next City Vanguard Lindsey Scannapieco submitted “South Philly’s Stoop,” envisioning a community living room around a closed Philadelphia school that her firm has been hired to redevelop.
Current trends are also reflected in the ideas: The words “pop-up” and “mobile” appear frequently; parks, food and community gardens play a prominent role. There’s more than one wish to make bus stops more enticing.
There are plenty of nods to longstanding city traditions too. Many ideas center around gathering in public spaces. The City of Charlotte and the region’s transit authority proposed an ambitious citywide festival to bring “together the diverse fabric of neighborhoods, business centers and hidden gems … that would use bike-share programs, transit and walking to encourage people to move between venues.”
From the press release, here are some of the innovative finalist ideas from cities around the U.S.
• Better Block International Hostel and AirBnB by Team Better Block (Submitted by Jason Roberts): Strengthening the city’s sense of place by turning a vacant property into a cultural hub and hostel centered on a specific immigrant population.
• Downtown Babysitters (Submitted by Kurtiss Hare): Creating a new urban babysitting service in Akron to serve the needs of young talent and encourage more activity in Akron’s downtown core.
• 21st Century Office Access in Charlotte and Beyond by Charlotte Center City Partners (Submitted by Allison Billings): Opening up underused office space in the city to startups and small-scale entrepreneurs through an online platform and creating a model for a business space cooperative that would give companies the flexibility to expand to untested markets or to grow or shrink their workforce according to demand.
• Art on the Asphalt (Submitted by Francene Greene): Redesigning bike lanes as blank canvases for local artists to create visuals that depict Charlotte life, history and diverse culture.
• “Porch” Swings in Public Places by City of Charlotte (Submitted by Tom Warshauer): Installing porch swings at bus stops and in other public spaces to encourage community interaction and use of public spaces.
• Take Ten Initiative by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, City of Charlotte (Submitted by Alyssa Dodd): Bringing people together by challenging municipal workers to take 10 minutes every week to connect with a new city resident and ask for their feedback.
• Death of the Bench (Submitted by Brian Phelps): Replacing fixed benches in public spaces with mobile tables and chairs that can be arranged in multiple configurations and monitored by sensors in real time to improve community engagement.
• Brand Camp Pop-Up: School Branding Businesses in Detroit Neighborhoods by Brand Camp University (Submitted by Hajj Flemings): Assisting startups and entrepreneurs in underserved neighborhoods with branding their companies and ideas through a multi-day training and mentoring program that helps them tell their stories and establish a digital presence.
• The Buzz 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.
• Information Supergreenway by Detroit RiverFront Conservancy (Submitted by Jan Shimshock): Providing continuous public WiFi along Detroit’s RiverWalk, Dequindre Cut and Eastern Market to break down digital divides, connect neighborhoods and support area entrepreneurs.
• Why Would Anyone Want to Live in Detroit by LIVE Detroit (Submitted by Rachel Perschetz): Attracting and keeping talent in Detroit by creating a one-stop shop for information about neighborhoods and living in the city.
• Soul Food Restaurant Incubator by University of Chicago (Submitted by Carol Brown): Repurposing a vacant former restaurant into a soul food incubator that creates jobs, stimulates entrepreneurship and establishes an anchor institution for downtown revitalization.
• WorldWall (Submitted by Dave Anderson): Creating a giant, all-weather video wall that allows two-way, real-time interactions between citizens from across communities and the globe.
Long Beach, Calif.
• Living Walls by Nostrum Inc. (Submitted by Susan Collida): Enlivening blank neighborhood walls by mobilizing residents to collaborate and create community assets around the walls, such as vertical gardens, rock climbing, film screens or visual art.
• Guagua App (Submitted by Armando Ibarra): Creating a single platform for private jitneys and minibuses to provide inexpensive, on-demand, door-to-door transportation that fills substantial gaps in the local transit system.
• Multimodal, Linear Park by loCl (Submitted by Malik Benjamin): Building a linear park along the Florida East Coast Railway from downtown to the Little River residential and business district.
• The Science Barge by CappSci (Submitted by Nathalie Manzano-Smith): To promote sustainability by creating the Science Barge, a floating, urban sustainable farm and environmental education center powered by renewable energy.
• Every Street in Philadelphia (Submitted by Jacob Winterstein): Promoting livable cities by having an artist and a journalist cycle the city’s 2,600 miles of streets and engage residents in a multimedia conversation about how city design affects quality of life.
• Hygge Project (Submitted by Meghan Talarowski): Providing people the chance to interact in public spaces during the winter months by installing “Hygge” stations, a fleet of warming devices that unfold to offer seating, heat lamps, small libraries or blankets; each has its own offering.
• The Pop-Up Pool Project by Group Melvin Design (Submitted by Benjamin Bryant): Introducing fun, easy solutions to make the city’s free outdoor public pools more vibrant places to meet and interact with neighbors and friends. (Last year, Next City covered the vital role public pools play in Philadelphia.)
• South Philly’s Stoop 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.
San Jose, Calif.
• Knight Houses by Houslets (Submitted by Tim McCormick): Prototyping and deploying low-cost, modular, off-grid housing and workspace units to serve as civic building blocks to accommodate events, projects, creative space or the homeless.
• Local Government Fiscal Assessment Tool (Submitted by Peter Furman and former Mayor Chuck Reed): Increasing transparency by designing a suite of tools to open up city budgets and make them comprehensible to the average person.
• San Pedro Squared by San Jose Downtown Association (Submitted by Scott Knies): Transforming the ground floor of a parking lot in the San Pedro Square to build momentum around economic revival of the area by introducing ground floor retail to the garage.
St. Paul, Minn.
• 8-80 Vitality Fellow by Mayor’s Office, City of St. Paul (Submitted by Mayor Christopher Coleman): Promoting a livable St. Paul by embedding a fellow in the city who ensures that walking, biking and public spaces are a priority in all city projects.
See the complete list of finalists here. The winners will be announced this spring.