Count another funding boost for the tactical urbanism movement. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced the winners of the first Knight Cities Challenge today — with money going to innovators who hope to make a big community impact with one creative idea.
The projects include a program to train Detroit rehabbers to combat blight and reactivate vacant buildings, a subscription service that celebrates Akron with a monthly boxed selection of local goods, a newcomer welcome initiative that would present St. Paul newcomers with a warm winter hat, and porch swings for Charlotte’s public spaces.
“Not only did the Knight Cities Challenge uncover a wealth of new ideas to make our cities more successful, it will help strengthen a network of civic innovators who are taking hold of the future of their cities,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives. “These important connections will help create a pipeline for new approaches to city transformation and spark the type of collaboration vital to growing and spreading good ideas.”
Thirty-two of the 126 proposed projects will share the $5 million prize to make their visions a reality. Participants ranged from individuals, government and nonprofit groups, all looking to improve one of 26 target communities.
From the press release, here are some of the winners, from seven of the Knight cities:
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.
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.
Brand Camp: Detroit’s Neighborhood Initiative, The RE-Effect, $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.
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.
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.
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, Minnesota
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.
You can find the complete list of winners here.
Jenn Stanley is a freelance journalist, essayist and independent producer living in Chicago. She has an M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.