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Knight Cities Challenge announces finalists

Transforming bike paths left unused in the coldest months into skating paths snaking through Grand Forks, N.D. Opening a “busker booth” where street musicians can record their work in Long Beach, Calif. Creating “front porch” style gathering spaces in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Columbia, S.C.
 
These are among the 144 creative ideas for improving cities that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced as finalists of the third annual Knight Cities Challenge. More than 4,500 individuals, governments and nonprofit groups applied to receive a piece of the $5 million that will be awarded.
 
“The finalists use creativity and inventiveness to tackle community challenges and realize new opportunities, proposing ideas that are unique to their city, but also hold lessons and inspiration for civic innovators across the country,” George Abbott, Knight Foundation director for community and national initiatives, said in a press release.
 
Each of the proposals focuses on an idea for one or more of 26 target communities (all places where the Knight family has run newspapers). Past winners of the challenge have gone on to create a co-working hub for immigrant entrepreneurs in Philadelphia and a network of “urban consulates” across the U.S. where travelers and city-dwellers can connect and form a “cross-city exchange.”
 
This year, a number of projects are rooted in social justice, such as converting blighted city blocks or commercial spaces into urban parks, organizing spaces to discuss racial justice, and better engaging all members of the community about what they want to see out of city projects. Naturally for submissions written in a presidential election year, there are also projects that focus on bringing citizens’ voices to local government, and making voting or attending public meetings more fun. And once again, food-themed and pop-up projects are well represented, from parks to swimming pools to community art centers.
 
Here are some of the finalist ideas from six of the Knight communities.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Vending to Vibrancy: Ethnic Cuisine in the Park by Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association Coalition (submitted by Andy Toy): A new marketplace in Mifflin Square Park would feature cuisine from immigrant communities.
  • Philadelphia Mobile Design Lab by Office of Open Data and Technology (submitted by Liana Drogoman): A mobile participatory city design lab would travel across the city to give Philadelphians in different neighborhoods the opportunity to weigh in on how to improve city services.
  • Storyboarding Neighborhood Change (submitted by Andrew Jacobs): New murals at bus stops would map the surrounding neighborhoods to “provoke an open dialogue about neighborhood change.”
 
Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Neighborhood SparKit by City of Charlotte (submitted by Monica Carney Holmes): One way to motivate residents to turn up to a meeting? Turn it into a party. Inexpensive, ready-made kits would include everything needed to turn community events and meetings into outdoor movie nights, a pop-up playground, a Parisian bistro or more.
  • Early Voter Poll Party by City of Charlotte (submitted by John Short): Making heading to the polls more fun with food trucks and entertainment to boost voter turnout.
Lexington, Kentucky
  • That High Lonesome Data by the Office for Creative Research (submitted by A’yen Tran and the Office for Creative Research): Going back to Kentucky’s roots, this project would bring bluegrass musicians in Lexington together to “demystify civic data through song and performance.”
  • Booths to Bricks by National Main Street Center (submitted by Jodie Hiveley): A monthly night market could become a pipeline for entrepreneurs to open brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Build Up by NoLi CDC (submitted by Griffin VanMeter): A new neighborhood-owned hardware store would [offer] both job training and tools to physically spruce up the North Limestone neighborhood.
Detroit, Michigan
  • City Asset Map: Mapping Mobility in Motown by Detroit Experience Factory (submitted by Matt Chung): Mapping city cultural, education and mobility resources such as libraries, museums, bike lanes, parks and more.
  • Happy 18th Birthday! Local Citizenship Kit by CitizenDetroit (submitted by Sandra Stahl): On the day they become eligible to vote, Detroit residents would receive a “citizenship kit” in the mail.
Miami, Florida
  • OurSchoolYards (submitted by Wifredo Fernandez): Making school playgrounds and green spaces that sit vacant on weekends and summers open to the public.
San Jose, California
  • Local Color by Exhibition District (submitted by Erin Salazar): Vacant commercial sites would give way to a bazaar and studio and education space for local artists.
  • A Mobile Street Amenity Builder by Better Block Foundation (submitted by Jason Roberts): A mobile unit filled with tools and resources would improve public spaces all overs the city with projects such as benches, wayfinding signage, planters and bus stops.
 
See the complete list of finalists here. The winners will be announced this spring. Read more here.
 
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