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

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    Media Innovation

    Soofa benches signal steps toward smart cities

    July 29, 2015, 2:02 p.m., Posted by Alec Schwartzman

    Photo courtesy of Soofa.

    Most ordinary benches just sit in parks or alongside city streets, providing a space for people to rest and watch the world pass by. But what if those benches had a more profound purpose: to connect the people who use them to the surrounding environment.

    Soofa, a Knight Enterprise Fund portfolio company, has developed a smart, solar-powered bench with a plan to revolutionize how people, cities and businesses understand and interact with urban spaces.

    “The vision really is that you get easy access to city information, so you don’t have to look on your computer,” said Sandra Richter, the CEO of Soofa. “It is almost like a digital layer of the city. When you go online, you have cookies; the Internet is tailored to you. The city really is not. We want to make the city better on a personal level, but also on a governmental and global level in terms of impact.”

    In 2014, Richter and co-founders Nan Zhao and Jutta Friedrichs started working on Soofa at the MIT Media Lab, a Knight Foundation grantee. The founders discovered an opportunity to innovate based on their conversations with companies such as IBM and Cisco.

    “The reason why we started building the Soofa bench is because everybody kept talking and talking about smart cities, but no one was coming up with interventions that would lead to a smart city that we, as the mobile generation, can feel,” Richter said. “We basically want to create a whole line of connected products for the urban environment”


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  • Communities

    Local foundations help fulfill Knight’s mission in nonresident communities

    July 29, 2015, 10:30 a.m., Posted by Lilly Weinberg

    Bradenton, Fla. by Lilly Weinberg.

    And it’s begun. I’ve been working at Knight Foundation for several years, but I recently became our program director for community foundations. I’m traveling to all 18 of Knight Foundation’s nonresident communities to learn more about them and the people who make them successful cities.

     These communities are all places where the Knight brothers once operated newspapers; they span from coast to coast across the United States. My job is to work with the community foundations in each place to invest in ideas that promote “informed and engaged” communities. Specifically, under the strategy of our Community and National Initiatives Program, we invest in civic innovators who help cities attract and retain talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of civic engagement. Vibrant places in our communities are essential to those goals.

    I started my travels by visiting four amazing communities: Bradenton, Fla.; Gary, Ind.; Lexington, Ky.; and Long Beach, Calif. At first glance, these communities seem so different, but there are many threads that tie them together. For example, all four have more than one university in their community and are actively working on how to keep that talent after students graduate.  And all four understand how place plays a critical role in this.

    I want to thank the leadership at each community foundation. I was able to see and do so much because of all of you: Marilyn Howard from the Manatee Community Foundation (Bradenton), Carolyn Saxton from Legacy Foundation (Gary), Lisa Adkins from Blue Grass Community Foundation (Lexington) and Marcelle Epley from Long Beach Community Foundation.

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  • Arts

    Lone storyteller recreates spooky scenes from the Appalachian Trail

    July 29, 2015, 10:15 a.m., Posted by Roger Durbin

    Wandering Aesthetics may have the most intriguing show title at the moment: “Boogers, Witches and Haints.” The performance itself also was extremely well-received when Kyle Josza did his one-man storytelling event at the Standing Rock Cultural Arts facility in Kent, Ohio. Two more performances are scheduled for this coming weekend.

    The show's subtitle, “Spooky Stories from Appalachia,” says it all. It was developed when Josza and Benjamin Rexroad, co-founders and directors of Wandering Aesthetics, hiked along nearly 2,200 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.



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