Articles by

Carol Coletta

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    Above: The family lounge area at Pop-Up Pool in Philadelphia, a 2015 Knight Cities Challenge winner. Credit Monica Peters. Civic innovators from across the country submitted more than 4,500 ideas to this year’s Knight Cities Challenge. That’s a lot of ideas. More importantly, that’s a lot of people who care enough about their city to sit down and write about what they want to do to make it more successful. Picking a set of finalists from that field is a daunting and difficult task. After two months of reading and deliberating and receiving invaluable advice and support from more than 40 grantees and experts who we called reviewers, today we’re announcing 158 finalists in this year’s challenge. The finalists have until the end of January to submit full applications. We’ll review those applications and the recommendations, budgets, renderings and other supporting documents that come with them, alongside another set of reviewers and Knight’s board of trustees. I’m sure we’ll have an even tougher time deciding who actually ends up winning this year’s challenge awards. Detroit and Philadelphia have the biggest number of finalists with 20 each. And for the second year, Detroit also had the best response to the challenge with 767 total applications.
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        RSS Feed City Observatory is a daily source of data analysis and policy recommendations on how to make cities successful. The site helps readers separate fact from fiction when it comes to cities. This week, we talked with City Observatory founder and economist Joe Cortright. Here are five things you should know from our conversation: 1) Public housing residents who live in high-income or gentrifying neighborhoods have noticeably higher incomes than public housing residents who live in less affluent neighborhoods, thanks to “neighborhood effects.” 2) Having a good neighborhood around you, with safer streets, more economic opportunity and better schools, produces more opportunity for lower-income residents. It’s bad to be poor, but it’s worse to be poor living in a neighborhood where lots of other people are poor.
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    Detroit was once the innovation center of America. Ingenuity propelled a booming auto industry, Motown synthesized and popularized a new form of music, and social change poured out on race and workers’ rights. In his new book, “Once in a Great City,” David Maraniss has captured this story of Detroit of the early ’60s. Born in Detroit, David is an associate editor at The Washington Post and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author. Here are five things you should know from our conversation: 1.     Even with the Detroit auto industry at its peak in 1963, there were already projections of decline, the result of a perfect storm of Detroit’s reliance on one industry, racial tensions going back decades, urban planning that uprooted black communities, and an expanding freeway system that made white flight easier.
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    Design powerfully influences our behavior.  About that we are certain. But as a foundation that is built on the belief that informed and engaged communities are essential to strong democracies, Knight wants to understand how design – and specifically, the design of our communities – can influence civic engagement. For answers, Knight Foundation turned to the Center for Active Design. The center has led the development of design guidelines for promoting physical activity. Now the center, under the leadership of Joanna Frank, is exploring how design can promote civic engagement. Joanna is our guest today on “Knight Cities.” Here are five things you need to know from our conversation: 1.     There is no doubt that the design of our streets, our neighborhoods, our buildings has a profound effect on our behavior. 2.     Design elements can be used to increase the amount of walking, including such things as providing benches and trees, making streets pedestrian-scale, providing visual stimulus such as shops, and making destinations within walking distance. 3.     Measurable objectives of civic engagement can be local voting, stewardship of public spaces, trust in your neighborhood and appreciation of the role local government has, and casual social interaction.
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    While between projects in late 2007 and early 2008, Marcus Westbury, a maker, festival director and writer, was exploring his hometown of Newcastle, Australia, and found dozens of buildings and once-vibrant streets that “had fallen into disrepair and despair.” Today, however, Lonely Planet describes Newcastle as a city whose “time has finally come.” Marcus’ new book, “Creating Cities,” tells the story of how Newcastle transformed. Here are five things you need to know from my conversation with Marcus about Renew Newcastle: 1. It is frustrating to get access to vacant buildings because of absentee landlords, owners who have given up on renting their properties, city bureaucracy and permitting, and other challenges. 2. There are many more people wanting to do something than there are vacant spaces. You just need to make it easy for people to use the space. 3. Renew Newcastle knocks on the doors of private property owners and convinces them to lend their property to the organization, which then lends them to creative people with creative ideas. Renew Newcastle takes on the insurance liability.
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    Like so many cities where manufacturing once dominated the local economy, Detroit has a lot of vacant land. What to do with that land is the focus of some exciting new work by Erin Kelly. Erin is program manager of Innovative Landscapes, an initiative of Detroit Future City. Next week the group plans to release a beautiful, smart set of step-by-step guides to replanting and reusing Detroit’s vacant lots, but my conversation with Erin offers a preview. Here are five things you should know from our conversation: 1. “A Field Guide for Working With Lots” provides hands-on tools for people to participate in land transformation in Detroit.
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    Knight Cities Challenge 2015. Imagine if you won funding for your best idea to make your city more successful. Imagine social media buzzing with daily mentions of your project and your work being celebrated in the press. Then, imagine City Hall deciding your idea works so well that it will change the way the city does business. Want to learn more about the Knight Cities Challenge?   Knight’s Carol Coletta will be hosting a reddit Ask Me Anything chat on Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. ET. To join, go to reddit IAmA and click on the thread titled “I'm Carol Coletta, VP for Community and National Initiatives at Knight Foundation. AMA about how to make cities more successful, the Knight Cities Challenge, the Foundation and everything else.” That’s what happened to Ben Bryant, one of 32 winners of the inaugural Knight Cities Challenge. Ben’s brainstorm, the Pop-Up Pool Project in Philadelphia, became an instant hit when it launched this summer. Now, you have an opportunity to win support for your idea as Knight Foundation launches the second round of the Knight Cities Challenge. We’ll award $5 million to fund new ideas to make the 26 Knight communities more successful by advancing talent, opportunity and engagement. The challenge will be open for applications from Oct. 1-Oct. 27 at knightcities.org, and we’ll announce winners early next year. Why talent?  Because the percentage of college-educated graduates in any city’s population is the best predictor of economic success. Why opportunity? Because without the ability to improve your circumstances, the American dream is dead.
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    Make your way to the edge of downtown Detroit, and you will find a river. Until recently, it wouldn’t have been a very inviting experience. But today, the Detroit riverfront has become one of America’s best waterfront parks. Mark Wallace is president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, the organization responsible for turning the waterfront into a great place for people. Here are five things you should know from my conversation with Mark.
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    Attracting and retaining talent is at the top of the economic development agenda in many U.S. cities. And the organization that probably knows best how to do that is Campus Philly. Deborah Diamond is president of Campus Philly, and she joined us this week to talk about what the organization has learned. Here are five things you should know from our conversation: 1.        The mission of Campus Philly is to connect students to Philadelphia in a way that matters to them. 2.        Young adults have twin needs. They need career opportunities and they need to love where they live.  3.        Students don’t know what jobs are available. Campus Philly Crawls and Meet Your Industry events get students into workplaces to hear from leaders and gain insight into the city’s industries. 4.        College Fest, another Campus Philly-produced event, brings together 5,000-plus college students for a combination festival and day of exploring the city. When students see all of the other college students, they realize they are in a college town. And when they make connections with each other, they build connections to Philadelphia because that’s what they all have in common. 5.        Open Arts is a way to give free access to students to arts and culture. But students want more than free access. They want to see other students, and they want to participate in the arts, not simply observe as part of an audience.
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    Who doesn’t love a great market?  And there is none livelier than Reading Terminal Market in Center City Philadelphia. Anuj Gupta is the market’s new general manager, and I talked to him about what makes the market so special. Here are five things you should know from my conversation with Anuj:  1.     The Reading Terminal Market is one of those rare places in America that people from all walks of life seem to love. Why? Because food has a way of bringing people together that nothing else does. 2.     The diversity of the merchant community and what they are selling in Reading Terminal Market appeals to a broad section of people. That’s the magic of this place.  3.     Reading Terminal Market does not allow franchises or chain stores in the building because people are increasingly looking for an authentic, unique experience when they visit such a place. People are not just looking for a great hamburger or a great deal. They come to the market because the collection of merchants and the diversity of people create a standalone experience.  Note: Reading Terminal Market photo by Brian Moran on Flickr.