‘Knight Cities’ podcast: Using the design of public spaces to increase civic engagement

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.

Knight Cities podcast

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.

Joanna Frank


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.

4.     In designing for civic engagement, evidence shows us that place matters, density matters, walkability matters. But we don’t know enough about the specific strategies and elements of design that matter to civic engagement. We need to know those details to scale designs for civic engagement.

5.     Getting in the car is isolating. Walking puts you in touch with your neighbors and builds bonds of trust. If you walk in your neighborhood every day, you build a sense of stewardship. We also know that even a small increase in distance to your voting location decreases rates of voting.

Listen to my conversation with Joanna here. And sign up for the “Knight Cities” newsletter to get alerts as soon as new conversations are posted. You can also sign up for Center for Active Design updates here

Look for new “Knight Cities” content posted every week. You can follow us on Twitter at #knightcities or @knightfdn. And if you have ideas for people you’d like to hear from, please email me.

Carol Coletta is vice president of community and national initiatives at Knight Foundation. Follow her on Twitter @ccoletta.

If you’re interested in the success of cities, consider applying to the Knight Cities Challenge, a $5 million initiative to make the 26 Knight communities more successful. For the latest information on the challenge, be sure to follow @knightfdn and #knightcities on Twitter or sign up for our email newsletter. You can send questions to [email protected]. And you can peruse the winners of the first Knight Cities Challenge and apply – by noon ET on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015 – at