The Oval+ on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. Credit: PORT Urbanism, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

Building stronger democracies starts with local communities. It is at the local level where we make the decisions that have the most immediate impact on our lives. Knight Foundation's Community and National Initiatives program focuses on supporting more informed and engaged communities through investments that attract and nurture talent, enhance opportunity and foster civic engagement.

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  • Article

    Lack of trust is a barrier to civic engagement. Personal passions, family and friends can change that, Charlotte research shows

    November 30, 2018 by Diane Gavarkavich and Charles Thomas

    Lack of trust is a barrier to civic engagement. Personal passions, family and friends can change that, Charlotte research shows

    Photo by Katie Wheeler on Flickr.

    Charlotte boasts a demographically diverse population, well-educated residents and a thriving economy. Home to the largest population in the state, the Queen City also serves as the economic epicenter of the state. Nevertheless, our community is paradoxical in many ways, with social, economic and political barriers that hinder equitable growth, opportunity and prosperity for those who live here. 

    Despite the array of sports, hospitality, entertainment and industries that drive the local economy, Charlotte is home to high levels of residential and school segregation that perpetuate a system of uneven distribution of public resources, educational attainment and economic opportunities. Charlotte holds the dubious distinction of being 50 out of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in terms of intergenerational economic mobility.

    Our community has been in conversation for years about how these challenges affect us all. 

    A less-discussed topic within this conversation is how these challenges influence civic life. From October 2016 through June of 2017, a team from the UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute and Johnson C. Smith University used a mixed-methods approach to explore how the local landscape influences civic engagement. 

    Our research built on user research conducted on a national scale by the Google Civic Innovation Team in 2014. In particular, we sought to further the understanding of a population called “Interested Bystanders,” or people who are paying attention to the issues around them, but not acting on those issues

  • Article

    A Polarized Country Still Needs to Eat

    November 16, 2018 by Lilly Weinberg

    A Polarized Country Still Needs to Eat

    Photo courtesy of the Akron Community Foundation.

    Lilly Weinberg is director for community foundations at Knight Foundation. Below, she highlights a recent report detailing the impact of the Knight-supported On the Table initiative, which brings together community residents over mealtime conversations to discuss pressing community issues.  


    In a time of growing polarization, when trust in institutions of all kinds has hit all-time lows and social media conversations often descend into hateful rhetoric, it may seem difficult to find pathways for consensus and common ground. At the same time, the strength of our democracy and our local communities relies on connected action — the ability of residents to hear each other, make informed choices and shape decision-making.

    Through this lens, in 2017 Knight Foundation expanded an initiative of the Chicago Community Trust called On the Table. Founded on the basic premise that ‘we all need to eat,’ On the Table brings people from different backgrounds and income levels together to share a meal and discuss pressing community issues. In a few short years, with the help of community foundations across the country, it has united tens of thousands of city residents on a single day to talk about issues from affordable housing and climate change to racial equity and transportation.

  • Article

    Watch Akron grow

    November 16, 2018 by Kyle Kutuchief

    Watch Akron grow

    Akron is growing. That is a phrase we haven’t been able to say since the 1960’s when population peaked at 292,000.  Since then, the city has lost roughly one-third of its population. Yet Akron grew by 135 people in 2015, according to the most recent Census estimate. It’s not a lot – you could line them up, count them, pose for a group picture. But we believe it’s a key sign of what will come, a turning of the tide for a city that has struggled for decades to reverse the forces of decline.  

  • Article

    Bringing technology expertise to Congress, when they need it most

    November 2, 2018 by Travis Moore

    Bringing technology expertise to Congress, when they need it most

    Photo by Lorie Shaull on Flickr.

    Travis Moore is the founder and director of TechCongress, a nonpartisan initiative incubated at New America that places technology fellows in Congress to increase government knowledge of emerging technology issues and inform policymaking. Knight Foundation announced $1 million in support to TechCongress today, adding to its previous support of the initiative.


    In April of this year, when the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees questioned Mark Zuckerberg, the world woke up to a reality I’d lived for six years as a Congressional staffer: Congress isn’t equipped to legislate in the digital age.

  • Article

    Why 500 Startups is betting on Miami, and so should you

    October 24, 2018 by Ana Paula González

    Why 500 Startups is betting on Miami, and so should you

    Ana Paula González, who leads 500 Startups' Miami operation, writes about Miami's entrepreneurial evolution and why the best is yet to come. 

  • Article

    Why Knight Foundation is investing in a new field of study on informed society in a digital age

    October 1, 2018 by Sam Gill

    Why Knight Foundation is investing in a new field of study on informed society in a digital age

    Strong democracies depend on freedom of expression and access to accurate information about community and public affairs. This is as true today as when freedom of the press was enshrined by the framers of the U.S. Constitution in the first correction they made to the governing principles of our country — what we call the First Amendment.

  • Article

    Four ways cities can make great urban trails: Lessons from the Beltline

    August 24, 2018 by Lilly Weinberg

    Four ways cities can make great urban trails: Lessons from the Beltline

    Photo by J.C. Burns on Flickr.

    Cities across the country – big and small – are investing in linear parks and urban trails. Communities are prioritizing these important and substantial investments for a variety of important reasons: they effectively connect public assets - like parks and libraries - with diverse neighborhoods; activate underused spaces (think New York City’s High Line crafted from a former rail line); and spur economic development in nearby areas.

    But designing, promoting and funding linear parks can be challenging, often spanning miles of multiple municipalities, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, with support from complicated funding models. 

    So, what happens when three unique cities get together to talk about their signature linear parks and trails? A whole lot of learning. Knight Foundation funded an information exchange between two Knight cities, Lexington, Ky. and Miami, and Atlanta to do just that . Last month, a team from The Friends of The Underline (a 10-mile linear path in Miami-Dade) and Townbranch Commons (a 3-mile linear trail and park in downtown Lexington) met in Atlanta to have a deep-dive exchange about their future projects with the city’s Beltline team. As many know, Atlanta’s Beltline is a multi-billion dollar, 22-mile light rail and bike/pedestrian trail that has transformed the communities it passes through. While most community members love their Beltline, not everyone is thrilled. We wanted to hear it all: the good, bad and indifferent. And while we came from very different communities with unique projects, we had four shared takeaways.

  • Article

    Placing people at the center of San Jose

    August 16, 2018 by Daniel Harris

    Placing people at the center of San Jose

    Photo by Danny Harris.

    As one travels across San Jose’s sprawling 180-square-mile landscape, it’s hard to believe this is America’s tenth most populous city. The low-rise suburban city hosts seemingly endless single-family homes, strip malls, freeways and suburban office parks, but too few vibrant and well-used public spaces that welcome and celebrate our one million residents. 

    In San Jose, Knight seeks to change that by creating one of the nation’s most engaged cities driven by a focus on public life — drawing people out of their cars and homes and into the community. In doing so, we aim to place people at the center of the city’s present and future. By helping to build a San Jose for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities, we aim to create a vibrant and welcoming city that makes being out and in public irresistible and celebrates the collision of diverse people and ideas. 

  • Article

    Three lessons in designing cities for everyone

    August 6, 2018 by Suzanne Nienaber

    Three lessons in designing cities for everyone

    Photo: A young resident gives their input on shaping civic life in Charlotte at a pop-up event at Eastland Mall. Courtesy of the Center for Active Design. 

    A groundbreaking playbook from the Center for Active Design is sparking conversations among residents on how to shape civic life and create fantastic public spaces in their cities.  

  • Article

    Four ways cities can use augmented reality games like Pokémon GO to bolster civic engagement

    June 28, 2018 by Sam Gill and Lilian Coral

    Four ways cities can use augmented reality games like Pokémon GO to bolster civic engagement

    Akron, Ohio, residents explore downtown using Pokémon GO. Photo by Tim Fitzwater.

    In summer 2016, Pokémon GO took the world by storm. Large crowds teemed in public spaces around the globe at all hours. We saw a prime opportunity to learn more about how our society, and its ubiquitous digital technology, might further spark public life in the communities where we work.

  • Article

    Speak up for a people-first San José

    June 20, 2018 by Daniel Harris

    Speak up for a people-first San José

    Veggielution First Friday. Photo by Danny Harris on Twitter.

    In San José, Knight seeks to create one of the nation’s most engaged cities. We seek to place people at the center of the city’s present and future. From walkable and bikeable neighborhoods to more user-friendly design of city services to building vibrant public spaces for all, Knight’s work aims to help San Joseans fall in love with and work in support of their city every day.

    To advance these efforts, Knight is launching Speak Up San José, a yearlong initiative that invites all residents for conversation and action to advance our city’s future. Specifically, the foundation is committing $150,000 to sixteen community groups to host 28 events over the coming twelve months. From community dinners to street parties to salons, each event is conceived by local organizations, community groups and neighborhood know-it-alls to advance locally relevant issues. Most importantly, every event is free, open to the public and/or engages a diverse group of individuals, and built around a specific action point.

  • Article

    Philadelphia: Building a stronger city through public spaces

    May 24, 2018 by Patrick J. Morgan

    Philadelphia: Building a stronger city through public spaces

    Photo by Garen M. on Flickr.

    Philadelphia’s public spaces are experiencing a resurgence. From recently opened Lovett Library Park to excitement around the soon to be open Cherry Street Pier, new investments in these community centerpieces have created deeper connections between people and their city and invited a cross-section of residents to participate in building the kind of neighborhoods where they want to live.

  • Article

    Building Miami’s innovation ecosystem side by side with our community

    March 26, 2018 by Raul Moas

    Building Miami’s innovation ecosystem side by side with our community

    A panorama view of Miami. Used under CC0 Creative Commons from Pixabay.

    We’re proud to be a part of what the Miami community has accomplished in such a small window of time. Miami’s innovation economy is growing. Yet much remains to be achieved. In a spirit of continuous learning, we want to hear from you – those building the future Miami – about what it will take to succeed.

  • Article

    A Smart City puts residents at the center

    March 20, 2018 by Lilian Coral

    A Smart City puts residents at the center

    Technology is changing cities as we know them. From sensors that track pedestrians and control street lights, to the ways local governments deliver information, digital innovation affects how city residents experience everyday life and get and share information.

  • Article

    Harvard University Graduate School of Design to work with Miami community on multi-year resiliency project

    March 20, 2018 by Mohsen Mostafavi

    Harvard University Graduate School of Design to work with Miami community on multi-year resiliency project

    Photos courtesy of Harvard University Graduate School of Design

    To engage Miami residents in creating new approaches to address pressing urban issues—including affordable housing, transportation and sea level rise—Knight Foundation has announced $1 million in support to the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. With the funding, the school will embed urban researchers in Miami and Miami Beach to better understand the cities’ opportunities and challenges, and launch a multi-year study toward building solutions shaped by residents.