Articles by

Carol Coletta

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    Above: Spruce Street Harbor Park. Photo credit: Flickr user Kevin Jarrett. Every city has one. It’s the civic space that once held so much promise, but is now moribund, lacking people and energy. Until last summer, Philadelphia’s Spruce Street Harbor was one such place. That is, until David Fierabend and his colleagues at Groundswell Design transformed it with inexpensive, temporary design changes that have made it the place to go in the city.
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    Miami is buzzing about new plans for a 10-mile forgotten stretch of public property beneath its elevated metro rail. Manhattan has its High Line, and Miami will soon have its Underline. Meg Daly is founder and president of Friends of The Underline. Here are five things you should know from my conversation with Meg: 1. Change your perspective, and you may see new opportunity. In Meg Daly’s case, an injury caused her to abandon her car for transit and walking, and it was only then that she realized the potential of the land beneath Miami’s Metrorail for what is now known as The Underline. 2. What do you do after you have a good idea? You just talk it up. And if 1 in 10 people think you have a good idea, you’re probably onto something. 3. If you want to get a big idea moving, find your partners, find your advocates, find your believers, and they will push you through the right doors. 4. The Underline used a University of Miami architecture studio class as a marketing opportunity to open up discussions. People came to see the student designs for The Underline, they commented on the designs, they had a voice, and they became owners of the project. When you later go back to ask them for money, it’s their idea. 5. Unlike the High Line, The Underline is attempting to capture some of the incremental new value it creates through tax increment financing from new development that abuts The Underline. That money will be used to maintain and program The Underline.
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    If you serve on a nonprofit board this week’s “Knight Cities” is especially for you. Raising money is part of the job for nonprofit board members, but there’s also a significant opportunity that isn’t taken advantage of nearly enough: influencing policy. BoardSource is the go-to resource for funders, partners and nonprofit leaders who want to magnify the impact of their nonprofits, and it has launched a new effort, supported in part by Knight Foundation, to encourage nonprofit boards to become effective advocates for the causes they represent. The campaign is called Stand for Your Mission. This week on “Knight Cities,” we talk to BoardSource President and CEO Anne Wallestad about this important work and the ways that nonprofits can amplify their impact. Here are five things you should know from our conversation:
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    Can an old barge sitting in Biscayne Bay help the city of Miami come face to face with the challenge of climate change? That’s the intent of the Miami Science Barge, a creation of CappSci and one of 32 winners of the Knight Cities Challenge in its first year. Alissa Farina is an innovation associate at CappSci, a foundation that applies “science and engineering to real-world problems, and one of the organizers of the Miami Science Barge. Here are five things you should know about the project: 1.     The Miami Science Barge will be a floating urban ecological laboratory and public environmental education center on Biscayne Bay at Museum Park in downtown Miami.
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    Growing up in South Memphis, I spent countless hours at a tiny storefront branch library right around the corner from my home. I loved to read and the place was jammed with books. Perfect! But libraries today are as likely to be occupied by people studying for their GED, applying for jobs, figuring out small business startup procedures, and watching movies on computers as they are with people discovering new books to read.  It makes for a complex set of services and a confusing future. Miguel Figueroa is trying to figure out what that future looks like. Miguel heads the American Library Association Center for the Future of Libraries. The center promotes innovative and future-oriented thinking to position libraries for long-term sustainability and success. Here are five things you should know about the future of libraries from my conversation with Miguel:
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    Can behavioral science nudge us into better behavior? A growing number of government leaders think so. And they are being assisted by ideas42, a firm that uses behavioral science to design scalable solutions for social impact.  Our guest this week on “Knight Cities” is Ted Robertson, managing director at the firm.  Here are five things you should know from my conversation with Ted: 1. Behavioral science is the science behind why people do what they do. 2. There is often a gap between what people intend to do and what they actually do. Behavioral science can help with the redesign of services and products to reduce the “hassle factors” and other things that get in the way of following through on intentions. 3. The more choices you offer, the less participation you'll get. 4. People tend not to want to lose things more than they want to gain things. Also, people tend to overestimate low-probability situations and their own abilities. 5. Governments are beginning to use behavioral science to get public behaviors that reduce public cost and improve quality of life, such as more recycling, less gun violence, more vaccinations.
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    It’s summer, and who doesn’t like to hang out at the pool?  In most American cities, that used to mean heading down to the neighborhood pool where you found familiar faces and lots of strangers.  In fact, prior to 1940, private swimming pools were almost exclusively the province of the extremely wealthy. In 1950, the U.S. had only 2,500 private, in-ground pools. But by 2009, there were 5.2 million private pools in the nation. Ben Bryant is a self-professed fan of Philadelphia’s public pools, and he is determined to make them, once again, convivial places for people to hang out and enjoy the company of neighbors and friends. Ben, who is with Group Melvin Design, is a winner of this year’s Knight Cities Challenge with his Pop-up Pool Project. Here are five things you should know from my conversation with Ben:
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    When big development comes to a neighborhood, how can the neighbors benefit? It’s a thorny question that communities are trying to address with all sorts of new legal, financial and taxing mechanisms.  One such mechanism is a Community Benefits Agreement. Ralph Rosado is an expert on the subject, particularly when agreements are used for affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization. He is president of Rosado and Associates and a fellow at the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University. He has a forthcoming book on the subject, to be published by Penn Press. Here are five things you should know from my conversation with Ralph on the “Knight Cities” podcast: 1.       Community Benefits Agreements are accords that neighborhood and other kinds of community groups enter into with developers of big, disruptive projects.
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    Last fall Knight Foundation opened the first Knight Cities Challenge to capture the best ideas on how to make cities more successful. It was thrilling to see the response we received from across the country: more than 7,000 ideas from people wanting to improve their communities. We chose 126 finalists and this week we’re gathering representatives of the 32 winning projects in Detroit for the inaugural Knight Cities Challenge Winners Summit. One hundred twenty civic innovators will come together, our winners plus some of the leading thinkers on how to make cities better, from artist and urban strategist Theaster Gates to noted author Charles Landry. It’s going to be thought-provoking—and fun—for all of us. The winners of the Knight Cities Challenge bring valuable perspectives to our gathering, which kicks off today; it’s self-evident in their ideas, whether it’s a monthly subscription service to attract and retain talent in Akron, Ohio, a new market and business incubator to expand opportunity in Lexington, Ky., or a fun, artistic project to identify polling places and increase local voting in Philadelphia. But one of the most exciting things is that everyone attending the summit will have the opportunity to learn from one another.  We’ve scheduled core sessions where we can talk big ideas, but that’s complemented with breakout discussions where people can get together in smaller groups, roll up their sleeves and dig deep into the challenges and opportunities communities face and the tactics that make a difference.
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    Photo: Cyclists in Museum Park near Perez Art Museum Miami. Credit: Robertson Adams. For more than 30 years, I’ve lived in the heart of downtown. Three cities, three downtown homes. So I especially enjoy living life in public and with strangers. It’s easy enough. In Miami, I just walk out my front door. I visit the parks across the street almost daily and the Perez Art Museum Miami at least once a month, use the Metromover regularly, and bike the Underline path on nice days. That makes the trends documented in the new report from City Observatory especially disturbing to me. The report, “Less in Common,” builds a clear and compelling case that many of the civic assets that we all used to share have eroded or become fractured. As the report’s author Joe Cortright writes, “We spend less time in public pools and more time in private gyms. We ride the bus or streetcar less and spend more time alone in our cars. High-income people increasingly live in separate wealthy neighborhoods, while people of modest means live in their own, less wealthy neighborhoods. “Our city governments, schools, and communities are more fragmented and less inclusive than in days gone by. In many cases, in leisure, entertainment, and schools, we’ve enabled people to secede from the commons and get a different level and quality of service.”
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    Roberta Brandes Gratz is the author of a new book on post-Katrina New Orleans on the 10th anniversary of the hurricane. It’s titled “We’re Still Here Ya Bastards: How the People of New Orleans Rebuilt Their City,” and Richard Florida calls it an “absolute must read.”  Roberta also wrote “The Battle for Gotham:  New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs.” With Jane Jacobs, she founded the Center for the Living City. She splits her time between New York and New Orleans. Here are five things you should know from my conversation with Roberta: