Articles by

Lilly Weinberg

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    Above: Duluth's "beach" on Lake Superior overlooks downtown. Photo by Lilly Weinberg. I am well on my way to completing my initial visits to Knight’s 18 nonresident communities. When I became community foundation’s director earlier this year, I had a simple but strategic plan for how I would visit each of them to learn more about the cities and the community foundations we partner with to carry out our work. I planned to visit our Northern communities in the warmer months and our Southern communities in the fall and winter. The strategy has worked and now the Southern visits are here, with only four communities to go! A special thank you to the leadership of the community foundations. I was able to see and do so much because of all of you: Holly Sampson from the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation (Minn.); Molly Kunkel from The Centre Foundation (State College, Pa.); Joy Watkins from Community Foundation of North Florida (Tallahassee, Fla.); Rodger Wilder from Gulf Coast Community Foundation (Biloxi-Gulfport, Miss.); and JoAnn Turnquist from Central Carolina Community Foundation. Here is some of what I have learned: Duluth A community of 85,000 residents, Duluth’s population has almost recovered from its major population loss in the 1980s. Duluth is long past the days when it was grouped with cities such as Flint, Mich. It now draws comparisons to Boulder and other cities on the upswing. Talented 25- to 34-year-olds have steadily moved to Duluth to enjoy its quality of life – a 23 percent increase in the past five years. Voted the No. 1 outdoors community in the country by Outside Magazine, the city’s recreational activities have been cited as a main attraction for talent. However, more can be done. The city has more jobs than people and more diversity for this growth is a priority. With an incredibly homogenous population (90.4 percent white), Duluth has an opportunity to better highlight its quality of life and attract and retain broader groups of people. Finally, the revitalization of the river, a connector of lower-income communities, is critical for Duluth and a main priority for the city. The author with Michelle Huttenhoff, a Knight Foundation program associate, at the Centre Foundation sitting on "book benches."
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    Photos courtesy Central Carolina Community Foundation. With every tragedy, there’s the opportunity to start new. That’s how Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin summed up what his city faces following historic flooding caused by Hurricane Joaquin. During my recent visit, he told me how proud he was of his community, neighbors saving neighbors during the disaster. The community truly came together during the crisis. The mayor was more humble about his leadership during this time. He played a critical role in emphasizing constant communications and rapid decision-making over the past month. He understood the importance of information during a disaster – updating the community consistently through social media, television and newspapers. On top of all of that, his team secured federal disaster assistance funds for Columbia at a historically fast rate. But the road to recovery will be long for Columbia, one of the 26 communities where Knight invests. The disastrous floods took 21 lives in the area with over a billion dollars of damage for the city of Columbia.  Under the leadership of President Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation moved quickly to help. The foundation gave $250,000 to two organizations working with he recovery: the Salvation Army and Harvest of Hope. You may ask why when such a response doesn’t appear to align perfectly with Knight’s strategy of supporting informed and engaged communities. But Knight has a long history of helping its communities when disasters strike. While it is different from our normal grantmaking, it has everything to do with our work. A place must have its basic needs met – food, drinkable water, clothing, shelter – before it can consider the impact of talent, opportunity and engagement, three factors critical to city success.
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    Photos by Kyle Kutuchief on Flickr.com 2015 Copenhagen Study Tour via 8 80s Cities on YouTube Exceptional. Life-changing. Inspiring. Transformative. Those are just some of the adjectives used by our Knight community leaders who joined us on the 8 80 Cities trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, recently. I couldn’t agree with them more. I feel energized and excited by the potential work we can do together in Columbus, Ga., Gulfport, Miss., Grand Forks, N.D., Lexington, Ky., Long Beach, Calif., and Tallahassee and West Palm Beach, Fla. The hard part, though, is still in front of us: We need to take the theory and learning from the trip and make them a reality in our communities. It won’t be easy, but if anyone can execute, it’s the group of leaders who joined me in Copenhagen.    I learned so many things, and – this was tough – I have condensed my roughly one thousand lessons into my top five. Here they are: Lilly’s Top Five No. 5. Detail and Quality Matter: When it comes to building public space, Copenhagen does an extraordinary job of paying attention to the details and quality. The city beautifully incorporates the interests and backgrounds of the community. They design public spaces that promote  interaction and play for all ages. Yes, that’s right. Playgrounds for adults too! And why not? The city also understands the importance of the edges of spaces. The placement of a cafe or restaurant (instead of a bank or office) facing a public space activates it even more. How? More eyes will be on the park, allowing the public to feel safer. And, let’s face it; we all love to people watch (there’s data to back this up). On top of these important details, Copenhagen always opts for top-notch materials in its  public spaces. Quality helps spaces to last longer and residents to take more pride in them. No. 4. Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure: This is fairly self-explanatory; for transformational change, there must be infrastructure investments. Period. In particular, if you want residents to bike, then you must build protected bike lanes. Yes, that’s right; they must be protected or don’t bother doing it. And on top of that, there must be a connected network. Cities can start small with the network and expand, but the emphasis must be on connecting important nodes. This could include your city’s schools, parks, libraries and the business district. And equity for the people who live in the city must be a priority for designing this connected infrastructure.
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    Drumroll, please: I am halfway through visiting Knight’s 18 nonresident communities. These are places where we work with community foundations to make their cities even more successful. It’s hard to believe, but in just over two months, I have been to nine of our nonresident communities (with multiple stops in a few). I am having so much fun learning from local leaders and better understanding the communities the Knight brothers loved so much. As a recap, I started off with Bradenton, Fla.; Gary, Ind.; Lexington, Ky.; and Long Beach, Calif. You can read about those trips here. Over the past five weeks I went to five more: Aberdeen, S.D.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Boulder, Colo., and Wichita, Kan. I want to thank the hardworking leaders from each community foundation who made these trips possible – Julie Johnson, a Knight Community Advisory Committee member who works with the South Dakota Community Foundation (Aberdeen); Kristi Mishler from Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Region; Christine Meek from Fort Wayne Community Foundation; Josie Heath from Greater Boulder Community Foundation; and Shelly Pritchard from Wichita Community Foundation.
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    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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    Lilly Weinberg is Special Assistant to the President at Knight Foundation.  Photo: Maker space event on Chattanooga Library's 4th floor. With budget cuts threatening systems across the country, city leaders are asking tough questions about the value of public libraries in the digital age. As guardians of our tax dollars, they should be! What’s interesting, though, is that in community after community, the public and library directors are responding with innovations. Library remixes are popping up, programs that allow users to check out anything from electric guitars to WiFi hot spots. Their rooms are becoming true community centers and makerspaces – a place where continued learning occurs.