Knight Cities Challenge awards $5 million for ideas to make cities more successful – Knight Foundation

Knight Cities Challenge awards $5 million for ideas to make cities more successful

MIAMI — June 12, 2017 — The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced that 33 innovative projects will share $5 million as winners of the Knight Cities Challenge. Each of the ideas centers on helping cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunities and create a culture of civic engagement.

“The Knight Cities Challenge works to uncover the ideas, people and collaborations that help to advance deeper civic engagement and contribute to city success,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact. “The winners join a network of civic innovators who are showing us the ways in which our cities can shape their futures to help solve pressing challenges and create new opportunities.”

The challenge attracted more than 4,500 ideas to make the 26 communities where Knight invests more vibrant places to live and work. It asked innovators of all kinds to answer the question: What’s your best idea to make cities more successful?

The 33 winners proposed a host of ideas, from providing a space for Philadelphians to develop city service solutions through a traveling city design lab to further enlivening the Detroit waterfront by creating an inviting, urban beach along the city’s Atwater Street, from replacing an inoperative freeway in Akron with a lush forest and public space to connect two physically and socially isolated neighborhoods to reimagining Columbia, South Carolina’s State House as a front porch for all.

“The winners of the Knight Cities Challenge will help create new avenues for people to contribute to their community. They aim to bring together diverse residents, ensure talent thrives and connect people to place— giving them a stake in city-building,” said George Abbott, Knight Foundation director for community and national initiatives.

Open to any individual, business, government or nonprofit, the Knight Cities Challenge has just two rules: (1) A submission may come from anywhere, but the project must take place in or benefit one or more of the 26 communities where Knight invests and (2) the idea should focus on one or more of three drivers of city success: Talent: Ideas that help cities attract and keep talented people; Opportunity: Ideas that create economic prospects by breaking down divides and making new connections; Engagement: Ideas that spur connection and civic involvement.

Winning projects are based in 19 of the 26 communities where Knight invests including: Aberdeen, South Dakota; Akron, Ohio; Biloxi, Mississippi; Bradenton, Florida; Columbia, South Carolina; Charlotte, North Carolina; Detroit; Duluth, Michigan; Gary, Indiana; Grand Forks, North Dakota; Lexington, Kentucky; Macon, Georgia; Miami; Milledgeville, Georgia; Palm Beach County, Florida; Philadelphia; St. Paul, Minnesota; San Jose, California; Wichita, Kansas.

The list of winners is below and at:

The challenge opened in October 2016. Knight Foundation announced finalists in January.

Launched in 2014, the Knight Cities Challenge named a total of 69 winning ideas over its first and second years. Winners have created innovative solutions aimed at connecting people of all backgrounds and incomes, inviting people into active civic engagement and helping keep and attract talented people in their communities. They include: The Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship, which uses hip-hop to provide hands-on business training to members of low-income groups in Philadelphia; Re:Brand Detroit, which aims to spark reinvestment in Detroit’s neighborhoods through entrepreneurship; and Minimum Grid Maximum Impact, which improves neighborhood life by creating a network of bike and pedestrian connections between Midtown and Uptown Columbus, Georgia.

Knight communities do not always correspond with city limits; check each community’s page on our website to learn where we fund.

For more on the Knight Cities Challenge, visit and

For information and updates follow @knightfdn and #knightcities on Twitter.

2017 Knight Cities Challenge Winners

Aberdeen, South Dakota

The A Place, $35,000 (by Aberdeen Area Community Foundation; submitted by Julie Johnson): Opening a pathway to more opportunity and civic engagement by creating a one-stop information and assistance center for immigrants and New Americans.

Akron, Ohio

Innerbelt National Forest, $214,420 (submitted by Hunter Franks): Reconnecting two socially and physically isolated neighborhoods by replacing a closed freeway in Akron with a lush forest and public space.

@PLAY, $241,000 (by Art x Love LLC; submitted by William Love): Encouraging deeper community connections through custom games and recreational activities that highlight the unique history, identity and character of each of the city’s communities.

Biloxi, Mississippi

Witnessing the Beach, $100,000 (by Gulf Coast Community Design Studio; submitted by David Perkes): Engaging the public across race, income and age differences through a series of community gathering and discussion spaces at the beach along the path of the “wade-in” protests, which led to the desegregation of the public beach in 1968.

Bradenton, Florida

Speak Up Bradenton, $32,000 (by Manatee County Government; submitted by Simone Peterson): Encouraging greater civic engagement by opening up avenues for citizens to participate in government decision-making in non-traditional settings such as bus stops, landmarks and other public gathering places.

Charlotte, North Carolina

Rail Trail Grove & Field, $150,200 (by Charlotte Center City Partners; submitted by Erin Gillespie): Encouraging economic development and city vibrancy by creating a lively place to connect with nature and neighbors along Charlotte’s light rail line. The space will also help link a retail employment center to the nearest transit stop.

Your Move, Charlotte, $138,875 (submitted by Varian Shrum): Strengthening connections between citizens and local government through a weekly podcast and follow-up roundtable, in which government representatives and millennials engage on local issues.

Columbia, South Carolina

The State’s Front Porch, $195,000 (by city of Columbia; submitted by John Fellows): Encouraging residents to connect with their government by reimagining the State House as a front porch for all, including seating, events and alternative work spaces throughout the State House grounds.


Atwater Beach, $225,000 (by Detroit RiverFront Conservancy; submitted by Jan Shimshock): Further activating the Detroit waterfront by creating an inviting, urban beach along the city’s Atwater Street.

Better Buildings, Better Blocks, $150,000 (by Building Community Value; submitted by Chase Cantrell): Providing a pipeline for minorities into real estate jobs, by teaching the fundamentals of small-scale property development and providing initial project financing.

Design Center in a Box: A Place for Informed Community Exchange, $205,000 (by City of Detroit Planning and Development Department; submitted by Susan Burrows): Promoting civic engagement by creating pop-up city planning offices where residents can connect with city planning staff and others to exchange ideas and become informed about the design and planning work happening in their neighborhood and the city at large.

Detroit’s Slow Roll, $129,400 (by Detroit Bike City; submitted by Jeff Herron): Leveraging the 25,000 cyclists who participate in Slow Roll Detroit and demonstrating how to engage Detroit’s nonprofit sector, drive renewal and smile while doing it.

Happy 18th Birthday! Local Citizenship Kit, $101,000 (by Citizen Detroit; submitted by Sandra Yu Stahl): Celebrating Detroiters becoming eligible to vote by sending them a local citizenship kit in the mail on their 18th birthday.

Duluth, Minnesota

Making Canal Park Pop, $200,000 (by city of Duluth; submitted by Elissa Hansen): Connecting residents to both Canal Park and to each other by creating a pop-up parklet that will encourage more people to visit.

Gary, Indiana

City Church Ruins Garden, $163,333 (by City of Gary Redevelopment Commission; submitted by Samuel Salvesen): Making downtown more vibrant by transforming a historic, abandoned Gothic church in downtown into a ruins garden and event space.

Grand Forks, North Dakota

The Grand Forks Freezeway, $141,140 (submitted by Nicholas Jensen): Inspiring winter fun and city pride by turning unused bike paths into ice skating paths during winter.

Lexington, Kentucky

Plant&Play, $125,000 (by North Limestone Community Development Corp.: Building an adventure playscape and community garden in Castlewood Park, a 30-acre neighborhood park on the north end of Lexington.

Macon, Georgia

Back Lot Drive-In at the Tubman, $92,925 (by Tubman Museum; submitted by Jared Wright): Expanding the reach of Macon’s art and museum district by transforming the parking lot of the Tubman Museum into a drive-in theater with screenings that coincide with exhibitions that support the museum’s mission to educate visitors about African-American art, history and culture. 

Pop-Up Garage Park, $25,465 (submitted by Cole Porter): Converting an abandoned parking garage into a vibrant, environmentally-friendly community space by introducing green space, art, tables and event programming.


Civic Incite: Citizens Setting the Agenda, $105,595 (by Civic Incite; submitted by Jorge Damian de la Paz): Inspiring civic engagement with an online platform that tracks public meetings and legislation across cities to promote in-person engagement with local governments.

Miami-Dade Quickbuild Program, $150,000 (by Street Plans Collaborative; submitted by Anthony Garcia): Establishing a program within Miami-Dade County in partnership with local transportation nonprofit Green Mobility Network that advances low-cost, quick-build transportation and open space projects.

Rep(resentative) Miami, $119,800 (by Engage Miami; submitted by Rob Biskupic): Breaking down barriers to civic participation by putting clear, actionable information about local elected officials directly into citizens’ hands.

Milledgeville, Georgia

The Year of Voting Dangerously, $12,000 (by Twin Lakes Library System; submitted by Stephen Houser): Engaging the community with a mobile voting booth that prompts residents to respond to pressing local issues and initiatives.

Palm Beach County, Florida

12 for 12: Popup to Rent, $180,000 (by city of West Palm beach; submitted by Christopher Roog): Expanding on the success of a pilot pop-up gallery project by inviting local talent to activate 12 empty storefront spaces as an economic catalyst for West Palm Beach.


A Dream Deferred: PHL Redlining – Past, Present, Future, $300,000 (by Little Giant Creative; submitted by Tayyib Smith): Building more equitable communities by launching a series of convenings across several cities where decision-makers, social entrepreneurs, activists and innovators discuss equitable community development.

PHL Participatory Design Lab, $338,000 (by city of Philadelphia; submitted by Liana Dragoman and Anjali Chainani): Providing a space for Philadelphians to design city service solutions with a mobile, participatory city design lab that will travel from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Tabadul: [Re]Presenting and [Ex]Changing Our America, $180,000 (by Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture; submitted by Hazami Sayed): Creating forums for cultural exchange that connect communities and activate public spaces through photographic displays of youths’ expressions of identity.

Up Up & Away: Building a Programming Space for Comics & Beyond, $50,000 (by Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse; submitted by Ariell Johnson): Creating a space where diverse communities of aspiring comic creators can attend workshops and receive professional development.

Vendor Village in the Park: Vending to Vibrancy, $175,478 (by Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Corp. [SEAMAAC]; submitted by Thoai Nguyen): Providing entrepreneurial opportunities and connecting diverse communities by opening a marketplace for immigrant cuisine in Mifflin Square Park.

San Jose, California

Local Color, $180,000 (by Exhibition District; submitted by Erin Salazar): Activating vacant commercial sites with a creative bazaar featuring artist studios alongside modular, open spaces for multidisciplinary community learning and teaching.

Reimagining the City: City Designer for San Jose, $150,000 (by city of San Jose; submitted by Shireen Santosham): Working to ensure San Jose develops into a walkable, green and engaged metropolis by hiring a visionary chief architect.

St. Paul, Minnesota

Pop-Up Power to the People, $73,200 (by city of St. Paul; submitted by Catherine Penkert): Creating a suite of fun civic engagement tools that gives St. Paul residents the power to design their own community meetings.

Wichita, Kansas

Horizontes, $100,000 (submitted by Armando Minjarez-Monarrez): Connecting two neighborhoods by painting murals depicting neighborhood residents through an industrial corridor that separates them and engaging residents to reflect on what a “new horizon” for the neighborhood would look like.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation:

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit