Seven outstanding fellows chosen for their efforts to transform cities as part of inaugural Knight Public Spaces Fellowship – Knight Foundation

Seven outstanding fellows chosen for their efforts to transform cities as part of inaugural Knight Public Spaces Fellowship

Fellows will receive a share of more than $1 million for their efforts to use public spaces to transform communities

June 19, 2019 — To advance the creation of public spaces that transform communities, seven outstanding individuals from across the United States have been named Knight Public Spaces Fellows, an initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Launched this year, the project recognizes leaders, experts, and practitioners who have created or influenced great public spaces that strengthen community engagement and connection. Fellows will each receive $150,000 in recognition of their contributions and to advance their work. 

Fellows include talented leaders with exemplary track records of crafting public spaces — parks, plazas, trails, community spaces and streets — that create opportunities for civic engagement. The fellowship aligns with Knight’s support of public spaces as a means to connect communities, drawing people out of their homes and encouraging them to meet, play and discuss important issues, while finding common ground. 

Fellows will receive $150,000 in flexible funding to provide them with the space and freedom to unleash their creativity. They will also have access to opportunities to work with and learn from each other, and to elevate their work to a wider audience. The program will encourage the sharing of lessons across cities, and in particular the communities where Knight invests. Participants are expected to build on their ongoing work, while developing new efforts for the field.

“These rare people see something different when they look at streets, parks and sidewalks —they see a vision of how our communities could look, feel and be different,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact. “We hope this recognition accelerates their visionary work and invites others to challenge the way we think about and use public space.” 

Fellows were identified through a national call for nominations that launched in February, which generated more than 2,000 candidates. They were selected by Knight staff in collaboration with experts and leaders in the field. The Fellows were announced at the inaugural Knight Public Spaces Forum this afternoon in Philadelphia.  

The fellows include: 

Anuj Gupta (Philadelphia): General manager of Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, one of the largest and oldest public markets, Gupta has brought new and innovative distribution and engagement models to the market. In particular, he has spearheaded engagement initiatives focused on connecting cultures and bringing people of different backgrounds together around food.

Chelina Odbert (Los Angeles) (@kounkuey): Odbert is co-founder and executive director of Kounkuey Design Initiative, a nonprofit design firm (with offices in Los Angeles, the Coachella Valley, Nairobi and Stockholm) that prioritizes community participation in public space development — designing side-by-side with residents. Odbert emphasizes that public space design must integrate not only environmental, but also social and economic strategies to address community inequities. Her recent work in Coachella Valley and Los Angeles showcases this approach.  

Eric Klinenberg (New York) (@EricKlinenberg): The Helen Gould Shepard Professor of Social Science at NYU and a practitioner working on urban public spaces, Klinenberg most recently served as research director of Rebuild by Design. The federal competition focused on generating innovative designs for 21st Century infrastructure in the region affected by Superstorm Sandy. In 2018, Klinenberg published “Palaces for the People”, a book about the essential role of social infrastructure (including libraries, playgrounds, and parks) in revitalizing democratic culture and civic life.

Erin Salazar (San Jose, California) (@localcolorsj): Founder and Executive Director of Exhibition District, Salazar heads a woman-owned and operated arts nonprofit building economic opportunities for creatives at the intersection of art and community development in San Jose. Salazar is redefining what “public space” is and what it could be in a city full of large corporations, while working to maintain the community’s cultural authenticity.

Kathryn Ott Lovell (Philadelphia): Commissioner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, Lovell oversees one of the largest park systems in the country, bringing a strong focus on innovation to the government sector. Her emphasis on “citizen centric” service, provides exceptional parks and recreation opportunities to residents and prioritizes community engagement.

Robert Hammond (New York) (@robertrhammond): Co-Founder and Executive Director of the High Line, Robert had the vision and foresight to lead the effort to build an elevated park on an abandoned railway line in New York City 20 years ago. In 2017, he formed the High Line Network, which focuses on the equitable development of underused city infrastructure to develop new urban landscapes.

Walter Hood (Oakland, California) (@HDHoodDesign): Hood is creative director and founder of Hood Design, a firm that practices at the intersection of art, design, landscape, research and urbanism across the country. He is also a professor at the University of California, Berkeley in landscape architecture and urban design.Hood Design Studio designs public spaces for institutions such as Cooper Hewitt Museum, Broad Museum and Solar Strand at University of Buffalo, as well as neighborhood community spaces such as Splash Pad Park in Oakland, California and Baisley Park in New York City (now Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson Community Garden).

Knight Foundation supports informed and engaged communities by investing in cities to attract and nurture talent, promote economic opportunity and foster civic engagement. We believe that public spaces are a key ingredient in connecting people to each other and the places where they live. The foundation has made several investments in this area including the national Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative, that seeks to bring people together by revitalizing and connecting public spaces.

The Knight Public Spaces Fellows. From left to right: Sam Gill, Knight Foundation; Robert Hammond, Friends of the High Line; Eric Klinenberg, New York University; Chelina Odbert, Kounkuey Design Initiative; Erin Salazar, Exhibition District; Anuj Gupta, Reading Terminal Market; Kathryn Ott Lovell, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation; Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation; Lilly Weinberg, Knight Foundation. (Not pictured: Walter Hood, Hood Design.) Credit: Albert Yee.

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


Lauren Dickinson, Communications Officer, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2694, [email protected]

Image (top): Courtesy of High Line