Have an Idea for Improving Your City? Knight Might Fund It.

The Knight Foundation is launching its second search for innovative and unorthodox ideas for developing U.S. cities.
by | September 23, 2015
One person won $297,000 to rehab a public pool in Philadelphia. (Group Melvin Design and Sikora Wells Appel)

What do efforts to repaint polling stations, spruce up community pools and hand out community conservation kits have in common? All were initiatives proposed by nonprofits, government employees or other people that received money from the John S. and James. L Knight Foundation’s Cities Challenge last year.

The Knight Foundation’s Cities Challenge offered a share of $5 million to applicants with ideas for making cities better. This October, it's launching its second search for innovative and unorthodox ideas on ways to develop American cities -- and anyone can enter.

Last year, Ben Bryant received $297,000 for the “Pop-Up Pool Project” initiative, which rehabilitated a public pool in Philadelphia to promote a public space where community members could come together.

“People have negative perceptions of public pools. They don’t know how to use them or when they are open.” Bryant said. “It’s important to introduce people to a public space assets that already exists and is already great.”

Feedback from the community was positive, Bryant said, and the city of Philadelphia is hoping to expand the idea.

Knight received 7,000 proposals last year but gave only 32 grants. Among last year’s winning project proposals were tiny, car-sized “Houselets” and communal porch-swings. A design agency (also in Philadelphia) won $166,394 to create new polling station signs and commission artists to perform at polling stations to bring out more people to vote in local elections. The Central Roxborough Civic Association got $20,000 for Neighborhood Conservation Kits that could be used by Philadelphia residents.

Proposals are limited to the 26 U.S. cities where the Knight Family has newspapers, including Macon, Ga.; St. Paul, Minn.,; and San Jose, Calif.

“Innovation is creativity in action,” said Carol Coletta, Knight's vice president of communities and national initiatives. “I think we are looking for people with a sharp idea of what a community can benefit from -- whether it’s a problem to be solved, a challenge to be met or an opportunity to be realized.”

Applicants to be considered for this year’s Knight Foundation Cities Challenge have to submit their proposals by Oct. 27 through Knightcities.org. Winners will be announced in spring of 2016. The number of winners and the amount given to each initiative is not predetermined.

“This is for people who are dreamers and doers,” Coletta said. “They have got to be both.”