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37 Winning Ideas to Make Cities More Successful

An idea for Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Tired-a-Lot program seeks to engage young people by using low-cost materials to transform vacant lots.

The annual Knight Cities Challenge invites anyone and everyone to submit ideas about how to make the 26 communities where the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation invests more vibrant places to live and work.

On April 12, the Foundation announced that 37 projects will share $5 million as winners of its 2015 challenge, which launched last October and attracted more than 4,500 ideas about how to help cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunities and create a culture of civic engagement.

The winners are listed in alphabetical order by city. The next challenge will open this fall.


Cuyahoga Explore-a-Foot | $70,000: Encouraging visitors to explore remote regions of Cuyahoga Valley National Park by providing services and amenities, such as help with travel arrangements and baggage transport, that make it more accessible. (Submitted by Brian and Tracy Davis)

Downtown Akron Innerbelt Bicycle Park | $120,000: Providing new life for an abandoned section of the highway by creating a “bicycle park” that promotes cycling, encourages new riders and attracts cyclists from throughout the region and nation. (Submitted by Jonathan Morschl)


Tree Debris to Opportunity | $200,000: Expanding economic opportunity for members of the community in need of new skills and careers by training them to turn debris from infested and diseased trees into furniture and art. (By the City of Boulder, submitted by Yvette Bowden)


Crown TownHall | $85,000: Helping residents more easily connect with their local government and get involved with civic issues through pop-up events where they can meet elected officials, sign up for city services, and review area planning efforts. (By the City of Charlotte, submitted by Jason Lawrence)

Can Do Signs | $27,900: Rethinking municipal signs that typically tell people “what not to do,” to spur fun, imagination and positivity throughout Charlotte, the project will create signs that provide amusing, enchanting, fun options: You can dance! You can sing! You can skip!  (By the City of Charlotte, submitted by Sarah Hazel)

Queen City Quiz Show | $85,000: Creating a mobile quiz show that will team local musicians and artists with cultural groups to entertain, enlighten and challenge diverse communities with questions about the city from the trivial to the pertinent and controversial.  (By Charlotte is Creative, submitted by Tim Miller)


Evolving MidTown: Lot by Lot | $174,400: Recruiting and training a diverse group of individuals on skills to become small-scale developers; participants will use distressed or underused lots as beta projects and receive access to investors and other resources.  (By the Incremental Development Alliance, submitted by Jim Kumon)

Urban Glen | $4,000: Creating “urban glens” — inviting spaces with trees, lights and hammocks — on vacant and overgrown lots to encourage people to meet and connect, while cleaning up city-owned properties.  (By the City of Columbus, submitted by Phillip Trocquet)


Pedal to Porch | $30,000: Exploring Detroit’s untold history through monthly bike tours leading participants through different areas of the city and giving residents a chance to tell the story of their neighborhoods. (By Cornetta Lane)

Dequindre Cut Market | $135,665: Creating spaces for entrepreneurs to set up shop along the Dequindre Cut with shipping container pop-up shops that will add to the vibrancy of the neighborhood and attract new interest.  (By the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, submitted by Mark Wallace)

Detroit’s Pink Zone | $75,000: Creating new opportunities for jobs and businesses by developing a new tool to streamline city development regulations and engaging design talent and developers to help reshape commercial districts. (By the City of Detroit, submitted by Maurice D. Cox)

Give a Park, Get a Park | $75,000: Creating sustainable microparks in Detroit neighborhoods that are designed in response to community needs, require few resources and are easy to maintain.  (By the City of Detroit, submitted by Maurice D. Cox)

Sensors in a Shoebox | $138,339: Training youth to use sensors and data analytics that track environmental conditions such as traffic, noise or temperature in city neighborhoods; the project will help students answer questions about their community and build ideas to make it better. (By the University of Michigan, submitted by Elizabeth Birr Moj)

The People First Project | $184,080: Creating a network of tactical urbanists who collectively select a single urban challenge each year on which to focus quick, low-cost, creative improvements. (By Chad Rochkind)


Tired-a-lot | $95,434: Creating a design studio that will engage local youth to identify and create solutions to transform vacant lots in their neighborhood with low-cost materials. (By Bridge of Grace Compassionate Ministries, submitted by Réna Bradley)


Steel City Salvage | $385,000: Establishing a reuse facility that would reclaim building materials, such as lumber, from vacant homes in Gary to contribute to economic growth, create jobs and support businesses, and provide opportunities for community collaboration on development projects.  (By Delta Institute, submitted by Eve Pytel)


New Flavors Food Truck | $106,800: Offering new American residents access to a generic food truck and the equipment they need to start their own food service business or restaurant. (By Pete Haga) 


Phoenix Forward | $150,200: Transforming Phoenix Park and Central Library into a place where children and families from diverse backgrounds can learn and play together; the project would involve complementary park and library programming and activities for families. (By the Lexington Public Library, submitted by Anne Donworth)

Parking Lot Diaries | $87,200: Creating a living civic engagement lab in an underused area next to the Transit Center that tests and tracks temporary interventions and activities designed to add vibrancy to the area; the project will contribute to the city’s Town Branch Commons plan. ( By the Lexington Downtown Development Authority, submitted by Jeff Fugate)


Place-make the Vote | $153,600: Developing a kit for creating temporary pop-up social spaces at voting polls in areas with historically low voter turnout to encourage people to vote and provide venues to celebrate democracy afterward. (By City Fabrick, submitted by Brian Ulaszewski)

The Outdoor Office | $300,000: Transforming a portion of a public park into a space that encourages creativity, collaboration and productivity, and encourages residents to take work to the park.  (By the city of Long Beach, submitted by Rachael Tanner)


Pop-up Minimum Grid | $151,900: Creating a pop-up minimum grid that would allow citizens to explore their city safely on foot or on bicycles; the project would expand a trail system from the river to downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods. (By NewTown Macon, The Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority and Macon-Bibb Government Department of Parks and Beautification, submitted by Josh Rogers)


Biscayne Green | $145,000: Creating a pop-up park and urban forest along Biscayne Boulevard to drive momentum for Biscayne Green, a proposal to redesign Biscayne Boulevard to include a pedestrian promenade. (By the Miami Downtown Development Authority, submitted by Fabian de la Espriella)

Miami Civic User Testing Group | $100,000: Ensuring that people building local government technology use real-world feedback throughout the development process by creating a user testing group that will identify user experience issues more quickly, while making websites and apps more accessible. (By Code for Miami, submitted by Rebekah Monson)

The Underline: Brickell Backyard | $250,000: Creating a sports field and gym as part of the Underline, a proposed 10-mile linear park underneath the Miami-Dade Metrorail, to provide quality-of-life incentives to talented young adults. (By Friends of the Underline, submitted by Meg Daly)


The Democracy Lab | $25,000: Creating a shared space in downtown Milledgeville, next to City Hall and near a makerspace and a library, that will foster civic engagement through public events, meetings that gather residents and leaders to problem-solve, and resources that better connect civic institutions. (By the Twin Lakes Library System, submitted by Stephen Houser)


The Sunset Rises Again | $171,650: Creating a new cultural hub in the Northwest Historic District on the site of a former jazz club and surrounding land. (By West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency, submitted by Jon Ward)


20 Book Clubs, 20 Co-op Businesses | $146,000: Increasing civic engagement and economic opportunity by launching book clubs in 20 Philadelphia neighborhoods for participants to study cooperative businesses and then form their own. (By the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance, submitted by Caitlin Quigley)

Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers | $84,674: Building cultural bridges to Philadelphia’s immigrant communities with cooking classes celebrating ethnic food operated by chefs from Reading Terminal Market. (By Reading Terminal Market, submitted by Anuj Gupta)

The Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship | $308,640: Increasing economic opportunity by using hip-hop to provide hands-on business training to members of low-income groups. (By Little Giant Creative, submitted by Tayyib Smith)

The Little Music Studio | $334,050: Breaking down community barriers with the Little Music Studio, a traveling playground for musicians. (By Group Melvin Design, submitted by Ben Bryant)


Post Street Night Market | $100,000: Expanding economic opportunity with a recurring night market that features local crafts, food and entertainment. (By Justin Triano)

The MayFeria | $100,00: Increasing civic engagement and expanding economic opportunity in San Jose’s Mayfair neighborhood with the MayFeria, which will consist of folklife events, a community task force, and a coordinator to help identify and make better use of cultural and civic assets. (By Mexican Heritage Plaza, submitted by Tamara Alvarado)


Community Collaborative Ice Luminary Project | $51,450: Increasing civic engagement through a maker event that encourages residents to make ice luminaries, share the mold for the luminaries with their neighbors, and set a record by lighting up the town. (By The Make Space, submitted by John Stitzinger)


I’m Going to Vote Today | $170,275: Testing a new way to increase participation in local elections by distributing stickers that read “I'm Going to Vote Today” to eligible voters to wear on Election Day. (By Aaron Sackett and Christopher Bryan)

Front Lawn Placemaking Platform | $82,400: Transforming front lawns from empty expanses of grass to vibrant places full of life through the development of a toolkit that encourages residents to create community hubs on their doorsteps.  (By The Musicant Group, submitted by Max Musicant)


The Longest Table | $57,250: Building cross-community relationships with an expanded series of community conversations over meals in 100 homes.  (By the city of Tallahassee, submitted by Michael Alfano)

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