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Free Knit Hats and 6 Other Winning Ideas From the Knight Cities Challenge

From keeping Detroit expats in touch to taking local food on the road, these projects all strive for connection.

Knight Cities Challenge

For six weeks last fall, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation accepted submissions for the first-ever Knight Cities Challenge. More than 7,000 entrants proposed ways to improve how cities work. Now, the Knight Foundation has announced that 32 winners will share the grant money to implement ideas across a dozen different cities.

The winning ideas range from building an innovation hub for immigrants to prototyping modular homes for temporary affordable housing. The funded projects are concentrated in 12 of the Knight Foundation's 26 cities. The proposals will affect residents in Miami; Detroit; Philadelphia; Lexington; San Jose; St. Paul; Akron; Charlotte; Bradenton, Florida; Columbus, Georgia; Gary, Indiana; and Macon, Georgia—and in some cases far beyond.

Plenty of these ideas would do well in any city. Others seem tailor-made for the places they're meant to help. Some of the best ideas, though, are designed to bring people into particular places. Here's a list of some of the best of the "ambassadorial" concepts that secured funding in the Knight Cities Challenge.

Detroit Homecoming: A project by Crain's Detroit Business (submitted by Eric Cedo), Detroit Homecoming would build a digital community focusing on the city's expats—presumably to keep them informed and make them wish they were still back home. ($100,000)

The Urban Consulate: Nations establish embassies with one another; why not cities? Claire Nelson suggests building a series of "consulates" located in Detroit, Philadelphia, and New Orleans to promote "cross-city cultural and civic exchange." ($150,000)

Operation Export Macon: Joshua Lovett and the College Hill Alliance want to send a one-man trailer to other cities in the area to show off the best food and products that Macon has to offer. ($75,000)

MN Nice Breakers: Jun-Li Wang wants to make St. Paul more friendly for newcomers by using events to help them enmesh themselves into the social networks related to the city.  ($37,960)

Rolling Out the Warm Welcome Hat: Jun-Li Wang won another Knight Cities Challenge grant for an even more direct suggestion: Give a knitted hat to everyone who moves to St. Paul. ($67,288)

This list is far from complete, as compelling ideas among the winners go. Unbox Akron, for example, is a subscription service for goods and services made in Akron ($52,169). And ArtHouse: a Social Kitchen—one of the bigger proposals to receive funding—will restore an unused downtown space in Gary, Indiana, as a cafe and culinary incubator ($650,000).

So look over the complete list of winners to get a sense of what the Knight Foundation's after. The next Knight Cities Challenge opens in fall 2015.

About the Author

  • Kriston Capps
    Kriston Capps is a staff writer at CityLab. More

    Kriston Capps is a staff writer at CityLab, where he writes about housing, art and design. Previously, he was a senior editor at Architect magazine.