During this contentious election season one theme has remained constant across party lines: an unshakeable belief in the American power to innovate. We at Knight Foundation also believe that good ideas can come from anywhere, and anyone. It’s why we launched the Knight Cities Challenge two years ago, and it’s why we’re bringing back the challenge for its third iteration this fall.
Jonathan Morschl, an architect from Akron, Ohio, entered his big idea into the challenge last October. He saw the closure of an underused section of downtown highway as an opportunity to create a new public space for residents and visitors by planning and building a mountain bike park. The Knight Cities Challenge reviewers agreed, and Morschl, who doesn’t even bike, ended up winning $120,000 to make his idea a reality. Suddenly Akron was abuzz and local leaders were pledging their support. After the idea was featured in Fast Company Morschl received tweets, calls and e-mails from strangers offering to donate supplies, money, time and expertise.
That’s the power of good ideas. They pick up momentum quickly, especially if they have a bit of cash and publicity behind them. Since the first challenge opened in 2014, almost 70 projects have shared in $10 million. We’re looking forward to the next round.
This fall we’re opening the next Knight Cities Challenge to offer $5 million in grant funding for your best ideas to make the 26 Knight communities more successful. The challenge will open Monday, Oct. 10, and close Thursday, Nov. 3, at knightcities.org. We will announce the winners in spring 2017.
We’re looking for new ideas that can make impact in three areas that are crucial to building more successful cities – attracting and retaining talent, increasing economic opportunity and promoting civic engagement.
Cities need to attract and keep graduates to improve their economic prospects, so we need to build the types of cities where they want to live. We’re interested in ideas that attract and keep talented people while supporting them in contributing to the common good.
Cities are becoming increasingly segregated racially and economically. We’re interested in ideas that combat isolation and segregation while opening up pathways to economic opportunity. We’re particularly interested in the role that public spaces can play in knitting communities together.
Cities are seeing fewer people attached to or taking an active role in civic life. We’re seeking ideas that reverse this trend to support full participation and a culture of civic engagement.
The challenge is an easy way to get an idea in front of Knight Foundation. The initial application asks just three 100-word questions about your idea and your team. You don’t need to know all of the details at this stage; we’re looking for promising ideas, not fully baked plans. If you’re selected as a finalist, we’ll ask you for more information.
The challenge is designed to be a source of “risk capital.” We’re interested in testing new ideas and exploring what works so that we can spread learning across our network of cities. We’re not looking to provide ongoing support for work that’s underway. You don’t need to be from a Knight city to apply, but your project must take place in a Knight community, one of 26 places where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers.
You can learn more during our community events or during virtual office hours. Check the schedule here and make plans to attend or tune in.
Start thinking about your big ideas and get ready to submit beginning Monday, Oct. 10, at knightcities.org.
George Abbott is special assistant to the vice president for community and national initiatives and the project manager for the Knight Cities Challenge. Email him via email@example.com and follow him on Twitter via@garthurabbott.