Knight Contest’s Detroit Finalists Propose Innovative Civic Projects

More than a dozen Detroit-based civic projects incorporating entrepreneurship, repurposed vacant spaces, co-working, and more have been nominated as part of the second-annual Knight Cities Challenge, a national competition that seeks ideas for improving the 26 communities where the Knight Foundation invests its philanthropic dollars. The winning pitches are awarded grants in various amounts.

Applicants are asked for their best ideas to make their cities “more successful.” The Knight Cities Challenge is open to anyone: non-profit and government organizations, design firms, co-working spaces, students, neighborhood groups, activists, urban planners, hackers, artists, and journalists are among the applicants. The competition is divided into three categories—talent, opportunity, and engagement—and each project should focus on at least one of those categories and benefit at least one of the Knight cities.

This year, the Knight Cities Challenge received more than 4,500 propositions from across the country. Of the 158 chosen as finalists, 20 are from Detroit, with Philadelphia the only other city with that many submissions. Last year, 32 winners were selected, including five in Detroit. This year, an undetermined number of winners will be announced in the spring, and they’ll share $5 million in grants toward bringing their projects to life.

Here are the Detroit ideas that made the final cut, with most project descriptions supplied by the Knight Foundation:

Community Sense: Sensor-Based City Learning for the K-20 Detroit Pipeline by the University of Michigan School of Education: 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.

Detroit Bureau of Emergent Urbanity by MODCaR: Repurposing a vacant area into a public space and open forum for design innovation and urban transformation; the project will connect designers with residents to help them realize their ideas for bringing positive change to the city through the forum and accompanying digital platform.

Mobile Bamboo by Bamboo Detroit: Exposing more residents to the opportunities that are available to start or grow a business in Detroit by expanding Bamboo Detroit, a co-working community for entrepreneurs, into neighborhoods with mobile sites that offer learning and networking events.

Permit Corps by Michigan Municipal League Foundation: Making it easier to get stuff done in Detroit by connecting students who can provide free expertise on navigating city regulations and codes to residents who need their services.

Soy Entrepreneur:  Business Success through Language Access by Global Detroit: Connecting Detroit’s Spanish businesses with the city’s larger entrepreneurial ecosystem through a shared workspace that will provide Internet access, computers, and digital media equipment, as well as learning and networking opportunities.

The Underground Order of Tactical Urbanists: Creating a network of tactical urbanists who collectively select a single urban challenge each year on which to focus quick, low-cost, creative improvements.

GLoW: DeTROiT by BANKAi Group: Installing artist-designed lighting in Detroit neighborhoods to improve neighborhood life and encourage more people to live and work in the city.

Detroit’s Exciting Adventure into the Pink Zone by Detroit Department of Planning and Development: 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.

Southwest Detroit Is Poppin’ by Southwest Detroit Business Association: Engaging artists and entrepreneurs to create entertaining pop-up events in vacant spaces in Southwest Detroit neighborhoods to attract new interest and people to the area.

Ignite Design Detroit: Engaging Detroit youth in designing solutions that improve the day-to-day life of Detroiters through a series of workshops that teach participants about industrial design and entrepreneurship.

Side X Sidelots by Detroit Future City: Transforming vacant land in the city with the help of Detroit Future City’s “Field Guide to Working With Lots”; the project will recruit ambassadors to work with neighborhoods on using the step-by-step guide to transform vacant or underused lots.

Dequindre Cut Market by Detroit RiverFront Conservancy: 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.

Bike-alogues: 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.

Walk In, Don’t Knock by Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History: Creating a new public plaza at the Wright Museum, the world’s largest African-American history museum, to provide a public space for residents to connect around cultural and community issues.

Storefront Speakeasy by Live6: Transforming abandoned commercial storefronts with a pop-up culture cafe showcasing regional live music and spoken word.

Neighborhoods Rising by ARISE Detroit: Using the power of radio and community by introducing ARISE Detroit radio listeners to programs showcasing organizations and individuals working for positive change and encouraging them to join efforts to contribute to city growth.

Give One, Get One by City of Detroit: Creating sustainable micro-parks in Detroit neighborhoods that are designed in response to community needs, require few resources, and are easy to maintain.

The Green Turn-Up Effect by Detroit Future City Implementation Office: Training youth on environmental sustainability and landscape architecture to educate them on transforming vacant lots, creating profitable business models through this work, and implementing what they learn. Youth will partner with community members to develop their ideas.

What We’ve Never Learned Before Will Surprise Us by Welcome Mat Detroit: Breaking down community barriers with a conversation series that focuses on race relations and immigration, addressing important issues such as refugee policy, and equity and police conduct.

College Core Community Corridor by the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, University of Detroit Mercy: Building a pedestrian greenway and open spaces on vacant land that connects the area between the University of Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College. The project will be driven by neighborhood residents and a resident task force from each project block.

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