Detroit Big Winner in Knight Contest for Innovative Civic Projects

The Knight Foundation announced the winners of its annual Knight Cities Challenge competition today, and Detroit-centered projects cleaned up. Out of the approximately 4,500 applications submitted nationwide, 767 came from Detroiters—more than any other city “by a pretty wide margin,” organizers said. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that of the 37 winners, six were from Detroit, which is also more than any other city. Out of the $5 million in total prize money dispersed nationally, $638,000 will fund Detroit-based initiatives.

The competition seeks ideas from innovators located in Knight cities—twenty-six communities where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers, including Detroit, Philadelphia, Akron, Miami, and St. Paul—that focus on talent, opportunity, and engagement. (One doesn’t have to live in a Knight city to apply, but the project must benefit a Knight city.) The goal of the Cities Challenge is to help spur civic innovation and expand economic prospects by breaking down barriers, testing ideas, and fostering new connections. The proposed ideas can be big or small, but they should have a wide impact. Each winning project in the Cities Challenge gets an 18-month grant of varying amounts.

“Knight’s mission is informed and engaged communities because that leads to more robust and democratic cities,” said Katy Locker, who directs Knight’s efforts in the Motor City and personally read every Detroit idea submitted to the contest. “There’s no place that needs it more than Detroit, and in no city is there a bigger opportunity. A lot of what’s being built out in Detroit’s downtown core is for a very specific demographic and income level, but how do we extend those opportunities to other neighborhoods? What I find affirming is that we had a remarkable number of ideas coming from all places, and this list [of winners] represents that.”

Here are the winning Detroit projects, with most descriptions supplied by Locker or the Knight Foundation:

Sensors in a Shoebox, submitted by the University of Michigan ($138,339): Trains kids to use sensors and data analytics to 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.

Locker described this project as exceptionally timely, given the recent Newsweek cover story about Southwest Detroit’s air pollution problem. “We want to see what happens when you let the youth of the community measure the impact of things like air quality,” she said. “(Project lead) Elizabeth Birr Moje is an expert in urban education, and she really thought through how to make the learning experiential.”

Detroit’s Exciting Adventure into the Pink Zone, submitted by the City of Detroit ($75,000): Develops a new tool to streamline city development regulations … Next Page »

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