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Detroit has become a place people come to learn about our models of urban entrepreneurship and civic innovation. This is something we should take pride in – but in the same spirit of renewal and the re-thinking and re-shaping that makes Detroit a city to watch, we must continue a broad discussion of what kind of city we want Detroit to be, and how we can achieve that vision.

This is why the Knight Foundation just launched our Knight Cities Challenge, a $5 million initiative to help Detroit and 25 other cities where the foundation invests reach their potential by starting an exchange of ideas around the three core concepts that affect a city’s economic success the most: attracting talented people, expanding economic opportunity, and creating a culture of civic engagement. Regardless of who wins the challenge, this is a great opportunity for a conversation about where our priorities should be now and in the future. No matter who you are, if you have any thoughts for how to make Detroit better, we strongly encourage you to submit an application.

Over the last few years Detroit became a hub for entrepreneurs, start-ups and social innovation activists. Our entrepreneurial ecosystem has been kickstarted by the efforts of the New Economy Initiative, TechTown, Detroit Venture Partners and more. People just starting out are being aided by BUILD Institute, Detroit SOUP, ProsperUS, SWOT City, and Detroit Creative Corridor Center. As for social innovation, the Motor City Mapping project led by Loveland Technologies and Data Driven Detroit has changed the way we are collecting data about properties in Detroit. At the same time, FoodLab Detroit and Detroit Kitchen Connect, in partnership with places like Eastern Market, are changing how food entrepreneurs engage with the city. And the REVOLVE program at Detroit Economic Growth Corporation has shown new possibilities for enhancing commercial districts like the West Village, the Livernois Corridor and Grandmont Rosedale. Each of these efforts takes advantage of Detroit’s unique assets and the big ideas of Detroiters working to make our city stronger.

This trend is merely the beginning for Detroit. We at the Knight Foundation think there are many ideas brewing outside the usual winners of these sorts of challenges. Plenty of Detroit citizens likely have good ideas but have never really had the opportunity to air them, refine them and potentially receive the financial and institutional backing of a foundation like Knight to take them from kernel to concept and finally, to reality.

Knight is deeply invested in bringing the best, most innovative ideas to the table and wants anyone with a big idea to apply. Activists, designers, artists, planning professionals, hackers, architects, city officials, educators, non-profits, entrepreneurs, block captains, social workers – everyone is welcome. We have intentionally made the initial application incredibly simple – just two questions, no requirement for a detailed budget or a list of bona fides – to encourage applications from people who aren’t professional grant writers and haven’t worked with Knight before.

Cities need to be spaces where opportunity is expanding and open to all. That means cities need to create places where people of diverse backgrounds can connect across economic divides, so strengths can be shared throughout the community. We’ve encouraged this openness in our application process, and hope that the community conversations started during the challenge continue well beyond the application deadlines and announcement of the winners – spurring deeper community innovation for years to come.

This is an important opportunity for everyone in the city, at every level, to contribute their ideas for making Detroit a better place. No project is too small, as long as the idea is big. Detroit, be sure to submit your big idea by November 14.

Katy Locker is Detroit program director for the Knight Foundation.

Knight Cities Challenge Q&A session

For local innovators applying to the Knight Cities Challenge

TechTown, 440 Burroughs St.

6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

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