Knight Foundation awards 6 Detroit projects $600K

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit will be one of three cities to have an urban consulate where city dwellers and travelers can have a cross-city cultural exchange.

Claire Nelson's plan to create such consulates — first in Detroit and then in New Orleans and Philadelphia — as a safe space for inquisitive minds and provocative ideas has won praise and financial support from the first Knight Cities Challenge.

An initiative by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the challenge is a nationwide competition that attracted more than 7,000 ideas from 26 communities. The idea is to create a project to make towns more vibrant places to live and work. Detroit had 1,000 submissions.

Knight officials will announce Tuesday that Detroit represents six of the 32 winners who will share $5 million.

All the winning projects focus on talent, opportunity and engagement, Knight officials said, which are three drivers of city success.

"I like that Detroit really showed up. I'm excited to see what they will do with the opportunity," said Katy Locker, Detroit program director for Knight. "One of the great values that Knight brings is we get to connect our innovators in Detroit with a network of innovators from across the nation to showcase what is happening in Detroit."

Nelson said she is still negotiating the location of the consulate space.

There will be a curated program of revolving talks, exhibits, screenings, pop-up dinners and more, she said.

The program is getting a $150,000 grant.

"There is a lot of interest and appetite to learn about other cities. The idea for the Urban Consulate is a space to learn about the best ideas of what is happening in your city," she said. "The idea is more like a living room, a salon, where you can have intimate spaces and conversations."

The other Detroit winners, who will share a total of $600,000 in grants, are:

■Brand Camp: Detroit's Neighborhood Initiative, The RE-Effect, $164,810 by Brand Camp University, submitted by Hajj Flemings. Changing the narrative of underserved neighborhoods by developing compelling branding and digital presences for neighborhood businesses that better tell their stories.

■Brick + Beam Detroit, $87,424 by Michigan Historic Preservation Network, submitted by Emilie Evans. Creating a new community of Detroit rehabbers who will work together to combat blight, reactivate vacant buildings and improve their city.

■The Buzz, $84,055 by Detroit Future City, submitted by Erin Kelly: Pairing barbers with landscape contractors to transform overgrown vacant lots through facilitated design workshops that teach mowing and pattern-making techniques.

■Detroit Homecoming, $100,000 by Crain's Detroit Business, submitted by Eric Cedo. Engaging Detroit expats with a new digital community designed to keep them connected to Detroit and its opportunities.

■LIVE Detroit, $40,000 by LIVE Detroit, submitted by Rachel Perschetz. Attracting and retaining residents by creating a center for information about Detroit neighborhoods and city life that showcases the best of Detroit.

Winning projects are based in 12 of the 26 communities where Knight invests: Detroit; Akron, Ohio; Bradenton, Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; Columbus, Georgia; Gary, Indiana; Lexington, Kentucky; Macon, Georgia; Miami; Philadelphia; St. Paul, Minnesota; and San Jose, California.

The 32 winners proposed a host of ideas, from creating a subscription service that celebrates Akron with a monthly boxed selection of local goods and experiences, to mobilizing city leaders to hold monthly ceremonies for St. Paul newcomers where they are presented with a warm winter hat, to fostering conversation among strangers by installing Charlotte's signature porch swings in public spaces.

"Not only did the Knight Cities Challenge uncover a wealth of new ideas to make our cities more successful, it will help strengthen a network of civic innovators who are taking hold of the future of their cities," said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives.

"These important connections will help create a pipeline for new approaches to city transformation and spark the type of collaboration vital to growing and spreading good ideas."

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