14 Great Ideas to Improve Communities

Khari Johnson
Jan 21, 2016 · 3 min read
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Image for post
Credit: Knight Foundation

Every year the Knight Foundation issues an open call to civic technologists, agencies, and basically anyone who has big, hairy ideas to invent ourselves to better communities.

This year, the Knight Cities Challenge received more than 4,500 answers to the question: “What’s your best idea to make cities more successful?”

We read through the ideas for about 150 finalists to identify the most innovative, standout ideas and now report back to you. There was a proposal for an Office of Nerd Tourism, a fair amount of shipping containers, lots of rethinking how to use vacant space, and more dancing all around Charlotte, N.C., than you may have expected.

Detroit led the way with more applications than any other city. Recently dubbed a design capital of the world by UNESCO, Motown joins Philadelphia for the city with the largest number of ideas to make it to the final round.

(NewCo Detroit will be held April 13.)

These are ideas to make government more accountable, business activity more vibrant, and communities closer. Winners will be announced in April. You can see a complete list of finalists (by city) here. Which ones are we looking at most closely?

Akron, Ohio
Coffee/Drink/Dance: Create a website that pairs residents from different parts of the city who don’t know each other for conversations that help break down barriers.

Boulder, Colo.
Go Go Government:
Increase civic engagement by creating a mobile city hall that visits neighborhoods to help the city and residents identify problems and find creative opportunities.

Charlotte, N.C.
Can Do Signs: Instead of municipal signs that tell people “what not to do,” spur fun, imagination, and positivity by reminding people what they can do: You can dance! You can sing! You can skip!

Queen City Quiz Show: A mobile quiz show that teams local musicians and artists with cultural groups to entertain, enlighten, and challenge communities with questions about the city from the trivial to the controversial.

Soy Entrepreneur: Business Success through Language Access
: Connect Detroit’s Spanish businesses with the city’s larger entrepreneurial ecosystem through a shared workspace.

Community Sense: Sensor-Based City Learning for the K-20 Detroit Pipeline: Train young people to use sensors and data analytics to track area environmental conditions like traffic, noise, and temperature.

Duluth, Minn.
Wheels That Lived to Move
: Provide artistic, refurbished road bikes at bus stops to generate music or heat (in winter) through pedaling.

Long Beach, Calif.
Placemaking the Vote
: Develop a kit for temporary pop-up social spaces at voting polls in historically low-turnout areas to encourage voting and celebrate democracy.

Miami, Fla.
Thrive Kitchen
: Create a shared commercial kitchen and business incubator for Miami’s food entrepreneurs in part to cultivate talent in South Florida’s underserved communities.

Community Asset Platform: Create an online platform to map neighborhood assets and underused public areas (vacant lots, empty storefronts) and engage residents in redevelopment efforts.

Living with Water: Miami Beach Blueways Connector: Create a kayak-sharing program with stations located near existing bike-share, car-share, and transit hubs.

St. Paul, Minn.
Civic Shed
: Create an accessible set of public space prototyping tools, such as landscaping elements and seating — and places to store them — to help community groups test neighborhood improvements.

Tallahassee, Fla.
The Longest Table:
Build cross-community relationships with a series of community meals in 100 homes.

Wichita, Kan.
Vote Like a Mother
: Free child care and social meetups designed to make voting more accessible, convenient, and fun for local moms.

We’ll let you know who wins …

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Photo Credit: Knight Foundation

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