3 Charlotte residents get Knight funding for city ideas

Three Charlotte residents will have the chance to see their visions for the city come to life after winning funding from the Knight Cities Challenge.

The competition, which was launched in the fall, sought ideas for improving Charlotte and 25 other communities.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation said it would give away up to $5 million to help turn residents’ ideas into realities, said Susan Patterson, the Charlotte-based program director for the Knight Foundation.

Ideas were supposed to focus on one or more of three key drivers for city success, as specified by the foundation: talent, opportunity and engagement.

In January, officials announced that eight Charlotte-area residents were among 126 finalists. The competition drew more than 7,000 submissions.

On Tuesday, 32 national entries were selected.

“In some ways you might look at these three ideas, ‘Well gosh these are kind of simple,’ but I think they’re very powerful,” Patterson said. “That’s the beauty of it.”

Alyssa Dodd, a public information specialist with Storm Water Services, won for an idea called the Take Ten Initiative, which challenges municipal workers to take 10 minutes every week to connect with a new city resident and ask for feedback.

Dodd said she hopes the project will help city employees feel more engaged with constituents and also help residents feel like their voices are being heard.

Dodd will be awarded $74,000. She said the money will go toward working with a local university that could offer expertise on data collection for the initial phase of the project. The money would also go toward funding an internship to “champion” the project in the city, she said

“It’s this simple idea of getting out and reconnecting with people,” she said.

Tom Warshauer, a community engagement manager with the city’s Neighborhood and Business Services department, also received funding. He suggested adding porch swings to transit bus stops to help community members engage with one another.

“People need places where they’re able to sit without having to pay for something,” he said. “I just wanted to put the comfort of relaxing in a swing at these locations so more people in our city have that ability to enjoy being outside and interacting with each other.”

Warshauer will be awarded $28,000, which will go toward installing swings at up to six locations along Central Avenue.

Sarah Hazel, who works in the city manager’s office, received funding for her No Barriers Project idea. The project hopes to bring different groups together by leveraging physical barriers that act as real and symbolic divides between communities. She received just over $67,000.

Moura Andraos, who isn’t from Charlotte, was also awarded funding that will affect the city.

Her project, titled The Swings: An Exercise in Musical Cooperation, is an interactive public installation that aims to activate underutilized public spaces. The group wants to tour four cities: Charlotte; Macon, Ga.; Philadelphia and San Jose, Calif.

Patterson said the fact that so many Charlotte-based applicants are municipal employees speaks to the the city’s encouragement of employees to have their ideas heard.

“The leaders of our governmental bodies see the power of the people,” she said.

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