Charlotteans named finalists in Knight Cities Challenge

Eight Charlotte-area residents are finalists in the Knight Cities Challenge, a competition seeking ideas for improving the city of Charlotte and 25 other communities where the Knight Foundation invests, organizers announced Monday.

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

Submissions for the original Nov. 14 deadline could come from anywhere, although the project had to take place in, or benefit, one of the 26 Knight Communities. Ideas also were supposed to focus on one or more of three key drivers for city success, as specified by the Knight Foundation: talent, opportunity and engagement, said Patterson

The Knight Foundation received 7,000 submissions, with about 500 coming from Charlotte, said Patterson. Of the 126 finalists, eight were from the Charlotte area.

Ideas included opening underused office space in the city to startups and small-scale entrepreneurs, and pairing neighborhoods across the city to come together on two consecutive Saturdays to host simultaneous block parties.

“We were particularly interested in ideas that would advance talent, increase opportunity and spur more civic engagement,” said Patterson. “For instance, the No Barriers Project isn’t just about painting bridges or creating gardens. It’s about building relationships on both sides of a perceived barrier and that’s all about increasing engagement.”

The finalists will have until Feb. 1 to provide a more in-depth proposal. A national panel will review the ideas, and the Knight Foundation Board of Trustees will review and recommend winners at its March board meeting. The winners will be announced in late March, Patterson said.

She said there is no limit on the number of projects that can win, although there is a maximum of $5 million dedicated to give out in the challenge. Patterson said the organization is not required to use all $5 million, however.

“We want to know if these are the best ideas for us to fund and for us to learn from,” she said.

Francene Greene, who submitted the Art on the Asphalt idea, said she was thrilled to learn she’d advanced. The program would redesign bike lanes as blank canvases for local artists to create visuals that depict Charlotte life, history and diverse culture.

Additionally, the artwork also will create a visual break so drivers are more likely to notice bike lanes, creating safer conditions for everyone, she said.

Alyssa Dodd, who works as a public information specialist with Storm Water Services, submitted the Take Ten Initiative idea, which would challenge municipal workers to take 10 minutes every week to connect with a new city resident and ask for their feedback.

She said even if the finalists don’t win grants, she appreciates how the Knight Cities Challenge has gotten people talking about making the city better.

“I think there are some really great ideas that have come forward,” she said. “So now this next step of trying to really see if they can implement them and be effective for our cities is really exciting.”