City News

Knight Cities Challenge looking for good ideas to make the Charlotte better

Charlotte residents have the chance to improve the city.

For the second year, the Knight Cities Challenge is asking residents across the country to provide innovative ideas for making cities more vibrant places to work and live, according to a press release.

The challenge, an initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, provides up to $5 million in grants in 26 cities, including Charlotte.

This is an opportunity for anyone with an idea that would make the city better ... to go ahead and submit them.

Susan Patterson, Charlotte program director for Knight Cities Challenge

Ideas should focus on attracting and keeping talented people, expanding economic prospects by making new connections and breaking divides and spurring engagement in the community.

“This is an opportunity for anyone with an idea that would make the city better around these three things to go ahead and submit them,” said Susan Patterson, the Charlotte program director.

Last year, more than 7,000 entries were received. Three Charlotte ideas won, bringing more than $190,000 in grants to the city, Patterson said.

Each winning idea was submitted by a city employee who independently applied for the grants, she said. Patterson said City Manager Ron Carlee encouraged city workers to submit their ideas, something he said he is doing again this year.

“The Knights Cities Challenge seeks to unleash individual creativity, a uniquely American value, but in support of the common good,” Carlee said. “Anyone with an idea shouldn't hesitate. Individuals can make a difference.”

The first Knight Cities Challenge grants were approved in March and the winners have 18 months to complete their projects, Patterson said.

The three Charlotte ideas all focused on community togetherness.

The No Barriers Project ($67,100), submitted by ICMA Local Government Management Fellow Sarah Hazel, used play, light and sound to bring two diverse neighborhoods together with a public park on the border, according to the challenge website.

Hazel is working on connecting the neighborhoods surrounding Anita Stroud Park in Charlotte, using residents’ ideas for how the park can be used.

“It would be a success if great connections are made between the different neighborhoods and if they can think about how to use the space in a way that’s meaningful to everybody,” she said.

Tom Warshauer, community engagement manager for the Neighborhood and Business Services department, hopes his Porch Swings in Public Places project ($28,000) will foster conversation between strangers at bus stops and other public places.

“People should enjoy waiting and should be able to talk to other people while waiting,” he said.

Warshauer is focusing on Central Avenue and has identified six bus stops he feels reaches a good mix of people, has the space and would be pleasant for a swing.

“We ought to be able to make Central Avenue a great place for riding a bus,” he said.

Warshauer said he is working on finalizing the locations and builder of the swings.

Alyssa Dodd, public information specialist for Charlotte Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, recently launched her Take Ten Initiative ($74,000), in which municipal workers take 10 minutes each week to connect with a resident and learn their thoughts and ideas.

When the first challenge launched, Dodd said she was new to Charlotte and wanted to know what people thought of the city.

“I was inspired to think about how we as city employees could engage more with our community,” she said.

The 150 Take 10 Ambassadors will go out and speak to one resident a week for nine months, Dodd said. They hope to reach more than 5,000 individuals by the end of June.

“We’re going to gain some new perspective from the people we talk to,” she said.

After their conversations, the ambassadors will fill out an online form on what thoughts, concerns and ideas they have learned from the resident. Dodd is working with the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute to code the data and look for trends based on what people say.

At the end of the project, Dodd said the ambassadors will share what they have learned with city leaders and employees, the community and members of the Knight Foundation for possible use in other cities.

Cities that received grants from the Knight Cities Challenge are: Akron, Ohio; Charlotte; Detroit; Macon, Ga.; Miami; Philadelphia; St. Paul, Minn.; and San Jose, Calif.

In 18 cities, community foundations guide Knight’s grant making. They are: Aberdeen, S.D.; Biloxi, Miss.; Boulder, Colo.; Bradenton, Fla.; Columbia, S.C.; Columbus, Ga.; Duluth, Minn.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Gary, Ind.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Lexington, Ky.; Long Beach, Calif.; Milledgeville, Ga.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; State College, Penn.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and Wichita, Kan.

Amanda Harris is a freelance writer:

Learn more:

Submit to the Knight Cities Challenge at by Oct. 27. Submissions can be from anywhere, but the project must benefit or take place in one of the 26 Knight communities. Ideas should focus on talent, opportunity and engagement.