The Knight Cities Challenge, by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is a program that awards grants from a pool of $5 million to applicants in the Knight communities across the U.S.
There are 26 Knight communities across the U.S., ranging from Akron, Ohio and St. Paul, Minnesota to Gary, Indiana and Wichita, Kansas. Each community is a location in which the Knight brothers once owned a newspaper. Charlotte is one of them.
The challenge is designed to spur civic innovation and do at least one of the following: attract and retain talented people, expand economic opportunity and creating or expand a culture of civic engagement.
There were more than 4,500 answers for the question at stake: What’s your best idea to make cities more successful? 37 people won – and three of the ideas are rooted in Charlotte.
No. 1: Can Do Signs
Sarah Hazel wants to rethink and get away from signs that tell residents what not to.
“Negative messages and message of distrust rub off on people if they hear them repeatedly,” she said. “The goal is to flip the typical usage of signs. Instead, we will ask, ‘What can we do?’ and create signs that give you amusing, enchanting options.”
The end goal is to spread positivity and imagination throughout the city, especially in places like Uptown and neighborhood parks. By strategically placing positive messages throughout Charlotte, the city may see a more active involvement with public spaces that bring joy.
“Charlotte is a very special place,” she continued. “This is another small, but special way to build on that warm, delight and invitation to engage. Come, stay and play.”
She was awarded a $27,900 grant for her idea.
Jason Lawrence saw that as the third-fastest-growing city in the nation, Charlotte’s increasingly younger demographic needed a new approach when it came to public engagement, and the numbers echoed his sentiment. As a city, less than 20% of us voted for mayor, and the 18-34 age group voted at a significantly lower rate than residents over the age of 65.
“‘I’m too busy to attend night meetings,’ ‘I never saw the meeting invite mailer,’ ‘You have already decided that you are building the project!’ Those are all comments that I hear from the public in regards to engagement,” Jason said. “There has to be another way … [and the] most effective form of engagement is to meet people on their time, on their turf.”
He was awarded $85,000 to get CrownTownHall, a series of pop-up government events that will travel directly to citizens and their neighborhoods to make the government more approachable and increase its visibility, on its feet.
Queen City Quiz Show
Long-time friends Tim Miner and Matt Olin worked together to create a mobile quiz show whose aim is to entertain, enlighten and challenge people throughout Charlotte with questions about the city and its history that range from trivial to controversial.
“If the Daily Show and Jeopardy had a baby, this would be it,” Miner said.
It’s important to convey historical information in a way that wasn’t “boring or alienating” to prevent the population from segregating itself more than it already is.
The end goal? Create a community conversation about Charlotte through goofy and important questions. The Knight Cities Challenge awarded them $85,000 for the idea.