20 Emerging City Champions Selected to Lead Innovative Urban Projects

Drawing of Emerging City Champions Cohort 2015

Image: Emerging City Champions 2015 Erin Salazar’s sketch.

Press release originally posted on the Knight Foundation website.

Successful Applicants Receive $ 5,000 to Implement one Project and Are Supported with Ongoing Mentorship and Leadership Training for One Year

MIAMI – May 16, 2018 – Twenty community leaders from cities across the United States have been selected to participate in the 2018 Emerging City Champions fellowship program. The program provides leadership development and funding for young civic innovators with unique solutions to improve public spaces, transportation and civic engagement in their cities. Now in its fourth year, the program is led by 8 80 Cities, a nonprofit organization based in Toronto, Canada, and funded by the John S. and James. L. Knight Foundation.

Emerging City Champions is open to young people between the ages of 19-35 in the 26 communities where Knight invests. Each year, hundreds of people apply to participate in the program. Submissions are evaluated based on the potential impact of the project idea, demonstrated capacity and leadership qualities of the applicant and level of innovation applied to the challenge.

The successful applicants receive $5,000 to implement one project and are supported with ongoing mentorship and leadership training for one year.

“In order to create cities that reflect the needs and preferences of the people who live within them, we need to tap voices from within. The Emerging City Champions program works to advance this goal, providing an outlet for rising local leaders to build ideas that make their city better. We are excited to see the impact that this new group of champions will bring to their communities,” said Lilian Coral, Knight Foundation director for national strategy.

Participants of this year’s program will bring diverse talents and experiences to their work as Emerging City Champions. Many will build on their ongoing work in their communities, while others are starting new ventures with support from the fellowship program.

“Each year, the Emerging City Champions bring bright ideas, enthusiasm and unique perspectives to tackle pressing challenges and needs in their communities,” said Amanda O’Rourke, executive director of 8 80 Cities. “Past participants have exceeded our expectations with their creative and low-cost, but highly impactful projects for improving public spaces, mobility and civic engagement. This year’s cohort is an impressive group, and we look forward to seeing how this opportunity brings their ideas to life and also gives them new tools and experiences as leaders in their communities.”

The 20 participants will meet in Toronto, Canada, for the Emerging City Champions Studio. From June 15-19, participants will meet with established city builders and program alumni, visit examples of innovative public spaces in Toronto and develop their project plans. The Studio provides an opportunity for participants to strengthen project management, communications and community engagement skills that will help them hit the ground running when they return to their cities. The Studio also creates a collaborative environment where participants bond with one another and establish a support network of their peers.

The Emerging City Champions will begin implementing their projects after returning home from Toronto. In one year, their cities will have new and enhanced public spaces, programs and organizations to create more vibrant and successful communities.

More information is available at www.emergingcitychampions.org.

2018 Emerging City Champions

Aberdeen, South Dakota

  • Matthew Klundt will create an escape room game in downtown Aberdeen where players will participate in a hands-on class deconstructing the methods and means of how it was made.


Akron, Ohio

  • Josy Jones will work with community members to create a series of live theatre events that celebrate the stories and history of their neighbourhood.
  • Kai Wick will launch Interactive Bus Stop, a placemaking project to improve the experience of using public transportation by bringing playful and interactive interventions to bus stops across the city.


Charlotte, North Carolina

  • Amir Naeem will bring jukeboxes to public spaces along the light rail transit line that will play music after users provide an idea or thought about the community.
  • Christine Edwards will develop a toolkit and event series that will provide information to make it easier for residents to interact and connect with Charlotte’s municipal government.


Detroit, Michigan

  • Alexis Adams-Wynn will host Comedy Commons, an annual comedy show filled with jokes and roasts about the human experience of being neighbours across Detroit’s MorningSide, East English Village and Cornerstone Village neighbourhoods.
  • Timothy Jackson will repurpose vacant lots into pollinator way-stations that will support the development of native plants and provide horticulture education and therapy opportunities for residents


Grand Forks, North Dakota

  • Emily Montgomery will launch an interactive and engaging art installation that will be created through a participatory outdoor art studio on a downtown sidewalk and alleyway.


Lexington, Kentucky

  • Rebekah Radtke will lead a collaborative design process to activate an underutilized lot and create a community gathering space between the University of Kentucky campus and downtown Lexington.


Macon, Georgia

  • Tonja Khabir will support residents of the Pleasant Hill community in re-envisioning a cultural asset through collaborative planning, a block party event, arts-based programming and simple streetscape improvements.


Miami, Florida

  • Trevor Ditzler will temporarily close a portion of NW 79 Street to cars to host a community-led event featuring fun programs for people of all ages with the purpose of sparking new ideas and solutions to improve safety and accessibility in the neighbourhood.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • Dena Ferrara Driscoll will develop a temporary storefront to serve as a public space where visitors can incubate ideas, build relationships and develop solutions to address persistent city challenge related to urban planning, transportation and governance.
  • Hanae Mason will lead a collaborative process to transform Lovett Library Park into an inclusive and accessible public space through organic and scheduled events and activities.
  • Gabriela Sanchez will produce a multi-disciplinary live theatre program in a public space that will create culturally-resonating performances that celebrate the voices of women and girls of colour and foster intergenerational dialogues.
  • Kyree Holmes will cultivate talent in young people to prepare them for careers in the user experience field by providing formal training where participants co-develop design solutions for real-life challenges in the city.


St. Paul, Minnesota

  • Elizabeth Zalanga will create a cohort-based mentorship and training program for high-school girls from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds that equips them with the knowledge, skills and confidence to become the next generation of civic leaders


San Jose, California

  • Emily Schwing will pilot a new visitor’s map for Emma Prusch Farm Park in East San Jose that will offer visitors fun and engaging suggestions on what to do or see in the park and surrounding neighborhoods.
  • Matthew Quevedo will work with residents to collect and share unique stories that celebrate the history and cultural identity of various communities across the city.
  • Viviane Nguyen will work with residents and collaborate with local governments to develop strategies for using Rock Springs Park as a hub for information and interventions that will mitigate flood impact in the neighborhood.


State College, Pennsylvania

  • Samuel Lapp will create a pop-up music truck with a mobile stage and recording studio to encourage collaborative music creation and host live performances in parks and public spaces throughout the city.

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