20 Community Leaders Selected for Emerging City Champions Fellowships Program to Build Vibrant Communities Across the U.S.

This post originally appeared on the Knight Foundation website.

Participants receive $5,000 in seed funding and training for projects to enhance public spaces, urban mobility and civic engagement

MIAMI – June 10, 2019 – Twenty community leaders from cities across the United States have been selected to participate in the 2019-2020 Emerging City Champions fellowship program. Launched in 2015, the program is an incubator for up-and-coming city leaders with bold ideas to build more accessible, inclusive and connected cities.

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. In April 2019, Knight Foundation announced a $500,000 reinvestment in the program.

Emerging City Champions is open to young people between the ages of 19-35 in the 26 communities where Knight invests. Hundreds of idea submissions are evaluated based on their innovation, potential impact and the applicant’s leadership qualities and capacity.

The successful applicants will receive $5,000 in seed funding, leadership training, and practical tools to launch their transformative projects to enhance public space, urban mobility or civic engagement in their city.

“Truly informed and engaged communities rely on new leaders, new voices and new ideas,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact. “The Emerging Cities Champions fellowship provides a window into the spirit of the community, and supports the visionaries who will shape its future.”

The program encourages diverse voices and fresh perspectives toward common urban challenges. Many participants build on their ongoing work in their communities, while others have new and creative solutions to improve their local streets or public spaces with support from the program.

“Emerging City Champions brings together civic leaders who all share a common drive to build equitable and vibrant cities,” said Amanda O’Rourke, executive director of 8 80 Cities. “Each year, we are thrilled to support the participants as they harness their own ingenuity and collaborative partnerships to create real community change. The 2019 cohort is an incredible group, and we look forward to seeing them bring their ideas to life and grow as leaders in their communities.”

The 20 participants will meet in Toronto, Canada from July 27 to 30 for the Emerging City Champions Studio. The Studio is an immersive four-day learning experience where fellowship participants hone skills that will help them hit the ground running when they return to their cities. It includes interactive tours of community-led programs and public spaces, presentations by city leaders and program alumni, and hands-on workshops on project planning, community engagement, communication and tactical urbanism. This is also when the participants will collaborate, bond and establish a support network with fellow participants.

The Emerging City Champions will begin implementing their projects after returning home from Toronto. In one year, their cities will have new and enhanced neighborhood programs, community events, interactive public art, and vibrant public spaces that will push boundaries, change mindsets and inspire long-term investment in the public realm.

More information is available at www.emergingcitychampions.org.

2019 Emerging City Champions

Aberdeen, South Dakota

  • Spencer Sommers will restore downtown “ghost signs” (faded, historic advertisements painted on building walls), with support from local artists and community volunteers.

Akron, Ohio

  • Sheri Yearian will promote cycling in her community by installing bike racks and a bike repair stand, and by hosting an earn-a-bike contest and bike repair workshops for adults and children.

Charlotte, North Carolina

  • Caroline Burgett will create lively, sculptural garbage receptacles along a greenway, turning litter pickup into a participatory art game.
  • Lyn Kim will run pop-up mobility events for older adults, held on accessible one-mile outdoor courses across the city.

Detroit, Michigan

  • Briana Mason will work directly with residents and a local artist to program vacant lots and cocreate a public art installation along Dexter Avenue.
  • Jamii Tata will create 50 poetry banners and 50 poetry rain barrels, featuring poetry by youth and adult community members, to display in outdoor gardens and parks in Detroit’s north end.
  • Whitney Sherrill will cultivate healing spaces for black and brown community members in the outdoors, through intergenerational storytelling and exploration in the local environment.

Duluth, Minnesota

  • Moira Villiard will run safe, sober art shows where the audience will collaborate with diverse artists to create art and music, and then share a community dinner.

Macon, Georgia

  • Nancy Cleveland will set up “mental health gym” pop-ups in parks to introduce people to therapy and mental health techniques, in the model of trying out a gym membership.
  • Steven DeGeorge will build a performance venue in an abandoned park in Pleasant Hill and rehabilitate the surrounding green space, with support from local community organizations.

Miami, Florida

  • Kat Regnier will promote access to community assets and active transportation options in Little Haiti by installing collaboratively designed wayfinding signs and sidewalk decals.
  • Kyle Maharlika will install a solar/wind-powered Wi-Fi pole in an Overtown park and lead digital literacy programming to combat the technological inequality gap.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • Marcos Lomeli will work with community leaders and neighbors to codesign walking tours showcasing Eastern North Philadelphia’s food, art, music, history, and unique Latinx culture.
  • Molly van den Heuvel will create a thoughtful, accessible community space outside of the Andorra Library, to expand the library’s programming and services in the outdoors.
  • Shawn Sheu will encourage cross-cultural engagement in the new Rail Park by inviting residents to lead outdoor workshops for their neighbors, teaching skills from Mahjong to salsa.
  • Somaly Osteen will promote pedestrian safety along the South 7th Street corridor by painting crosswalks with colorful designs reflecting the input and diversity of the neighborhood.

San Jose, California

  • Ellina Yin will produce a funny, digestible podcast about San Jose development projects, in order to democratize challenging information and create more meaningful civic engagement.
  • Lucila Chavez will revitalize Plata Arroyo’s neglected skate park and invite more women skaters with murals by local woman artists, community programming, and decorative lighting.

St. Paul, Minnesota

  • Xia Xiong will produce a podcast to promote connection and civic engagement in the Hmong community in the Twin Cities, which has the highest concentration of Hmong people in the U.S.

State College, Pennsylvania

  • Jay Mundinger will invite people to dance in public spaces with live local bands, teaching diverse dance styles at weekly social events.

About 8 80 Cities
8 80 Cities is a non-profit organization that exists to promote safe and happy cities that prioritize people’s well-being. We believe that if everything we do in our public spaces is great for an 8 year old and an 80 year old, then it will be great for all people. For more information, visit www.880cities.org.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Lauren Dickinson, Communications Officer, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2694, media@knightfoundation.org

Siva Vijenthira, Project Manager, 8 80 Cities. 416 591 7404 ext. 7, svijenthira@880cities.org 

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