12 Aug 20 Emerging City Champions Ready to Lead Their Communities to a Better Future
The last week of July, 8 80 Cities brought 20 rising civic innovators from across the U.S. to our hometown of Toronto for the Emerging City Champions Studio. For four intensive days, they learned from local and international community leaders, honed their project planning, communication, and leadership skills, and built friendships with fellow Champions. We also got to introduce them to some of our favourite places and people in our city!
The Emerging City Champions fellowship program is a year-long incubator for community leaders with creative ideas to enhance civic engagement, public space, or urban mobility in their city. Participants receive $5,000 in seed funding, and access to support and networks as they implement their project.
This year’s ECC projects include a mental health pop-up gym in Macon, GA, a more inclusive skatepark in San Jose, CA, and street calming murals in Philadelphia, PA. The program is run by 8 80 Cities with funding and support from Knight Foundation.
During our four days in Toronto, we visited Scadding Court Community Centre, Regent Park, the Esplanade, the Distillery District, Evergreen Brick Works, and Toronto Island. We heard from grassroots community leaders about their successes and challenges with creative projects like a shipping container market, a sewing and catering collective, and youth bike and arts programs. Three program alumni shared their journeys and lessons learned, and five special guests offered inspiration and guidance on tactical urbanism, the power of storytelling, inclusive community engagement, and values-based leadership.
Throughout the Studio, the Champions remapped and redefined their projects, thinking imaginatively and strategically about how best to work collaboratively with their communities. They shared their personal stories, supported and motivated each other, and fostered connections that will continue throughout the fellowship and beyond. By the end of the four days, the group returned home with a deeper understanding of how to accomplish their projects, as well as deeper skillsets and networks to support them in doing so. Our 8 80 Cities staff also returned to our day-to-day work with renewed energy and confidence in the future of our cities, knowing these 20 emerging champions are leading the way.