Attention Future City Leaders: Emerging City Champions Fellowship Is Open for Applications

Written by Annah MacKenzie for Next City.

As cities in the U.S. and across the world engage in protests against anti-Black racism amidst a pandemic that has also disproportionately harmed Black communities, we can’t forget that city planning and urban design policies have also been tools of systemic racism. Public space, urban mobility, and community engagement practices have not historically been designed to welcome and serve all communities equally.

Cities are constantly reinventing themselves, and now is an important time to seek out diverse leaders with new and innovative ideas to reinvent our urban spaces and community practices and center underrepresented and underserved populations. Investing in young people with creative solutions around placemaking, urban mobility, and community engagement can help us work towards building more equitable, resilient, and anti-racist cities.

If you have bold ideas for a community project to enhance active mobility, equitable public space, and civic engagement and resilience in the place where you live, consider applying for the 2020-2021 Emerging City Champions fellowship.

Now in its sixth year, the Emerging City Champions program seeks 20 young civic innovators with powerful ideas to address mobility, public space, and civic engagement challenges in 26 cities across the U.S. Offering the next generation of city builders and leaders the tools, resources, and networks to turn these ideas into action, the program provides selected fellows with $5000 in seed funding to implement one community project in one year.

There is no idea too big or too small. From block parties and beehives to shared meals and mentorship programs, past Champions have used ingenuity and collaborative partnerships to drive community change in unexpected and inspiring ways.

A few examples from the 2019-2020 cohort: Kyle Maharlika’s “Parks Connect @ Overtown” project will install solar/wind-powered public Wi-Fi to parks in a Miami, FL neighborhood to improve digital access in an underserved neighborhood and encourage people to connect outdoors. Jamii Tata’s “50 Banners, 50 Barrels” project is working with Detroit, MI youth and elders to write and paint community poems on vinyl banners and working rain barrels, threading art and resiliency together amid the ongoing Detroit water crisis. Somaly Osteen’s “South 7th Street Shops” project engaged with local residents and businesses to co-design safer pedestrian crosswalks and spaces in a diverse Philadelphia, PA shopping corridor; the new designs will be installed when the street undergoes repaving later this year.

Emerging City Champions is led by 8 80 Cities, a Toronto-based nonprofit dedicated to building healthier, happier, and more equitable communities by enhancing mobility and public space in urban environments. The organization’s name stems from the belief that cities should be accessible and enjoyable for everyone—whether you’re 8 or 80 years old.

“We are so excited to be able to continue to support diverse young leaders with bold ideas to improve their communities right now,” said Amanda O’Rourke, Executive Director of 8 80 Cities. “We believe this program is more relevant than ever as we look for ideas generated within communities that are responsive and build resilience and equity in the public realm in the long-term.”

The program is supported by Knight Foundation, which invests in journalism, the arts, and urban innovation across the U.S., and works to foster informed and engaged communities as essential components of a healthy democracy. Knight Foundation’s work is national in scope, but it has a special focus on 26 communities where John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers.

The 2020-2021 Emerging City Champions will have the opportunity to join a supportive and inspiring network of their peers from across the country. Participants receive ongoing mentorship from experts in diverse fields such as planning, design, transportation, and communications. Throughout the program, 8 80 Cities and Knight Foundation will also expose participants to opportunities for additional funding, professional growth, and support.

Applicants may be activists, educators, tactical urbanists, designers, artists, entrepreneurs, and more. The program seeks diverse voices with fresh perspectives, talent, and a commitment to building vibrant neighborhoods and cities.

Here are the application requirements:

  • You must be a U.S. resident, aged 19-35;
  • You must propose a community project that activates public spaces, enhances mobility options, and/or builds a culture of civic engagement;
  • Your project must take place in one of the 26 communities where Knight Foundation invests (priority will be given to projects that also address one or more of Knight Foundation’s goals in that community);
  • You must be available to participate in an online Virtual Learning Lab on August 22 and 29, 2020, and you must be able to travel to Toronto from October 23 to 27, 2020 for the Emerging City Champions Studio in Toronto, Canada.
  • Your applications must include a multimedia submission that describes the project (blog post, video, slideshow, poster, etc.)

Public space, mobility, and civic engagement have always been central to the fellowship, as they are critical components for building sustainable urban growth and resilience. This year, it has become especially clear that each of these areas needs to be supported and revolutionized to strengthen cities in response to both a pandemic and national protests that have highlighted deep systemic inequities.

“Cities are the infrastructure of equality,” wrote Nicholas de Monchaux in a recent op-ed on the absence of street life since the world has been sheltering in place. “This crisis is also an opening to remake them. To not just survive this crisis, but create opportunity for decades to come.”

In many ways, it is up to us to determine what our cities and communities will look like going forward. If you have a powerful idea for driving change in your community and need the funding and training to help get it off the ground, apply to join the 2020-2021 Emerging City Champions cohort by visiting The competition closes at 11:59 pm EDT on Sunday, July 12, 2020.


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