Meet Emerging City Champions: Hanna and Cristina

A year after launching projects to make their cities more engaged, happy and beautiful, find out what these young urban innovators have accomplished, what they’ve learned and where they’re going next.

by Emma Jones, Jonathan von Ofenheim

Hannah Smith
Duluth, Minnesota

Meet the champ:
Hannah Smith, Anishinaabekwewi, is a Minnesota local and a member of White Earth Nation. Her passion for environmentalism is a thread that connects her diverse experiences. With a background in environment and sustainability studies from University of Minnesota Duluth, she has led and partnered on many projects. A highlight: Smith worked as a NASA/Kiksapa geospatial intern, researching the impacts of land use on water quality in White Earth Nation.

How she’s innovating:
Smith is dedicated to bringing life to Duluth’s most diverse and low-income neighbourhood, Lincoln Park. She and a team are facilitators in a community-led process, seeking ways to revitalize the neighbourhood in a way that lifts up the entire community. The process has involved events, gathering community feedback and ultimately using it to develop green spaces in the neighbourhood. The ball is rolling, and more events are in the works.

So far, Smith has worked with other local organizations to put on an open streets event, where residents were invited to hang out and answer questions about “how to improve Lincoln Park, where their favourite place is, and what challenges Lincoln Park has.”

Next was a community picnic put on by community members. “I got together little arts and crafts tables so that kids could participate,” Smith adds, saying that she gave them lego and playdough with the instructions “you have a million dollars, build me a park.”

The third event was a neighbourhood-wide open house in Lincoln Park’s business district, including product demos, free items and discounts.

With the feedback from each meeting and event, Smith has been taking notes for the cumulative project: a revitalized pocket park: “In Lincoln Park neighbourhood there is this beautiful, beautiful park,” she says. “But there’s this awkward, weird, what we’re calling a pocket park. There’s maybe three benches and three trees that have people ready to champion a facelift for that little area.”

Smith feels palpable energy from Lincoln Park, and says developing the pocket park will provide the community with the space it needs to be more connected: “I think there’s a lot of movement in this neighbourhood right now.”

Cristina Mas
Miami, Florida

Meet the champ:
A proud Miamian, Cristina Mas has taken on numerous leadership roles in her community, launching both charitable fundraising initiatives and organizing countless events. She is founder and president of the Young Professionals of the Underline, the Pause for a Cause fundraiser and the Young Associates of the Coral Gables Museum, where she also sits on the board. She’s also a Commercial Real Estate Sales Associate for Colliers International, but still, finds time to pursue her love for charitable activism.

How she’s innovating:
The Underline is an ongoing project to transform the land below Miami’s Metrorail into a 10-mile linear park where locals can exercise, commute and view public art. Where does Mas come in? Well, the park might quietly stretch its way across the city over the years, if it weren’t for her staggered launch parties to celebrate the completion of each mile of park.

Mas is the woman behind the events, called the Underlounge. The first installment, on Oct. 16, was “basically a giant block party underneath the first quarter mile of the Underline,” says Mas.

The event offered something for everyone: live music, food vendors, face painters, graffiti artists doing live art, a dog park and a bike valet. The coolest aspect, says Mas, was the “world’s longest mini-golf hole that actually mimicked the six different sections of the first mile.”

“The Underline really is going to transform the city that we live in,” says Mas. The Underlounge is all about raising awareness. “There are so many people that live on the Underline path and don’t even know it’s happening. And that’s kind of one of the biggest problems that we face right now.”

Mas estimates that 1,500 people attended the first event, and about 800 attended the second iteration on March 11. “I think it was incredible what we were able to pull off in such a short amount of time, but I’m so excited to see what we’re able to pull off when we have like a year in advance.”

With eight more Underlounge events to go, Mas’ enthusiasm is holding strong: “I’ve done a lot of events in my life, probably over a thousand, and this was by far the most gratifying one I’ve ever done, ever.”

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