Photo by Brian Addison.
On Monday, January 12, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced the 126 finalists of the first Knight Cities Challenge, a national call for new ideas to make the 26 communities where Knight invests a more dynamic and vibrant place to live and work. Of the 7,000 ideas submitted, two of those projects were from Long Beach residents who made the final cut of exemplary intentions.
The applicants were instructed to follow two rules, number one being the submission may come from anywhere, but the project must benefit one of the 26 Knight communities and two, the idea should focus on one or more of these three key drivers of city success: talent, opportunity and engagement. Applicants ultimately generated ideas to answer the question: What’s your best idea to make cities more successful?
The key themes from all 126 finalists in descending order were bringing public life back to public spaces, supporting a changing urban economy, promoting a robust civic life, building bridges between diverse communities, changing the narrative, reimagining civic commons and retaining talent.
The two finalists from Long Beach are now tasked with figuring out exactly how they’re going execute their ideas, who else is going to be involved and what their budgets are going to look like if they’re funded.
Rachel Ng, Long Beach resident, Managing Editor of the Automobile Club’s Westways Magazine and avid WriteGirl volunteer, submitted an idea entitled, “Give and You Shall Receive,” a neighborhood-based skills exchange where residents can offer their talent or post their needs.
Ng explained that the idea came to her at a networking event facilitated by WriteGirl as a volunteer meet-and-greet. “During the event we called to write on one white board, ‘What I need,’ and on the other board, ‘What I can offer,’” she explained. “I just sat there for a while thinking, ‘What can I offer? I’m not even sure.’ So I didn’t write anything and I just looked at what everybody else wrote and it was everything from ‘I can watch your cat,’ and ‘I can critique your resume,' to 'I have rugs at home that I don't need anymore,' or 'I can offer singing lessons,' and I looked at that and I looked at all these women around me and I knew they were writers, but it showed me they were so much more.”
With the term “pay it forward” in mind, Ng wants to create a space, whether it’s a website, a pop-up location or a permanent space, where residents can express their value to assist, at the least, their immediate communities. Ng wants to facilitate a forum that makes people think about what they have to offer to people above and beyond what they’re paid to do, whether it’s teaching someone how to fold an origami crane or helping a new resident hang their curtains.
Ng, who has lived in Los Angeles for the past ten years because of work, was beyond excited to move back to Long Beach. “I’m so happy to be back in Long Beach. The first week I moved in my neighbor brought over banana cake and in Hollywood, some days you say hi to certain neighbors but you don't really see a lot of them around, it’s just different.”
Carol Coletta, Vice President of Community and National Initiatives for the Knight Foundation, said, “We believe deeply that to be successful, cities need to develop all of their talent and put all of their talent to work. This proposal recognizes that everyone has talent and that talent is a resource for building communities. Layered on to that, here is a neighbor-to-neighbor exchange that can build social capital and grow engagement.”
Nostrum, Inc., a Long Beach-based full-service marketing, strategy and branding agency submitted an idea entitled “Living Walls,” spearheaded by Nostrum president and CEO, Susan Collida, that seeks to enliven “blank neighborhood walls by mobilizing residents to collaborate and create community assets around the walls, such as vertical gardens, rock climbing, film screens or visual art.”
The installations would utilize placemaking and design to encourage civic participation and promote a culture of innovation and opportunity for collaboration in Long Beach. At its core, Living Walls seeks to create an accessible bridge for sharing knowledge and exchanging ideas.
“As a long-standing member of the civic and business community in Long Beach, we are really excited and proud of this recognition from the Knight Cities Challenge because it allows us to shine the spotlight on our city,” said Susan Collida, president and CEO of Nostrum, Inc. in a press statement. “This city has so much talent and innovators, and our goal is to encourage collaborations and affect change in our community by providing a platform and physical space for everyone to share their talents, ideas, access information, and tap into their own creativity.”
Coletta explained that dividing lines were a common theme across many applications. Several ideas addressed the issues of how these lines can be addressed, how they can be converted from dividing us to connecting us and how they can be transformed into lures for activity.
“This proposal tackles these questions very directly,” said Coletta, “which made it very interesting to the reviewers. Plus, all cities have this problem, so whatever solution is devised can potentially be used in a lots of places.”
Applicants have until February 1, 2015 to submit their final applications. The winners will be announced this Spring and will share the $5 million to execute their proposals.