Four Long Beach Innovators Named Knight Cities Challenge Finalists Out of 4,500 Applicants

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The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced Tuesday morning its 158 finalists, four of whom seek to benefit Long Beach, for the second annual Knight Cities Challenge. Open to dreamers and innovators of all backgrounds, the challenge asked applicants for their best ideas to make the 26 communities where Knight invests “more vibrant places to live and work.” The five ideas chosen for a chance to better this seaside city were submitted by City Fabrick, Localism, Inc., Santa Monica-based Global Green USA and the City of Long Beach City Manager’s Office.

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This is the second of a three-year and $15 million commitment announced by the Knight Foundation in 2014 to spur and support ideas that attract talent to a city, expand its economic prospects and break down divides, or spur connection and civic involvement. More than 4,500 applicants from across the nation submitted proposals for a chance to receive a share of the $5 million to take the next step to turn their idea into a reality.

“The finalists reflect what the Knight Cities Challenge is about: uncovering new civic innovators and motivating people to realize ideas—big and small—that can contribute to the success of their cities,” stated Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives.

With the Post’s inherent bias toward the betterment of Long Beach (not that it’s not an awesome place to live already), we contacted each of the finalists to find out a little bit more about their ideas, how they came up with them, and what Long Beach locals can look forward to if the Knight Foundation awards their plans with the necessary funds.

DeForest Wetlands Neighborhood Access by Global Green USA

Submitted by Green Urbanism Program Associate, Tim Bevins, Global Green USA wants to give North Long Beach residents a better way to access the DeForest Wetlands. Separate from the city’s 39-acre undertaking of the area’s restoration along the Los Angeles River, the proposed public stairway and ramp would connect Virginia Village via the eastern terminus of Market Street to the wetlands. Currently, locals use a “desire path” that runs up a dirt berm and through a bent-back chain link fence.

“So yes, one could access [the wetlands] - but not in any meaningful, dignified or APA-acceptable manner,” Bevins told the Post.

Bevins said the stairway would not only improve access to passive and active recreational opportunities, but also allot new avenues for bicycle commuters and offer green space in a part of the city that has limited park amenities. He added that being chosen out of such a large pool of qualified applicants certainly indicates the value of the submitted endeavor.

Placemaking the Vote by City Fabrick

Long Beach placemaking guru and nonprofit design studio City Fabrick's Executive Director Brian Ulaszewski wants to increase the low voter turnouts in Central Long Beach, Uptown and the Westside. In collaboration with the City Clerk’s office and Long Beach Rising!, the proposal seeks to incite more people to vote by creating pop-up plazas in these areas, similar to Park[d] Plaza or Bixby Knolls’ Allery. Characterized with bright furniture, food options and potential programming and entertainment, three different sites would be transformed to cater to every type of voter.

“[The pop-up plazas] should fit the type of polling location, the local community and type of voter,” said Ulaszewski. “People have different voting habits, from those who vote on their way to work, to those who slip in during lunch or voters who make their choice in the evening having finished their day.”

According to Ulaszewski, Long Beach typically sees higher voter engagement on the Eastside between Districts Three, Four and Five, along with the neighborhoods just north of the 405 Freeway in Districts Seven and Eight.

“Low voter turnout often follows disadvantaged communities, communities of color, where residents might feel disenfranchised, believe that their vote doesn’t matter,” he said. “This is not unique to Long Beach and hopefully this proposal can test new ideas to increase voter turnout.”

MADE in Long Beach by Localism Inc.

While MADE in Long Beach has steadily developed its reputation for serving as a small business incubator, assisting local makers and innovators in developing their brands, business strategies and selling their goods, DW Ferrell of Localism, Inc. seeks to utilize more than just the front section of the 240 Pine Avenue space. Currently, MADE is using about a third of the sizeable expanse and therefore, only realizing a third of MADE’s vision, says Ferrell.

“Funds from Knight Foundation and other sources would allow us to offer an accelerator for local food producers to help them expand local food distribution, and a hands-on workshop for makers on our mezzanine,” he said. “There we've already hosted many innovative classes for youth and adults, but it lacks the equipment and collaborative environment to do it right.”

The idea is to create an art-meets-tech makerspace with a studio space on one side and a tech/engineering space on the other side with, smack dab in the middle, a space to collaborate, or as Ferrell would describe it, a space for the right brain and left brain to meet.

“On the surface intentionally MADE feels like a one-stop shop for local goods, but we're really about this shift from just being labeled as consumers to also being producers, participating more directly in the process of stimulating our local economy,” said Ferrell.

The Outdoor Office by Long Beach City Manager's Office

Long Beach’s Innovation Team is looking for ways to grow firms and jobs in the city, according to Team Leader John Keisler, who says that one of the major challenges small businesses and entrepreneurs face is the high cost of office space. Submitted by Rachael Tanner, program specialist at the City Manager’s Office, the idea is to promote creativity and collaboration in a public park.

“We were looking for a way to provide coworking space, office space, a place for networking and events as well as a productive space that would be affordable in an expensive area, like the downtown,” Keisler told the Post.

“Basically one of the things we’re looking at is what would it take to be able to take advantage of our great weather and have people work outside,” said Tanner. “I’m sure you’ve been at your computer, looking at the sunshine and thinking, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be great to go outside and do my work?’ But then you run into all these barriers.”

Not only would this outdoor office space have wifi, but it would also address issues such as charging your devices, providing shade so you can see your computer screen, food options, a restroom and much more, which has yet to be solidified. Tanner says if the proposal is awarded by the Knight Foundation, there would still be room for engagement with the public.

“We definitely want people to know that this isn’t some plan we’re pulling out of our pocket that’s going to be implemented on day one,” said Tanner. “We’re definitely going to be working, collaborating with the public.”

Keisler added, “It feels great to know that others may believe in some of these wacky ideas we’re exploring at the Innovation Team.”

Strip Down to Become a Center by City Fabrick

A second proposal from City Fabrick has made it through the first major cut as a finalist with the goal of converting a strip retail center into a vibrant community space. While the nonprofit is still determining the project site, locals can hopefully look forward to running a dreaded errand with a little more fervor if this idea is awarded.

From the Eastside to Uptown to Central Long Beach to the downtown, just about every corridor connecting these parts of the city have this vernacular of car-centric commercial establishments,” said Ulaszewski. “Many of these retail centers can be dramatically invigorated through modest improvements to the building façade, the introduction of new landscaping or reconfiguration of their parking, often without negatively impacting the total number of stalls... While retaining their locally-owned business, these modest investments can transition an auto-oriented retail center into more inviting and accessible community asset.”

Once the pilot location has been selected, City Fabrick plans to work with the property owner, businesses and local community to create an intervention strategy that is meaningful to their needs and desires, ultimately leading to the economic success of both the businesses and community. In Ulaszewski’s words, “long term vitality” is the name of the game.

“It’s exciting to be a finalist for two proposals, interestingly both about using place, one for expanding civic engagement and the other for increasing economic vitality,” Ulaszewski added. “We’re excited about the opportunity to collaborate with new partners, testing new ideas for making positive change in Long Beach which hopefully can evolve and be replicated in other communities.”

The winners will be announced in spring 2016, according to the release. To see who won the 2014 Challenge, click here. For more information about the Knight Foundation’s Knight Cities Challenge, visit the website here.  

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