(Photo by Julie Zeglen)
If the first two years of the Knight Cities Challenge have proved anything about American cities, it’s that Philadelphia is a first-class breeding ground for civic innovation.
Last year, more grants were awarded to Philly-focused projects in the inaugural challenge than any other city. This year’s winners snagged the biggest piece of Knight’s $5 million pie with a collective $873,364.
According to Knight Foundation‘s Philadelphia Program Director Patrick Morgan, the four projects are more than just representative of the city’s spirit — they speak to what Knight is trying to do with the competition.
“We define it around attracting and keeping talented people, expanding economic opportunity, creating a culture of civic engagement,” Morgan said. “When you look at each of these four, they hit on not just one of those [definitions] but multiple in really innovative and creative ways.”
These four projects, he said, have great potential to create stronger communities and spaces that can drive education and engagement.
“We’re a city of firsts, a city of innovation, but we’re also a city of grit,” he said. “We don’t give up. You see that alive in these ideas.”
Reading Terminal Market: “Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers” ($84,674)
The goal of this project is to build a foundation for relationships between the city’s immigrant communities by hosting cooking classes, where participants will learn how to cook cultural cuisines.
Over the last 15 years, said General Manager Anuj Gupta, the city has diversified at a substantial pace — and there’s no better place in the city to see that diversity than Reading Terminal Market.
“It’s arguably the most diverse public space in Philadelphia. Everyone there is essentially doing the same thing in the same way, whether they’re shopping or dining. You’re sitting at the same tables together,” he said. “We’re trying to leverage that inherent diversity that the Terminal engenders, mostly a function of it’s product – largely, food.”
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The project will begin in the fall and carry through 13 months of programming. Gupta said he’s hoping to land a partnership with a local university to study the program’s impact.
“It’s wonderful that we’re diversifying, but we need to embrace that diversity and unify as a city,” he said. “At the end of the day, we want all Philadelphians to see Reading Terminal as their market. This is a way of forming a bond and relationship with Philadelphians.”
Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance: “20 Book Clubs, 20 Co-op Businesses” ($146,000)
This project will look to launch a co-op book club in 20 Philadelphia neighborhoods in hopes of inspiring communities to form their own. According to PACA cofounder Caitlin Quigley, participants will study co-ops for six months while identifying a business need in their community.
“It’s quite intensive,” Quigley said. “We’ll also be working a lot to get these stories out and allowing other people who aren’t directly in the book clubs to engage in the study.”
The end game here is to introduce more citizens to the business model and establish Philadelphia as a cooperative leader.
“Right now there are around 15 startup coops in the works in the region,” she said. “This will be a huge blossoming of people opening co-ops. The co-op experience really influences individuals.”
Little Giant Creative: The Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship ($308,640)
The Institute will look to identify and empower aspiring entrepreneurs from low-income communities by highlighting how hip-hop culture has influenced business.
“When people think hip-hop they automatically think music,” said founder Tayyib Smith. “I want to go deep, deep back into the roots and look at all types of individuals who changed business practice.”
Participants will learn how hip-hop entrepreneurs like Sean Combs and Dr. Dre have informed brands — something Smith said you can’t find in a book about modern marketing practices.
“It’ll talk about guerrilla marketing and street teaming, but it’s done in a very academic way that’s removed from hip-hop history. People might not know about [90s hip-hop label] Loud Records and how they had the fiercest street team in the country,” he said. “That became a marketing norm of how to get the word out. That’s something that started in hip-hop. Now, I see car brands doing that.”
Group Melvin Design: Little Music Studio ($334,050)
This project aims to bridge gaps between the city’s communities by turning public spaces into free-to-use music studios starting this summer. Director of Planning and Design Ben Bryant equated the idea to a game of pickup basketball.
“The way a pickup basketball game works, you have the court, the net, the infrastructure all there to facilitate the interaction of playing the game between strangers,” he said. “That was the vision of this project, to explore something different with music and public space.”
Music, he said, is a universal language. People who speak in two different tongues could still have a meaningful interaction if they sit down in a public space and play.
“We’re trying to figure out how to capture the impact of this,” Bryant said. “Part of the studio part of this is to figure out an easy way to record some of these spontaneous jam sessions that we hope will happen in public space.”-30-
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