25 Detroit Innovations Are Finalists for Knight Cities Challenge Grants

January 12, 2015, 7:08 AM by  Alan Stamm

Twenty-five applicants Detroit are finalists in the Knight Cities Challenge, a new three-year project to support urban innovations. This city has the most finalists nationwide.

Those in the running for grants this spring include the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, ARISE Detroit, Detroit Future City, Crain's, Neighbors Building Brightmoor, Detroit Experience Factory and Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.

"We think these finalists will spark an exciting conversation about what’s possible in Detroit," says Alexander Tucciarone, a publicist for the Miami-based foundation.

"Detroit’s finalists are proposing unique projects like setting up a one stop shop to welcome newcomers and teach them about Detroit’s neighborhoods or a plan to bring master barbers and landscapers together to repurpose vacant lots," he adds in an email from New York.

One Detroiter chosen, Graig Donnelly, tells Deadline: "It's a great list of inspiring projects from hard-working and thoughtful people. I'm especially proud that four of the other 24 finalists are Detroit Revitalization Fellows. Our talented mid-career leaders are doing great things in and around Detroit. .It's pretty amazing."

The others from that program are Dara O'Byrne and Erin Kelly of Detroit Future City, Rachel Perschetz of LIVE Detroit and Sarida Scott (Community Development Advocates of Detroit). 

For its first year of the new program, the nonprofit picked 126 finalists from among more than 7,000 submissions focused on 26 communities where it invests. Winners this March will share $5 million in grants, as will winners in 2016 and 2017.

Neighborhood cleanup organized by ARISE Detroit, one of the finalists.

“The challenge has introduced us to a host of new ideas and people who want to take hold of the future of their cities,” Carol Coletta, a foundation vice president, says in a news release. “Through these new connections we hope to grow a network of civic innovators to take on community challenges and build solutions together.”

Here are the local contenders and those who nominated them:

► Beautify Our Block by ARISE Detroit! (Submitted by Luther Keith): Creating a jobs-focused, sustainable rapid response team to fight blight and clean up neighborhoods to improve the quality of life in the city.

► The Boggs School Community Dreamscape by the Boggs Educational Center (Submitted by Shoshanna Utchenik): Repurposing the outdoor space of the Boggs school into a “dreamscape” where people can meet, learn from nature, explore art installations and recharge.

 Border Talks (Submitted by Graig Donnelly): Creating a physical space to foster engagement between diverse residents of Detroit and its neighbor Grosse Pointe Park, who are separated by barricades and closed streets.

Brand Camp Pop-Up: School Branding Businesses in Detroit Neighborhoods by Brand Camp University (Submitted by Hajj Flemings): Assisting startups and entrepreneurs in underserved neighborhoods with branding their companies and ideas through a multi-day training and mentoring program that helps them tell their stories and establish a digital presence.

► Brick + Beam Detroit: Let's Get Rehabbing! by Michigan Historic Preservation Network (Submitted by Emilie Evans): Rehabilitating Detroit architecture by providing training, social events and forums for people across skill levels to work together to improve their city.

Bus Riders Need to Be Engaged Too (Submitted by Jacob Rayford Jr.): Engaging the city’s bus riders by providing information agents on public transit who can answer questions about the city and relay concerns.

 The Buzz by Detroit Future City (Submitted by Erin Kelly): Pairing barbers with landscape contractors to transform overgrown vacant lots through facilitated design workshops that teach mowing and pattern-making techniques.

► The Chain Link Kit (Submitted by Claire Nelson): Creating a how-to guide to transform the ubiquitous and unsightly fence into galleries, gardens and grids while promoting community connections.

► Detroit Civic Engagement Traveling Road Show by Community Development Advocates of Detroit (Submitted by Sarida Scott): Engaging residents in the future of the city through a series of workshops and community dinners throughout Detroit.

► Detroit Homecoming by Crain’s Detroit Business (Submitted by Eric Cedo): Engaging residents -- past and present -- with a new digital community designed to keep Detroit expats in touch with the city.

► Growing Communities with Strong Funding Roots by Funding Roots (Submitted by Renette Gordon): Using crowdfunding to attract capital to rebuild Detroit, create jobs, engage residents and boost business opportunities.

Neighbors Building Brightmoor, which set up this "Little Friends Library" next to its Farmway site, is eligible for a spring grant.

 Information Supergreenway by Detroit RiverFront Conservancy (Submitted by Jan Shimshock): Providing continuous public WiFi along Detroit’s RiverWalk, Dequindre Cut and Eastern Market to break down digital divides, connect neighborhoods and support entrepreneurs.

► Middlecott Sketchbasttle Experiment (Submitted by Brook Banham): Opening the creative process by expanding a public design competition in Detroit, dubbed “a fight club for design,” that makes the design process a spectator sport.

 Neighborhood Exchange Program by Detroit Experience Factory (Submitted by Jeanette Pierce): Introducing residents to new communities through a series of events that will transport them from one neighborhood to another where they can connect with new people and learn about neighborhood assets, challenges and successes.

► NOW WHAT!!!! by Neighbors Building Brightmoor (Submitted by Riet Schumack): Making the neighborhood business district in Brightmoor more vibrant through a competition that pairs local businesses with residents to transform vacant spaces. 

 Project Groundtruth by Detroit Future City (Submitted by Dara O'Byrne): Improving quality of life for Detroit residents by transforming vacant lots and blighted properties that surround multifamily developments into green, open spaces

► ProsperU$Det Innovation Stations in Your Neighborhood by Southwest Economic Solutions (Submitted by Hector Hernandez): Creating neighborhood “opportunity kiosks” where entrepreneurs would pitch ideas to residents who would vote on proposals to receive small loans, subsidized rent and entrepreneurial training.

► Shark Tank for Small Developers/Builders by Kim Architecture + Design with Strong Towns (Submitted by R. John Anderson): Training a new generation of local developers and builders to manage smaller scale city projects that take less time and fewer resources than traditional models. 

► Social Water Financing (Submitted by Rachel Cardone): Testing and delivering community financing for household and neighborhood water services that promote recycling and reduce water use, such as harvesting rainfall, establishing rain gardens and retrofitting housing with  more efficient toilets.

 SWOT City Shine by TechTown Detroit (Submitted by Marlo Staples): Engaging the community in designing solar lighting that identifies the city’s unique commercial corridors while overcoming its challenges with maintaining lighting infrastructure.

► Uber Local Food System House by Detroit City Planning Commission (Submitted by Kathryn Underwood): Repurposing vacant and abandoned houses to provide year-round indoor sites for growing vegetables for the local community.

► The Urban Consulate (Submitted by Claire Nelson): Promoting cross-city cultural exchange by setting up a network of “consulates” for American cities, instead of foreign countries, that offer events and an entree into local culture.

► Think Tanker by MODCaR c/o the Bureau of Emergent Urbanity (Submitted by Anya Sirota): Bringing attention to the power of design and the manufacturing economy through Think Tanker, a barge with design studios, exhibit space and maker facilities that will host international designers on the Detroit River. 

► Why Would Anyone Want to Live in Detroit by LIVE Detroit (Submitted by Rachel Perschetz): Attracting and keeping talent in Detroit by creating a one-stop shop for information about neighborhoods and city life.

► Windows Into Detroit Communities (Submitted by Alex B. Hill, Meg Heeres and Maya Stovall): Involving residents from diverse communities in an event where they participate in and listen to discussions across mock borders while discovering their differences and common ground.

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