Quality-of-place initiatives in Fort Wayne and Gary are among the finalists in a national program offering winners a share of $5 million. The Knight Cities Challenge projects were pitched to the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and focus on "drivers" that answer the question: "what’s your best idea to make cities more successful?"

The foundation invests in 26 communities throughout the U.S. including Fort Wayne and Gary. The 144 finalists were chosen from a pool of more the 4,500 applications. Knight Cities Challenge proposals focus on:

  • Talent: Ideas that help cities attract and keep talented people;
  • Opportunity: Ideas that expand economic prospects and break down divides;
  • Engagement: Ideas that spur connection and civic involvement.

Winners will be announced in the spring. Knight Foundation Director For Community and National Initiatives George Abbott says "the finalists use creativity and inventiveness to tackle community challenges and realize new opportunities, proposing ideas that are unique to their city, but also hold lessons and inspiration for civic innovators across the country."

The foundation described the finalists from Fort Wayne:

  • Ft. Wayne Alumni Association by Big Car Collaborative (submitted by Jim Walker): Keeping and attracting talented workers to Ft. Wayne through a digital platform that connects local graduates, with the goal of encouraging those who leave the city to return.
  • My Town Square by Hoch Associates (submitted by Dan Baisden-Kennedy): Helping Ft. Wayne be a vibrant place to live, work and play by creating #MyTownSquare, a workspace where small and mid-size cities can learn about and test placemaking ideas.
  • The Porch Project by Bridge of Grace Compassionate Ministries Center (submitted by Réna Bradley): Creating more public spaces for residents to come together through a new community design studio that activates informal gathering spaces, including front porches.
  • Student Storefront (submitted by Steve Franks): Creating more economic opportunity for youth in Ft. Wayne by opening a student-managed storefront selling student-made products in the heart of downtown.

And from Gary:

  • Ballpark Plaza Idea (submitted by Brenda Scott-Henry on behalf of Kenneth A. Parr): Bringing life to a vacant lot across from Gary’s baseball park by turning it into an outdoor entertainment center and farmers market.
  • Gary Ruins Garden Project by city of Gary, Indiana (submitted by Jack Eskin): Making downtown more vibrant by transforming a historic, abandoned Gothic church in downtown into a ruins garden and event space.
  • In Love in Gary, Indiana, by SmithGroupJJR (submitted by Dana Crawford): Expanding economic opportunity in Gary, and changing the city’s narrative, by establishing the city as a creative and cost-effective urban wedding destination.

Projects in Fort Wayne and Gary were also finalists last year. In 2015, the first year of the Knight Cities Challenge, a culinary arts incubation project in Gary’s downtown was selected as a winner of the competition, receiving $650,000. ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen opened late last year in an abandoned commercial space.

You can connect to more about the Knight Cities Challenge program by clicking here.

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