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Local Urban Innovators Share Knight Cities Challenge Experiences
On September 20, 2016 PennPraxis convened representatives from the Philadelphia design, planning, and entrepreneurial community to discuss their experiences working with Knight Cities Challenge Grants here in Philadelphia. As the practical design arm of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, PennPraxis is particularly interested in innovative ways that placemaking and community building is happening in the city and elsewhere, to provide models and inspiration for students and practitioners alike. The panelists included five Philadelphians who had received grants in both the 2015 and 2016 funding cycles. The Knight Foundation opens the third and final round of the Knight Cities Challenge grants in October 2016, so the panel also served as a venue to share experiences that would be valuable to future applicants.
Panelists included Anuj Gupta, General Manager of Reading Terminal Market, Emma Rutherford, Co-Founder and Design Director of Scout, Ltd., Tayyib Smith, COO and Founder of Little Giant Creative and Co-Founder of the Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship, Deenah Loeb (MLA ’97), Executive Director of City Parks Association and Co-founder of Urban Arboreta, and Michelle Freeman, Founder and President of Witty Gritty and publisher of Flying Kite Media.
Each of the panelists gave a brief overview of their projects, explaining the idea behind the grant, their experience that led them to pursue the idea, and how it was carried out, including challenges and surprises. The presentations were followed by a brief discussion, facilitated by PennPraxis Managing Director Julie Donofrio, and then Q&A from the audience.
Gupta presented on two grants for which he had led the application, both at Reading Terminal Market, and at his previous position at Mt. Airy USA. The earlier grant funded the Philadelphia Immigration Hub in Mt. Airy, which provides entrepreneurs with workspace, one on one business counseling, ongoing workshops, and access to capital from traditional and non-traditional lenders. The second grant, Breaking Bread Breaking Barriers, intends to use varied cultures’ cuisines to open up a dialogue between Philadelphia’s different ethnic groups, using Reading Terminal Market as a starting point, as it already succeeds in bringing together a great diversity of patrons, visitors, and food options on a daily basis.
Rutherford described the public realm improvements and community outreach that had gone into her organization’s project: South Philly Stoop. Scout Ltd. received a Knight grant to transform the vacant space surrounding the closed Edward Bok Technical High School in South Philadelphia that the development group now manages into a series of new community spaces that would serve the neighborhood and bring new and old residents together. Design elements drew upon the design influences of the stoop and ways in which people congregated in the neighborhood. The property recently completed a dog park and other public realm improvements, which complement the building’s popular rooftop bar.
Loeb spoke about her project Urban Arboreta, which aims to combat Philadelphia’s ongoing vacancy issues by turning vacant land into productive use through nursery production and community open space. Through intensive research and community partnerships, Loeb’s diverse team identified two sites in West Philadelphia to test the model, and hosted a design competition to garner design ideas. The team is now moving into implementation, which includes an ongoing model for job training and business sustainability.
Smith gave an overview of his work at Little Giant Creative, a local creative agency, but focused primarily on his Knight-funded project—the Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship (IHHE). The program offers Philadelphia-area candidates ages 18 to 32 the opportunity to participate in a nine-month, tuition-free course to highlight the aspects and challenges of starting a business. The program was informed by Smith’s own experiences and inspiration, thus featuring exposure to creative professionals, businesspeople, technologists, and musicians to give participants a diversity of background knowledge to pursue their own initiatives.
Finally, Freeman described the project she co-leads: Urban Consulate, a hub for urbanists to exchange conversation and ideas, located in Philadelphia, Detroit and New Orleans. The forum serves as an opportunity for those interested in urban issues and entrepreneurship to exchange ideas outside of professionally-focused spheres. The first three cities are pilots, hoping that the program can be extended elsewhere based on a successful outcome. In each city, the program builds on existing relationships and positive work being done by local innovators.