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Knight Cities podcast

Carol Coletta

Carol Coletta of Knight Foundation unearths innovative ideas for making cities successful and interviews the people behind them.



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Kathi Vian leads Institute for the Futures’ Ten-Year Forecast,
What’s your Walk Score? Thats a question that has become increasingly popular among urbanists since the founding of Walk Score seven years ago. Now real estate agents prominently display the number on their listings, knowing the value it adds to properties. Matt Lerner is a co-founder of Walk Score and its original chief technology officer, and is now vice president of local engineering at Redfin, the company that purchased Walk Score in October. He is our guest this week on 'Knight Cities.'...
As mayor of San Jose, Chuck Reed has confronted some of the thorniest issues facing cities: the need to renegotiate employee pensions, the tensions between wanting good urban planning and accommodating new corporate headquarters, the drying up of state funds, the need for cities such as San Jose to build strong brands. In this week’s 'Knight Cities,' Mayor Reed talks frankly about these and other challenges, along with one of the innovative ways he is tapping new talent for City Hall. He also...
Are neighbors vanishing in America? Marc Dunkelman thinks so. Marc is a fellow in public policy with the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions at Brown University and author of “The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community.”
Can behavioral science nudge us into better behavior? A growing number of government leaders think so. And they are being assisted by ideas42, a firm that uses behavioral science to design scalable solutions for social impact. Our guest this week on “Knight Cities” is **Ted Robertson**, managing director at the firm.
Do you ever look at an abandoned building in your city and think, why doesn’t someone fix that up? Do you ever imagine that you might be the one to bring it back to life? Avra Jain is a Miami-based real estate investor and developer. Her latest project is the redevelopment of the famous Vagabond Motel in the up-and-coming MiMo Biscayne Boulevard Historic District, and she has advice for would-be developers. Email me via: Coletta (at) knightfoundation.org.
How do you create a radically open platform for building new cultural capital in cities? That's been the job of Leslie Koch, president of the Trust for Governors Island, a nonprofit organization created by the city of New York to run what is an historic former military base being transformed into a park by and for New Yorkers. With the lightest possible touch, she has transformed a set of empty buildings and grounds into a platform animated by artists, collectors, and passionate hobbyists. It's...
Meg Daly is founder and president of Friends of The Underline.
The Center for Active Design has led the development of design guidelines for promoting physical activity. 
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The work we do, where we do it, who we do it for, how much of our time we spend on it, and why we work are all in flux. To understand where all of this is going, this week "Knight Cities" talks with Bryan Boyer, principal at Dash Marshall; a partner at Makeshift Society; and a member of the board of directors at Public Policy Lab. Bryan is both thinking and acting on the growth of the independent economy and what it means to America. His three-part meditation on the questions this new...
Imagine a globally connected set of urban studios inviting citizens to work on their best ideas for regenerating disinvested neighborhoods. That’s the ambitious vision of South African Alice Cabaret, founder and director of GRIND, the Global Regeneration Initiative for Neighbourhood Development. GRIND is headed to Detroit and other U.S. and European cities after making its debut in Johannesburg. Alice is also urban strategist for Propertuity, developers of Johannesburg’s most exciting new...
When big development comes to a neighborhood, how can the neighbors benefit?
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How do you create a sense of community in a brand new development? Its a question Sandra Kulli, a real estate marketing strategist, has been wrestling with for years. She is president of Kulli Marketing, and we had a chance to catch up recently in Todos Santos, Mexico, the site of one of her newest projects, Tres Santos. Its a project that could have been a typical resort on the Pacific, but the developer chose instead to forego gates and golf courses to reach for an authentic connection to the...
Kathryn Ott Lovell is responsible for one of the nation’s largest non-commercial public-private partnerships. She is executive director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy, an independent nonprofit organization that champions Philadelphia’s vast park system, where she orchestrates the daily dance of balancing public and private concerns and responsibilities to produce quality parks for citizens.
It seems that every city has its own version of pop-up parks, parklets, better blocks and other temporary design interventions intended to add life and fun to city streets. Cathy Ho curated a celebration of these clever urban actions in a major exhibition, 'Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good.' It first appeared as the official U.S. presentation at the 13th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2012, and it continues to tour the U.S., first in...
Roberta Brandes Gratz is the author of a new book on post-Katrina New Orleans on the 10th anniversary of the hurricane.
Ben Bryant and the Pop-up Pool Project in Philadelphia
Before planning fatigue sets in, why not just build a better block? That’s the approach of Jason Roberts who leads Team Better Block. Jason is a charismatic man who works with communities – first his own in Oak Cliff, Texas, and now with communities around the world – to turn vacant properties into lively, thriving blocks that showcase what’s possible in a neighborhood. He usually has to break a few laws to do it, but the result is places people love and want to be. It’s an approach...
Who doesn't love a great market? And there is none livelier than Reading Terminal Market in Center City Philadelphia. Anuj Gupta is the market's new general manager, and I talked to him about what makes the market so special.
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Is it time for a new kind of local economy in our cities, one that's based on people sharing their knowledge? Tessy Britton believes it is. Tessy and her colleagues at Civic Systems Lab are building a city framework where people can teach skills to those around them and learn new ones. It's part sharing economy, part neighborliness. I asked Tessy about the Civic Systems Lab and what she calls the 'new civic economy' she is helping to build.
This week, we launch “Knight Cities,” a new weekly podcast that focuses on the people and ideas shaping our cities. Theaster Gates – Chicago-based visual artist, actor, singer, restaurateur, activist, academician and all-around urban transformer – is our first guest.
The Atlanta BeltLine is a massive development turning 22 miles of historic railroad corridors circling downtown into a network of parks, trails and transit to link 45 of the city’s neighborhoods. It is among the largest and most wide-ranging urban development and mobility projects in the United States. And it all began with a master’s thesis by a student at Georgia Tech, Ryan Gravel. Ryan, now a senior urban designer at Perkins+Will in the firm’s Atlanta office, explains how deep...
Making art general in cities across America is the charge of Dennis Scholl, vice president for arts at Knight Foundation. Dennis and his colleagues are the brains behind the Knight Arts Challenge (which is currently open for ideas in South Florida), the enormously popular Random Acts of Culture, and Inside|Out, the project that takes replicas of famous works of art in museums and puts them in unexpected places. This week on “Knight Cities,” Dennis and I talk about his work and how art is...
Make your way to the edge of downtown Detroit, and you will find a river. Until recently, it wouldn't have been a very inviting experience. But today, the Detroit riverfront has become one of America's best waterfront parks. Mark Wallace is president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, the organization responsible for turning the waterfront into a great place for people.
Alissa Farina is an innovation associate at CappSci, a foundation that applies “science and engineering to real-world problems, and one of the organizers of the Miami Science Barge.
Attracting and retaining talent is at the top of the economic development agenda in many U.S. cities. And the organization that probably knows best how to do that is Campus Philly. Deborah Diamond is president of Campus Philly, and she joined us this week to talk about what the organization has learned.
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Can a major art institution lead a city in the exploration of its most urgent economic and community development questions? If you talk to Deborah Cullinan, executive director of San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the answer you get is a resounding "yes." Deborah is using the contemporary arts center she leads to shape San Francisco's future. And it's not the first time Deborah has used her role as arts leader to change a community. She previously served as executive...
Joy. Play. Whimsy. Those are words not often used to describe city planning and the associated public engagement it usually requires. But with its Market Street Prototyping Festival, San Francisco inverted the traditional planning model and turned its main street into a canvas for testing ideas submitted by citizens.
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What would happen if thousands of people in your city got together with friends, neighbors, even strangers on a single day over a meal to discuss the future of your community? That’s the question the people at the Chicago Community Trust asked on the occasion of the foundation's 99th anniversary. And the results should serve as inspiration to cities everywhere. Terry Mazany, president of the Chicago Community Trust and mastermind behind Chicago’s "On the Table," reports on the...
City Observatory is a daily source of data analysis and policy recommendations on how to make cities successful. The site helps readers separate fact from fiction when it comes to cities. This week, we talked with City Observatory founder and economist Joe Cortright.
He’s been called the shadow mayor of Center City Philadelphia, and there is no one in America today who knows more about how to cultivate a downtown than Paul R. Levy. Paul is president and CEO of Center City District, the organization supported by property owners that makes the district appeal to businesses and residents alike by keeping it clean, safe, green and active. In our conversation this week, Paul explains why Philadelphia, a Knight community, is thriving again, even as it weathers...
The quest to be a “just and fair” nation seems like a goal every American can rally around. But when you start unpacking the racial implications of that ambition, things can get complicated fast. Angela Glover Blackwell is founder of PolicyLink, a national organization that continues to lead the always-difficult debate on race, class and inclusion in America, and she is our guest this week on “Knight Cities.” Listen to my conversation with Angela here. And sign up for the “Knight...
Economist Joe Cortright has been a trusted guide for urban leaders for many years. For more than a decade, he has dissected the movement of young talent through America's big cities. He calcuated the Talent Dividend and the Green Dividend for cities. He developed a way to measure changes in vibrancy associated with creative placemaking and unpacked what's really happening in the poorest neighborhoods. He is one of the world’s experts on clusters and effectively presses the case on the value...
Detroit was once the innovation center of America. Ingenuity propelled a booming auto industry, Motown synthesized and popularized a new form of music, and social change poured out on race and workers’ rights. In his new book, “Once in a Great City,” David Maraniss has captured this story of Detroit of the early ’60s. Born in Detroit, David is an associate editor at The Washington Post and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author.
Are “creative” and “bureaucracy” mutually exclusive terms? Erma Ranieri is working hard to prove otherwise. As commissioner for public sector employment in South Australia, she is leading Change@SouthAustralia to speed change in government. For her efforts to make government bureaucracy creative and responsive to citizens she was named 2014 Telstra South Australia Business Woman of the Year.
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Scott Stowell runs Open, a design studio in New York. He is in the final days of a Kickstarter campaign for his new book, “Design for People,” which is filled with the stories behind the stories of the firm’s biggest design projects. In this week’s “Knight Cities,” Scott and I talk about his book and how to organize the kind of Kickstarter campaign he is using to fund it. Listen to our conversation here. And sign up for the Knight Cities newsletter to get alerts as soon as new...
Erin Kelly is program manager of Innovative Landscapes, an initiative of Detroit Future City.
Until last summer, Philadelphia’s Spruce Street Harbor was moribund, lacking people and energy. That is, until David Fierabend and his colleagues at Groundswell Design transformed it with inexpensive, temporary design changes that have made it the place to go in the city. He discusses the project and how it was done with Knight Foundation Vice President of Community and National Initiatives Carol Coletta.
If you serve on a nonprofit board this week’s “Knight Cities” is especially for you. Raising money is part of the job for nonprofit board members, but there’s also a significant opportunity that isn’t taken advantage of nearly enough: influencing policy. This week on “Knight Cities,” we talk to BoardSource President and **CEO Anne Wallestad**.
Can business muster the will, the know-how and the capital to take on the problems cities face? Shaun Abrahamson is betting on it. He is co-founder of Urban.us, a new public benefit corporation based in Miami - and a Knight Foundation grantee - that supports companies working to solve the most urgent urban challenges. Email me via: Coletta (at) knightfoundation.org.
Not many nonprofits have been around more than 100 years, especially ones dedicated to creating a more livable city. But the Municipal Art Society of New York (www.MAS.org) – or MAS NYC as it is now known - has defied the odds and continues to thrive in a fast-changing city. With a storied history of championing the first municipal zoning code in the United States and saving Times Square and Grand Central Terminal, today the organization leads a broad agenda promoting the city’s economic...
Lindsey Scannapieco, is the enthusiastic developer of the Edward Bok Technical School in South Philadelphia.
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An estimated one third of adults can be called soloists, people who work in non-traditional relationships with their employers. And the rate is growing rapidly, 15 to 17 percent every year. A soloist is, as George Gendron puts it, an extreme version of an entrepreneur and requires much of the same support and same capacities. George should know. He was editor-in-chief of Inc. Magazine for two decades, where he founded the Inc. 500 and worked with Michael Porter on the creation of the Inner City...
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While between projects in late 2007 and early 2008, Marcus Westbury, a maker, festival director and writer, was exploring his hometown of Newcastle, Australia, and found dozens of buildings and once-vibrant streets that 'had fallen into disrepair and despair.' Today, however, Lonely Planet describes Newcastle as a city whose 'time has finally come.' Marcus' new book, 'Creating Cities,' tells the story of how Newcastle transformed.
Each week, it seems someone publishes yet another list of essentials for city success. In fact, at Knight, we have our own list of these essentials: talent, opportunity and engagement. But Charles Leadbeater, a leading authority on innovation and creativity, believes empathy should be right at the top of these lists. Email me via: Coletta (at) knightfoundation.org.
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Paul Grogan is one of the nations great civic innovators. He has had a 360-degree view of what makes cities tick—from his early service as aide to two Boston mayors, to the creation of the nation’s first national intermediary for community development, to the founding of CEOs for Cities, then to Harvard and now as president and CEO of the Boston Foundation. Its been a tour de force of civic service, which is why Paul always has important new insights to share on cities.
Shawn McCaney, program director of creative communities at the William Penn Foundation, has been a leader in reimagining Philadelphia’s civic commons, those places that together encourage us to cross paths with our neighbors, encounter new ideas and make broader connections.
Miguel Figueroa heads the American Library Association Center for the Future of Libraries
A new kind of journalism is being born in Philadelphia. It’s manifested in The Philadelphia Citizen, and its purpose is nothing less than to spark a new movement of citizens who refuse to outsource leadership to a political class. With Jeremy Nowak.
Scott Bernstein, president and co-founder of the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago
One of the most important sources of talent for U.S. cities is foreign students enrolled in our universities. That's why Neil Ruiz is taking a closer look at where they come from and the impact they are having. Neil is a senior policy analyst and associate fellow at The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. His research focuses on regional and state economic development, innovation, international migration, high-skilled immigration, as well as global economic issues. Find out how...
Phil Cooley is one of Detroit's most enthusiastic champions. Phil, the owner of Slows Bar-B-Q and developer of Ponyride, an incubator for social innovators, was an early investor in the revitalization of the city. He has been an insider to Detroit’s do-it-yourself comeback and has lessons to share for urbanists everywhere who are working to jump-start their own grassroots version of revitalization in their cities. Email me via: Coletta (at) knightfoundation.org.
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An estimated one third of adults can be called soloists, people who work in non-traditional relationships with their employers. And the rate is growing rapidly, 15 to 17 percent every year. A soloist is, as George Gendron puts it, an extreme version of an entrepreneur and requires much of the same support and same capacities. George should know. He was editor-in-chief of Inc. Magazine for two decades, where he founded the Inc. 500 and worked with Michael Porter on the creation of the Inner City...
Public life is making a comeback in U.S. cities after more than 50 years of decline, inspired, in large part, by the work of Gehl Architects in Copenhagen. Helping cities accelerate that movement and get the details of public space right is a special talent of Jeff Risom. He is partner and managing director of Gehl Studio, the U.S. subsidiary of Gehl Architects, where he oversees design, planning and research projects throughout the Americas. Gehl has worked with cities worldwide to use public...
Copenhagen regularly tops the list of the world’s best cities. It is celebrated for its culture of conviviality, elevated by the large number of people walking, biking and lingering in the city’s streets and public spaces.
Imagine a homecoming that brought more than 100 of your city’s native luminaries back to town to see for themselves what life is like now. Then imagine you invited their investment in real estate, in businesses, in the people of your city. That's what happened in Detroit when Mary Kramer of Crain’s Detroit organized a get-together of epic proportions, complete with a prospectus of investment opportunities.This week on 'Knight Cities,' Mary describes the homecoming experience in Detroit and...