Athens Georgia Townscape

Sparking Innovation Out Of The Doldrums

When things are running smoothly, a lot of us find it hard to push ourselves and think creatively. However, when someone challenges us to find new ways of doing things, we’re more inclined to think outside of the box and innovate. For instance, think of the reality show ‘Top Chef’. The challenge of the competition really allows the chefs to innovate and make unique culinary masterpieces!

Like the chefs in ‘Top Chef’, city governments need a little bit of a challenge to boost their creative thinking skills. The Knight Foundation set up the Knight Cities Challenge, in which they asked for submissions of innovative ideas to solve city governing problems. Carol Coletta, Vice President of Community and National Initiatives for the Knight Foundation, joined Christopher Dorobek for the podcast DorobekINSIDER and shared the details of the challenge.

According to Coletta, the Foundation received about 7,000 submissions, which they whittled down to thirty-two finalists. The submissions were proposals of innovative ideas to make cities more successful.

The purpose of this challenge was to get people thinking with a competition. As a city official, it’s easy to think, “We know all the people and we have all the smart ideas, we’ve heard it all before,” as Coletta put it. “But, we have to keep reminding ourselves no, there are a lot of ideas we would never have thought of. And that is the beauty of a challenge,” she explained.

So what makes a city successful, then? There are a couple of qualities that Coletta and her team were looking for in their highly-selective evaluation process.

First of all, they wanted projects that hadn’t been done before, or weren’t being carried out currently. The impetus behind the challenge was to encourage city innovators to think of something new and different – not just a continuation of an older project.

Additionally, they wanted projects that could be implemented over a longer period of time. “We were looking for methods of sustainability,” Coletta said. “It does no good to fund this year’s work if you can’t seek some pathway to sustainability.”

And most of all, they were hunting for projects that would make cities better places for all to live and work. “We made a call for ideas that would accelerate talent, opportunity, and engagement in cities,” she said. “There’s a lot of opportunity to improve any city. Every city has its challenges, and every city has its opportunities.”

One major theme that many of the winning ideas had in common was connection and communication. According to Coletta, in an age of high technology, some people have found it hard to connect with other human beings, and the Knight’s challenge hoped to foster collaboration in cities.

“If you think about the sprawl patterns of our cities over the last forty or fifty years, I think there’s a need and desire to have people get together and to be in space with strangers – there’s a real hunger for that,” said Coletta. They saw many innovators that were trying to fill that gap in their communities.

The thirty-two finalists each got their share of the $5 million grant to get their innovative idea up and running in their city. Are their innovations as good as those on ‘Top Chef’? Check out the finalists and decide for yourself here.

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