A pair of St. Paul civic projects have won sizable grants from the Knight Foundation in response to a national call for ideas that would improve urban living.
The Knight Cities Challenge awarded roughly a quarter of a million dollars to the two St. Paul projects — one thought up by a professor at the University of St. Thomas and the other by a small-business owner from Minneapolis.
The first project will focus on turning front lawns of residences and apartment buildings into places where residents can actually meet and talk.
Max Musicant, a Minneapolis resident who is the founder of the Musicant Group, said most front lawns are dead spaces that residents tend to avoid, and doing something as simple as setting up a “porch-like” setting with chairs and a grill make it easier for neighbors to meet. His project will offer kits and advice to help residents do just that.
Musicant said he will focus on a couple dozen properties in St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway and Rondo neighborhoods, and will partner with the Friendly Streets Initiative to carry the project out.
It received an $82,400 grant.
The second project, titled “I’m going to vote today,” will take place during the upcoming November election, and will test whether people receiving tailored messages through the mail encouraging them to vote will be more likely to do so.
Households who get the nonpartisan messages, which include stickers saying “I’m going to vote,” will be contrasted with households who don’t. Determining whether someone votes is public information.
The project received a $170,000 grant.
“One of our interests is in increasing civic engagement, and it’s especially important that it happens at the local level. So we have a particular interest in increasing participation in local elections,” said George Abbott, the interim program director for St. Paul, who also oversees the Cities Challenge.
The Knight Cities challenge, an annual contest, awards about $5 million annually to projects nationwide; this year, there were 4,500 applicants and 26 winners.
The Knight Foundation conducts multiple challenges, though not every year, including the Arts Challenge, News Challenge, and Green Line Challenge.
The Knight Foundation formed as a part of Knight’s newspaper division in 1940. Brothers John “Jack” S. and James L. Knight died in 1981 and 1991, respectively, and left the foundation a total of $630 million.
The foundation focuses on improving cities in which the Knight brothers once owned newspapers, of which St. Paul was one.
By Tad Vezner, Pioneer Press
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