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Individuals recognised for transforming public spaces

They will receive a share of more than $1m as part of the inaugural Knight Public Spaces Fellowship, which seeks to strengthen community engagement and connections.

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An urban space in Oakland, California, designed by Walter Hood
An urban space in Oakland, California, designed by Walter Hood

Seven individuals from across the US will receive a share of more than $1m in recognition of their efforts to use public spaces to transform communities.

 

The award was made as part of the inaugural Knight Public Spaces Fellowship where the seven were named as fellows.

 

Great public spaces

 

Announced earlier this year, the initiative of the John S and James L Knight Foundation, the project recognises leaders, experts, and practitioners who have created or influenced great public spaces that strengthen community engagement and connection.

 

Fellows will each receive $150,000 in recognition of their contributions and to advance their work. They include talented leaders with track records of crafting public spaces (parks, plazas, trails, community spaces and streets) that create opportunities for civic engagement.

 

The fellowship aligns with Knight’s support of public spaces as a means to connect communities, drawing people out of their homes and encouraging them to meet, play and discuss important issues, while finding common ground.

 

“These rare people see something different when they look at streets, parks and sidewalks — they see a vision of how our communities could look, feel and be different,” said Sam Gill, vice president for communities and impact, Knight Foundation.

 

“We hope this recognition accelerates their visionary work and invites others to challenge the way we think about and use public space.”

“These rare people see something different when they look at streets, parks and sidewalks — they see a vision of how our communities could look, feel and be different”

Fellows will receive $150,000 in flexible funding to provide them with the space and freedom to unleash their creativity. They will also have access to opportunities to work with and learn from each other, and to elevate their work to a wider audience.

 

The programme will encourage the sharing of lessons across cities, and in particular the communities where Knight invests. Participants are expected to build on their ongoing work, while developing new efforts for the field.

 

Fellows were identified through a national call for nominations that launched in February, which generated more than 2,000 candidates. They were selected by Knight staff in collaboration with experts and leaders in the field.

 

The fellows are:

 

Anuj Gupta (Philadelphia): general manager of Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, one of the largest and oldest public markets, Gupta has brought new and innovative distribution and engagement models to the market. In particular, he has spearheaded engagement initiatives focused on connecting cultures and bringing people of different backgrounds together around food.

 

Chelina Odbert (Los Angeles): Odbert is co-founder and executive director of Kounkuey Design Initiative, a non-profit design firm (with offices in Los Angeles, the Coachella Valley, Nairobi and Stockholm) that prioritises community participation in public space development — designing side-by-side with residents. Odbert emphasises that public space design must integrate not only environmental, but also social and economic strategies to address community inequities.

 

Eric Klinenberg (New York): The Helen Gould Shepard Professor of Social Science at NYU and a practitioner working on urban public spaces, Klinenberg most recently served as research director of Rebuild by Design, the federal competition focused on generating innovative designs for 21st Century infrastructure in the region affected by Superstorm Sandy. In 2018, Klinenberg published Palaces for the People, a book about the essential role of social infrastructure in revitalising democratic culture and civic life.

 

Erin Salazar (San Jose, California): founder and executive director of Exhibition District, Salazar heads a woman-owned and operated arts nonprofit creating economic opportunities for artists at the intersection of public art and community development in San Jose. Salazar is redefining what “public space” is and what it could be in a city full of large corporations, while working to maintain the community’s cultural authenticity.

 

Kathryn Ott Lovell (Philadelphia): commissioner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, Lovell oversees one of the largest park systems in the country, bringing a strong focus on innovation to the government sector. Her emphasis on “citizen centric” service, provides exceptional parks and recreation opportunities to residents and prioritises community engagement.

 

Robert Hammond (New York): co-founder and executive director of the High Line, Hammond had the vision and foresight to lead the effort to build an elevated park on an abandoned railway line in New York City 20 years ago. In 2017, he formed the High Line Network, which focuses on the equitable development of underused city infrastructure to develop new urban landscapes.

 

Walter Hood (Oakland, California): Hood is creative director and founder of Hood Design, a firm that practices at the intersection of art, design, landscape, research and urbanism across the country. Hood Design Studio designs public spaces for institutions such as Cooper Hewitt Museum, Broad Museum and Solar Strand at University of Buffalo, as well as neighbourhood community spaces such as Splash Pad Park in Oakland, California and Baisley Park in New York City.

 

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Robert Hammond's elevated park on an abandoned railway line
Robert Hammond's elevated park on an abandoned railway line
The Oasis community building by Chelina Odbert
The Oasis community building by Chelina Odbert
Eric Klinenberg focuses on social infrastructure in revitalising democratic culture and civic life
Eric Klinenberg focuses on social infrastructure in revitalising democratic culture and civic life
Kathryn Ott Lovell helps to provide exceptional parks and recreation opportunities to residents
Kathryn Ott Lovell helps to provide exceptional parks and recreation opportunities to residents
Erin Salazar is redefining what public space is and could be in San Jose
Erin Salazar is redefining what public space is and could be in San Jose
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