Last November, a friend posted a link about the Knight Cities Challenge on Facebook. The application was so simple and straightforward – “What’s your best idea to make cities more successful?” – that I figured there was nothing to lose in giving it a shot. Feeling ambitious one Sunday afternoon, I decided to take a couple of hours out of my day to apply.
Eight months later, I’m standing at a podium on the deck of the Francisville neighborhood pool in Philadelphia, surrounded by reporters, friends and neighbors, my family, palm trees, a group of Philadelphia’s most impressive leaders, and a pack of neighborhood kids anxiously waiting to do cannonballs in front of the news cameras. Michael Nutter, mayor of Philadelphia, had just finished calling my idea genius, strongly supporting its application not just at our pilot site but at all of Philadelphia’s pools, and as I approached the podium to speak, cameras flashing and all microphones turned towards me, I couldn’t help but marvel at how amazing it was to have made such an impact on my city in such a short time, and that it had all started because I decided to enter the Knight Cities Challenge one Sunday afternoon.
Looking back, what I’m most proud of from this summer is the response from community members. Longtime residents of Francisville loved the fresh look on a familiar public asset, saying that the physical improvements and programming had brought a renewed sense of community to the park, while newer residents who hadn’t grown up at the rec center discovered a much-loved neighborhood asset just steps away from their front door. And as such, the pool became a place that people of all backgrounds wanted to be, and encouraged lingering, laughing, friendship, and lots of Aqua Zumba.
This year, I’ve talked to a lot of people who’ve asked me what it takes to write a successful application. For me, it comes down to this: If you have an idea and the will to make it happen, and you know it would improve your city if given the chance, submit it. This isn’t a time to second-guess yourself or play it safe; this is a time to pick something you’re passionate about, and propose something new and bold to make your city great. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. And your city will be all the better for it. I could write more, but time’s ticking – applications are due Oct. 27 at noon ET – so visit knightcities.org and share your idea with the world.