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Knight Foundation invests $2.2 million in projects to advance Philadelphia’s public spaces and digital engagement

Friday, April 9, 2021
PHILADELPHIA — April 8, 2021 — The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced a $2.2 million investment in nine Philadelphia projects. Knight Foundation’s new support will bolster local programs that advance equitable community development and digital innovation in city neighborhoods.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic amplified a need for accessible public spaces and strategic digital engagement. In Philadelphia, Knight support will advance work to address these issues while also including residents in the design, programming and development of public spaces.

“A truly thriving Philadelphia is an equitable Philadelphia,” said Ellen Hwang, Knight Foundation program director for Philadelphia. “Accessible public spaces are critical assets and places for our communities. These new investments will help ensure that as neighborhoods develop, there are opportunities for communities to be drivers and decision-makers of the change and to benefit from the opportunities that come from development.” 

Knight Foundation’s community investments will build on the organization’s broader efforts to advance Philadelphia public spaces. Knight is investing $1.8 million in the following projects:

  • John Bartram Association (Bartram’s Garden) — $687,775
    To engage residents of Southwest Philadelphia and Grays Ferry in community-driven programming in preparation for the opening of the Schuylkill River Trail swing bridge, a new civic amenity connecting the two neighborhoods. Knight funding will also be used to support both digital and in-person youth-oriented leadership opportunities in Bartram’s Garden to share resources and foster relationships among community and the land and river.
  • Pennsylvania Horticultural Society – $624,244
    To partner with neighborhood leaders and organizations to implement “Southwest Tree Tenders,” a community-centered stewardship program to make Southwest Philadelphia’s public spaces more engaging and accessible as residents increase their green spaces and tree canopy along the community’s public right-of-way.
  • Mural Arts Philadelphia – $250,000 
    To establish resident-led programming and engagement for FloatLab, a new state-of-the-art floating dock, classroom, and performance space in Southwest Philadelphia’s Bartrams Garden.
  • Philadelphia Parks & Recreation – $250,000
    To reimagine the City of Philadelphia’s Playstreets program through digital engagement and a pilot program that tests innovative play and public space interventions.
  • Impact Services Corporation – $74,700
    To create a digitally-equipped van that travels and provides mobile programming throughout the community as a way to engage residents and stakeholders  around the use and design of public spaces in Kensington

These investments are part of Knight’s efforts to foster Philadelphia public spaces that are driven, led by and accessible to the communities they serve. Knight’s work in the city will advance public spaces that are equitable, accessible, collaborative, resident-led and resident-centered.

Knight’s support for local public space projects comes on the heels of recently-released research from Knight and Gehl, which examines existing work in Philadelphia to build resident-centered spaces. The research affirms that public space projects that prioritize resident input and establish equitable access can help communities build connections and resiliency. 

In addition, Knight will invest $317,000 in the following local digital innovation projects as part of its growing work to advance projects that foster digitally-oriented cities:

  • Friends of the Rail Park – $145,000
    To enable the Philadelphia Rail Park to create and utilize digital engagement tools and a digital archive to increase accessibility, visibility and enhanced community connection.
  • City of Philadelphia, Sensing the City- $72,000
    To leverage an artificial intelligence data analytics tool to help five Philadelphia City departments understand how residents are receiving and responding to communication efforts around programs, initiatives and messages.
  • Smith Memorial Playground – $60,000
    To support the launch of new models of virtual programming that enhance in-person engagement and enrich playful learning experiences during COVID-19 and beyond.
  • Our Plan (Akira Drake Rodriguez and Ken Steif) – $40,000 
    To develop a scalable, collaborative planning process and web-based tool in Philadelphia, led by Akira Drake Rodriguez and Ken Steif, for engaging communities around community values, cultural and historic preservation, housing affordability, and future land use within their neighborhoods.

“Throughout the city, there’s an emerging critical mass of projects that are addressing the community’s most pressing needs,” said Lilian Coral, Knight Foundation director for national strategy and technology innovation. “By bringing digital innovation to the forefront we’re ensuring that spaces and projects help residents stay connected to local information, programming and places.”

Knight’s digital innovation investments will advance digital tools that foster civic dialogue, attachment to place, and resident engagement in the design and programming of Philadelphia public spaces. Knight support will help these projects build digital engagement strategies and develop best-in-class user interfaces for their work. 

“The pandemic taught us that communities need better access to quality spaces and digital services to be more engaged in community,” said Kelly Jin, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives. “As we continue to recover from the pandemic, it’s vital that civic assets continue to serve everyone and adapt to the changing needs of residents. These investments will help ensure that Philadelphia is poised for the future.”


About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit