Apply Now: The Knight Cities Challenge Your Ideas To Make Miami Nicer

The application process is open now through the 27th of October for the second year of the Knight Cities Challenge. We took some time to chat with Matt Haggman from the Knight Foundation about this opportunity for all Miami-folk to have their ideas to make the city nicer heard and potentially funded. Then, we talked with Natalie Manzano-Smith who is a Miami-winner from last year about her project, The Miami Science Barge. 


There's no particular theme to this grant, the Knight Foundation is just looking for your thoughts and big ideas on how to make the city a better place. That's right, any ideas you've have lodged in the back of your brain, something you cooked up at a bar late one night, or a rant you've gone on over and over now have the opportunity to get some money behind them and make a differece. 

Matt Haggman, Program Director at Knight Foundation 

Most people in Miami know of the Knight Foundation and their many grants but today we’re talking specifically about the Knight Cities Challenge. Can you tell me about that specific grant opportunity that just opened up? What are the basics that we should know? 

This provides another great way to get funding in Miami and across the country. We have other challenges like the Knight Arts Challenge, the News Challenge, we have our effort in Miami focused on building a start-up community alongside the arts community. What’s really neat about the Cities Challenge is allows for an even wider set of ideas. It asks the simple question what’s the best way to help make our city more successful. It allows for ideas that may not have previously fallen into arts, entrepreneurship or journalism. So we really encourage people you’ve had while driving around, sitting in a park, walking the city, whatever it is when something popped into your head and you thought “I would love to do that,” we want to you try and get funding for that idea. 

That’s such a nice way to put and an easy way to understand. I’ve read through the Knight Grants year after year and I’ve thought to myself “I’ve had this idea but it doesn’t necessarily feel like an “arts” idea, although I guess it may be “cultural.” So what you’re saying is people who have ideas that are good for the community but don’t know where it fits should apply here? 

Right, it’s not arts it’s not entrepreneurship necessarily, but t also can be those things, but it doesn’t have to be. 

So you guys use the “three key drivers” as the only parameters? 

The three key drivers - talent, engagement and opportunity - and sort of building that unique sense of place that’s so important in any community. You want to be able to check those boxes, but I think it allows for a wide set of ideas to be considered. 

I’m going to speak with the Miami Science Barge, last year’s winners, in a bit, can you give me your thoughts on that project? 

Obviously it’s a very innovative, engaging project and it gets people to think in new ways and brings it to the heart of the city. 

I read their description and I thought, “Ohhhh, I’d go there!” 

Yeah, totally right? That’s really the aim of all of it, to give people support so they can think and do in new ways so that they can bring change and make our city better. 

We are definitely lucky to have the Knight Foundation in Miami. I feel like every time you see someone doing interesting work in Miami your logo is right there at the bottom of the page. 

Basically, all ideas you’ve seen in other cities and thought, “Why don’t we have that here” are fair game for the Cities Challenge, as are ideas you come up with that are place-specific to Miami, of course. No more whining is allowed, here’s your change to get some cash for your ideas to make the city better. 

Nathalie Manzano-Smith, Director of Innovation at CappSci / Miami Science Barge 


Could we maybe start with the basics of your project and what you’re looking to accomplish? 

Let me start from the beginning, this is a project that we saw in New York and the founder of the organization that I work for started in New York Capsize started in New York. Last September I went up and visited the project up there and the purpose of the New York Barge is really for fish farming and it’s right on the Hudson River in Manhattan. The purpose is to show how in an urban environment you can reduce your carbon footprint and have fresh fruits and vegetables, in Miami it was less of a focus for me but more interestingly how you can utilize the same type of platform, a giant barge,to make a statement about sustainability and climate change in our environment. I was thinking about how there’s no real low-cost or no-cost way to get out into the water in Miami although we have a lot of waterfront most of it is developed privately there’s not a lot of access. 

Outside of the beach, there’s not a free way for people to spend time on the water. There’s not a boat tour you can take for free. I moved from New York about a year ago and you can take the water taxi to IKEA - 

I’ve thought about this all the time because the IKEA water taxi was a big part of my New York life. 

It’s great! I would not even go to IKEA and I’d take that thing. 

It’s the best and it’s crazy that we have no system like that. 

I came back to Miami and really started pushing to see how we could get that done with our marine environment. It’s also insane that with the weather we have here most people don’t have solar or renewable energy systems in their homes. We have a huge climate change issue and people aren’t talking about it in their day to day conversation the way it should be. 

So then the Knight Cities Challenge came along… 

It’s a process that basically started because of Knight Cities, we started looking at how we could make something a convening space for Miami round climate change and sustainability issues and a space where everybody could feel at home and have access to something, the waterfront, that people don’t take advantage of. 

There’s no way to be on the water really as a local outside of a private boat. I do a lot of work in the tourism industry and I always tell people I think everyone who visits here should try and see the city from the water and there’s no way to really do that… 

We’ve fought really hard because the one place that I thought this should go is Museum Park and we fought really hard for that. Luckily the board saw our vision and they approved it to be our home for two years. 

That spot specifically was important because of access through public transportation. Our public transportation system is terrible and we need to talk about how people can get around and access basic things without sitting in traffic for two hours. That local was important to us because it’s right off the MetroMover stop and the trains and the trolley, so we’re hoping that location right next to the Museum of Science and the PAMM will get a lot of attention. 

So we’re building out now, we bought a barge and we’re on the Miami River building out all our system. During the week we’ll focus on field trips, K - 12, we’re working with Frost Science to build our curriculum focused on marine science, sustainability and renewable energy. We’re going to have some hydroponics on the barge and we’re also going to have aquaculture. We’re working with University of Miami to grow mani on the barge. There’s not a place where you can see that outside of UM’s laboratory out here. At night and on the weekends we really hope to be a place where people can come for programming and we’re going to open the barge up to different kinds of people who want to come and share ideas and talk. 

So, do you see this as a kind of museum? 

I don’t see it as a museum because it’s not that clean, structured space that a museum would be. I want to say this is more like a gathering space, like a laboratory where people can come test out ideas and see how things work and collaborate in a kind of messy environment. Not that the space is messy, because it’s a really clean-looking concrete barge, but it’s a kind of anything goes kind of environment. We want people to really think about how we can make science better. 

I’m so glad you found a vehicle to fund such a wild sounding idea. 

And we are really appreciative of the Knight Foundation and their understanding that this wild idea is a really, really cool concept that could have a lot of benefits. 

So after two years what happens? 

We’d want to be a permanent fixture. We want everyone to be welcome and we want it to be something that everyone can experience, we don’t want to charge much. So right now we’re in the build-out phase on a yard on the Miami River. 

The Miami River is my favorite Weird Miami place. 

We have an arrangement with a yard P&L Towing who are angels and they saved us when the yard where we were supposed to build that was an actual marine yard bailed on us. At the last minute we didn’t have a space and we were freaking out and these guys came in and saved the day for us. They’re amazing and they’ve been working on the river for 30 years. 

Can you talk a bit about the process of applying for the actual grant? Did it feel like a lot of work? Did you just bang it out all at once? 

I think it’s a really interesting process. I’ve worked in non-profits all my life, I have a lot of experience writing grants and it’s probably the most straightforward grant and award process. The first round is like, you have an idea, tell us what it is, how will it make the city better. It was pretty straightforward. That got us thinking about the big picture. Which is on a big scale, how can we impact Miami? 

It was great because we didn’t have to do a bunch of research and back up with research. It was just tell me your idea, tell me why it’s an awesome idea and we’ll see where it goes from there. We were lucky enough to get invited back to the second round. Again, it was really high level. It doesn’t get into the granular detail of what the program is going to be and get you thinking about things that could change along the way. It really lowers the bar for entry because you don’t have to be an expert grant writer, anyone can do it. 

While we’re honored that we were the only ones in Miami, Miami should have had more winners. I’m hoping people get out this time and really submit cools stuff.