Last year, when the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation started its annual contest to fund programs that promote urban revitalization, Philadelphians responded with hundreds of ideas, from putting pianos in public parks to teaching entrepreneurship through hip-hop.
They ended up with more Knight funds than any other city in the country.
Each year, the Knight Cities Challenge awards $5 million in grants to projects around the country. Four city-based projects have been awarded a collective $873,364 - and Philadelphia was matched only by Detroit in terms of the number of local projects that received funding.
The foundation's selections speak to the city's "opportunities and strengths," said Patrick Morgan, Philadelphia program director of the Knight Foundation.
"It's a city of firsts, a city of innovation, a city of grit," he said. "You feel those in each of these winners."
Submissions were accepted from anywhere in the country, but were required to take place in the 26 cities where the Knight Foundation has invested. Those cities have newspapers once owned by the Knight brothers and their successors.
The winners in Philadelphia are:
A "traveling playground for musicians" that will install pianos and guitars in a city park for passersby to play.
A program to make ethnic-food cooking classes available at the Reading Terminal Market. The aim of the program is to build "cultural bridges" to the city's immigrant communities.
A book club program to help launch cooperative businesses.
An entrepreneurship institute that teaches business principles through hip-hop.
Tayyib Smith, whose agency, Little Giant Creative, submitted the "Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship" project, said he came up with the idea in a Knight Foundation workshop last year. He said he was struck by the parallels between hip-hop's rags-to-riches ethos and the business world, and proceeded from there.
"Hip-hop is about, 'How do I get a seat at the table?' " he said. "I'd like to explore all the different ways where hip-hop is influencing the lifestyle of entrepreneurship and empower a new generation."
His proposal will help 36 low-income applicants learn entrepreneurship and, he hopes, launch their own businesses. He won $308,640 for the project.
The Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance's winning proposal was also aimed at helping Philadelphians start businesses - but through a co-op model, launching 20 book clubs around the city that the group hopes will spawn community-owned businesses.
"This is really giving us the resources to fast-forward our work and help a lot of people that are already trying to create co-ops," said Peter Frank, the alliance's executive director. "It's going to have a huge impact on our city for a long time."
Ben Bryant, the urban planner who won $334,050 for his "Little Music Studio" submission, has already implemented a similar project across the Delaware, installing a piano in Camden's Roosevelt Plaza, and watching as office workers and methadone clinic patients came from opposite ends of the park to play music.
"It created an avenue where people would come up and interact with one another who wouldn't voluntarily talk to one another," Bryant said. In Philadelphia, he wants to start by installing a piano and a few other instruments in one park, and is planning to work with the Parks and Recreation Department to expand the program across the city.
This is Bryant's second Knight Challenge win - his pop-up pool project, which transformed a city pool in Francisville with shade trees, custom seating, and poolside yoga, was one of the most visible projects from last year's challenge. Funding for that project will last through October.
"Last year was all pure excitement," Bryant said. "This year, it's excitement plus a little anxiety - like, wow, this is going to be a busy summer."