Launched in 2016 with $20 million from Knight and the JPB, Kresge, and Rockefeller foundations and another $20 million in matching funds from local partners, the program is aimed at fostering civic engagement, economic opportunity, and environmental sustainability through the creation and enhancement of public spaces. With the new funding, Lexington, Kentucky; Macon, Georgia; Miami; Minneapolis; and San Jose, California will join the original demonstration cities of Akron, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, and Philadelphia. A majority of the expansion cities, with the exception of Minneapolis, are communities where the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation operates. The $10 million in new investments include a $67,500 grant from Kresge to U3 Advisors to bolster the backbone infrastructure for the initiative.
The initiative is intended to provide participating cities with opportunities to boost civic engagement and trust through the creation of public spaces that support authentic neighborhood and community participation; engender support for and investment in public spaces as a way to foster a more vibrant community; and increase the capacity of municipal and civic leaders to conceive of, build, and support programming in public spaces that deliver positive community outcomes. According to the foundation, a network of leaders working to build a robust civic commons will be key to the nation's recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.
"Amidst the safer-at-home measures during this pandemic, we have seen public spaces — our parks, open spaces, and trails — sustaining people in ways we only contemplated a few months ago," said Dana Bourland, vice president of environment at the JPB Foundation. "A growing number of people have now deeply experienced that our civic commons delivers multiple benefits — reduced stress, improved health, a necessary sense of human connection. High-quality, well-maintained public spaces are critical infrastructure and they must be available to everyone within walking distance from their home. And they should be at the top of the to-do list for policy makers, leaders, and cities."