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April 09, 2021

Knight Foundation invests $2.2 million to support Philly's public spaces, digital equity

Public Spaces Funding
Knight Foundation Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

The Knight Foundation is investing $2.2 million to improve Philadelphia's public spaces and boost digital equity initiatives.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is donating more than $2 million to nine projects throughout Philadelphia in an effort to help bring digital innovation and equitable community development to the city.

The investments, announced Thursday, are geared toward addressing inequalities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"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."

The Knight Foundation is investing $1.8 million to advance Philadelphia's public spaces. Funding recipients include the John Bartram Association, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Mural Arts Philadelphia, Impact Services Corporation and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.

The funding will allow Parks & Recreation to develop a pilot program to test innovative play in public spaces. It also will establish resident-led programming within Mural Arts Philly for the Float Lab — a new floating dock, classroom and performance space in Bartram's Garden.

The Knight Foundation plans to include residents in the design, programming and development of public spaces. 

The investments come after recently-released research examined existing efforts to build resident-centered spaces. That research found projects that prioritize resident input and establish equitable access can help communities build connections and resiliency.

Many existing inequalities were exacerbated by the pandemic, including access to WiFi at home after schools shuttered and the increased burden of childcare for working parents. 

An additional $317,000 will go to local digital innovation projects, including the city's Sensing the City project, Smith Memorial Playground and Our Plan. 

The foundation is providing funding to Friends of the Rail Park to enable the Rail Park to use digital tools to increase accessibility.

"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."

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