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Finalists named for innovative projects to improve civic life in St. Paul

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Does St. Paul need to step up the way it welcomes newcomers? Better encourage year-round outdoor activities for its citizens? Or make walking and biking more of a priority in its public spaces?

The Knight Foundation has chosen those projects as finalists in a new grant program that will fund innovative ways to make cities more successful. The Pioneer Press reports some 7,000 individuals and organizations, including 274 from St. Paul, entered the "Knight City Challenge," with ideas to help cities "attract talent, level its socioeconomic playing field and help citizens become more involved."

The Fort Wayne News Sentinel explains that the proposals affect the 26 cities in which the Knight Ridder chain owned newspapers in 1998. The foundation has committed $5 million to this first year of the Knight Cities Challenge. Finalists chosen to receive grants will receive a share of that $5 million through what the foundation calls “a national call for new ideas to make the 26 communities where Knight invests more vibrant places to live and work.”

The St. Paul-based projects on the list of 126 national finalists named Monday include an idea submitted by Greater MSP which would "...invite all residents to come together for an outdoor activity – whether it's ice fishing or summer canoeing – once each season." The organization said this could "change the way people perceive the city and its climate."

A community artist organizer at Springboard for the Arts suggested that "city leaders hold a ceremony for...newcomers each month ... providing them with a welcome gift in the form of a warm hat for Minnesota winters." And the mayor's office suggested that the city could "...embed a fellow in the city who ensures that walking, biking and public spaces are a priority in all city projects."

All 26 Knight communities are represented in the pool of finalists.

Ideas from various cities around the country include staging dinner parties to bring residents together to shape the future of their cities, competitive video gaming street arcades and using master barbers to partner with professional landscapers to transform vacant lots. Submissions came from public and government organizations as well as "design experts, urban planning organizations and individuals focused on making their cities more successful."

Winners will be announced in the spring.

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