An estimated 80 percent of citizens in the United States live in urban areas, prompting civic planners to get creative as more Americans return to the city.
That creativity is no longer confined to municipal governments as more cities embrace technology, entrepreneurship and social innovation. A great idea can be hatched anywhere, which is why the Knight Foundation is offering to foster any number of them through its Cities Challenge.
Armed with $15 million to spend over the next three years, the Knight Foundation announced an open call to fund grants for ideas that make cities function better in one of its 26 communities, where the Knight brothers own newspapers. The invitation is extended to anyone — including local governments, nonprofit groups, students, startups and teachers.

“One of our real objectives here is to surface new people who have good ideas and ought to get a hearing,” says Carol Coletta, vice president of community and national initiatives for the foundation.

The preliminary process involves only two questions: What’s your idea? And what do you hope to learn from the work? The foundation has not decided how many grants it will award the first year, but expects to invest $5 million in one or more of the 26 cities this year.

While the idea may seem simple vague, Coletta tells Governing that by opening up the process, the foundation is aiming to attract new talent and new individuals outside the nonprofit circle.

“We’re really trying to make it very open so we’ll surface some new people, people we don’t know. That’s why we’ve made the bar to enter so low,” she says.

“Because we’re a mobile society, there’s a sense that cities today are offering what the most mobile Americans want in a lifestyle. Cities are the greenest way to live and they can also offer a more efficient and productive lifestyle,” she says. “For a lot of reasons, people are focused on cities today and that’s a very good thing.”

The application process began Oct. 1 and runs through Nov. 14.

MORE: America’s Three Largest Cities Band Together to Promote U.S. Citizenship