Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Southwest Airlines Sets Its Sight on Cities, Not Skies

June 9, 2014
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Southwest Airlines Sets Its Sight on Cities, Not Skies
Southwest Airlines has launched a grant program to help redesign underutilized urban spaces, starting with a project in Detroit. Scott Olson/Getty Images
The airline launches a grant program to help redesign underutilized urban spaces.

Southwest Airlines is taking its services on the ground, giving cities a boost with urban design.

The national airline has partnered with New York-based nonprofit Project for Public Spaces to launch a three-year initiative — the Heart of the Community grant program — working with cities to revitalize urban areas through construction of new or redesigned public spaces or funding new or ongoing programs.

Southwest has already completed three pilot projects in Detroit, San Antonio and Providence, Rhode Island. Up next? The company will turn its attention to Baltimore, where they’ll work with the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore to rehab the city’s Pratt and Light Plaza.

“We’re in the business of taking people from place to place,” said Marilee McInnis, Southwest’s senior manager of communications, “so we want to support and create and revitalize these places.”

The Pratt and Light area, which the Downtown Partnership’s vice president of communications Michael Evitts described as a “glorified, huge sidewalk,” was built in the 1960s to connect two interstate highways, according to Fast Company. The vast empty, concrete space is currently used to house a farmer’s market. But the city has long sought to revamp the area and the funding from Southwest will give the initiative new interest and fresh ideas from community members.

MORE: 5 European Urban Renewal Projects That Could Help America

The Downtown Partnership will host community workshops to welcome local ideas and hopes to finalize a plan by the fall.

“A lot of what downtown Baltimore is trying to do is undo the best thinking of the previous generation,” Evitts said. “Urban planning in the ’60s was very dictatorial. There was a lot of concrete; people were an afterthought.” Now, it’s more about “encouraging those human moments within urban design.”

The Heart of the Community program is currently accepting applications for 2015 and plans to announce grants for two or three additional communities by the year’s end. Each city will receive funding depending on the project, but the company has not disclosed how much it plans to donate over the next three years.

Have an idea to give your city a facelift? Submit your application by September 15. The only parameter? Your community must fall within one of the 95 urban regions served by Southwest.

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