Twenty years ago, Robert Hammond had the idea to build an elevated park on an abandoned railway in Manhattan's West Side. Today, that idea is the now-famous High Line park with 360-degree views of the Hudson River, larger-than-life artwork and sprawling gardens with lush grasses, sweet plum trees and wild perennials.
Hammond was one of seven nationwide community leaders awarded this week by the Knight Foundation as a public spaces fellow. Each recipient was recognized for their unique use of public space — parks, plazas, trails, community spaces and streets — to connect and engage communities.
The inaugural award was created by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to recognize existing leaders.
"We really see the power of public spaces in connecting community members to place and to each other," Lilly Weinberg, the Knight Foundation's director of community and foundations, told Smart Cities Dive. "We've seen that great public spaces really make great cities."
Fellows were selected among more than 2,000 applicants for being established industry leaders and for their execution of innovative public designs. Each recipient was awarded $150,000 to advance ongoing work with public spaces and "unleash their creativity."
The following individuals were recipients of the fellowship:
Chelina Odbert is the co-founder and executive director of nonprofit design firm Kounkuey Design Initiative. The group has offices in Los Angeles, the Coachella Valley, Nairobi and Stockholm, and emphasizes "side-by-side" participation with community members. Odbert prioritizes environmental, social and economic initiatives to help address local inequities. She recently worked on a wellness center in the City of Coachella that included flexible office space for nonprofits and programs for LGBTQ youth.
Erin Salazar is the executive director of Exhibition District, a woman-owned non-profit creating opportunities for artists "at the intersection of public art and community development in San Jose." Salazar works to uphold the community's cultural authenticity and redefine how local public spaces are defined.
Walter Hood is the creative director and founder of Hood Design Studio in Berkeley, CA. The firm designs public spaces for places like Cooper Hewitt Museum, Broad Museum and Solar Strand at University of Buffalo. The group also designed neighborhood spaces like Splash Pad Park in Oakland, CA, and the Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson Community Garden.
Kathryn Ott Lovell is the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation commissioner, focusing on "citizen centric service." Her work has prioritized community engagement with initiatives like "'Parks on Tap', a mobile pop-up beer garden; 'Swim Philly', a program designed to increase amenities and programming at neighborhood pools; 'The Oval+', an interactive mural installation, park, and event series; and the 'Philadelphia International Unity Cup', a soccer tournament that celebrates the rich cultural diversity of Philadelphia."
Anuj Gupta is the general manager of Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market, a public market founded in 1863 that brings in more than $60 million per year from tourists and locals. Gupta was recognized for incorporating new distribution and engagement models to the market, on top of his work connecting diverse cultures and people through food.
Robert Hammond, co-founder and executive director of the High Line, was awarded for not only creating the popular NYC park, but also for forming the High Line Network. The network focuses "the equitable development of underused city infrastructure to develop new urban landscapes."
Eric Klinenberg is the Helen Gould Shepard Professor of Social Science at New York University. He recently worked as the research director for Rebuild by Design, a federal competition that built innovative modern infrastructure designs for the East Coast communities affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.