DiNic's in 2016, with counter seating in full swing behind a line of take-out customers. (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn) Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

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Four projects in Philadelphia have been granted a total of more than $870,000 from the Knight Foundation to make their ideas of improving the city a reality.

More than 4,500 applicants from 26 Knight communities across the country applied for a piece of $5 million distributed nationwide through the Knight Cities Challenge by answering a simple question: What’s your best idea to make cities more successful?

Here in Philly, the best ideas included neighborhood-based book clubs, cooking classes at Reading Terminal Market, a “traveling playground” for musicians and a hip-hop institute providing business training to people in low-income communities. These are the four winners from Philadelphia:

1. 20 Book Clubs, 20 Co-op Businesses by the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance

Details: Granted $146,000 to achieve the goal of increasing civic engagement and economic opportunity by launching book clubs in 20 Philadelphia neighborhoods for participants to study cooperative businesses and then form their own.

2. Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers by Reading Terminal Market |

Details: Granted $84,674 to achieve the goal of building cultural bridges to Philadelphia’s immigrant communities with cooking classes celebrating ethnic food operated by chefs from Reading Terminal Market.

3. The Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship by Little Giant Creative

Details: Granted $308,640 to achieve goal of increasing economic opportunity by using hip-hop to provide hands-on business training to members of low-income groups.

4. The Little Music Studio by Group Melvin Design

Details: Granted $334,050 to achieve the goal of breaking down community barriers with The Little Music Studio, a traveling playground for musicians.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Cities Challenge, in its second year of existence, received pitches from government agencies, nonprofits, individuals, community associations and more. In January, 158 finalists were announced nationwide — 20 of them were from Philadelphia — and a team of national reviewers whittled down the finalists to the 37 winners nationwide ultimately chosen to receive the 18-month grant.

Patrick Morgan, Knight’s program director in Philadelphia, said Philly had the largest number of winners last year when seven projects were awarded funding and this year the city has the most money being diverted our way of any of the two dozen Knight communities.

“We’re a city of innovation, we’re a city of firsts,” Morgan said, “but also we’re a gritty city, too. We don’t give up. And I think you can feel that in each one of these.”

Reading Terminal Market General Manager Anuj Gupta said the market’s idea for bringing together different cultures through food and its “Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers” program wouldn’t have happened without the investment from Knight.

Gupta explained the program will bring together chefs and cooks from different cultures to provide cooking demonstrations in the Terminal’s demonstration kitchen that they’ll then talk over in a dinner afterwards. Chefs and cooks from across the city will be invited to take part in the 12 or 13 dinners that will begin in the fall and last for about a year with the goal of developing relationships between communities that wouldn’t have otherwise interacted.

Though the demonstrations and dinners will include 30 or 40 people in the food scene who attend on an invitation basis, public celebrations of diversity and food that are part of the program will take place in the Terminal, as well.

“There’s so much culture embedded in what we eat,” Gupta said. “It’s food that cuts across these artificial barriers and… it not only cuts across those lines, but it really reflects one’s culture and values.”

Tayyib Smith, a lifelong Philadelphian and founder of Little Giant Creative, will use the $308,640 granted to him by Knight to establish The Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship, an effort that will select 36 people from what Smith calls “undercapitalized” communities to learn the skills they need to develop their own businesses in the hip-hop industry.

Little Giant, a creative agency based here in Philly, will reach out to communities through its network and pick participants in the Institute by selecting people between the ages of 18 and 32 who are determined to be entrepreneurs — not necessarily aspiring musicians. The funding from Knight will be used largely to fund instructors from across the industry in what Smith plans to be an intensive nine-month program for participants.

The idea is to foster a new generation of leaders in the hip-hop industry, and Smith says the fundraising will continue; his vision is to one day expand the institute to other cities and replicate the Philadelphia program.

“You have to get to people where they live and breathe,” Smith said, “because there’s brilliance in every aspect of society.”

You’ve probably heard of some of the seven projects that won Knight Cities funding last year, including the popular Pop-Up Pool Project from Group Melvin Design that aimed to redesign city pools as thriving open spaces with seating, moveable furniture, shade umbrellas, planters and new programming. There was also Next Stop, Democracy’s voting signage project that looked to attract voters to polling places and Scout Ltd.’s controversial transformation of the shuttered Edward Bok school in South Philadelphia.

The grant period for the four 2016 winners begins this summer.

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.