Realize Bradenton Selected as Knight Cities Challenge Winner

Realize Bradenton's "ReuseReCONNECT" initiative involves transforming downtown Bradenton’s outdoor and vacant spaces into vibrant community hubs for the purpose of exploring topics of civic interest to millennials.

BRADENTON, FL—An initiative proposed by the nonprofit organization Realize Bradenton has been selected by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of its Knight Cities Challenge. The challenge is funding ideas to make the 26 cities where Knight invests more vibrant places to live and work. The challenge asked innovators to answer the question: What's your best idea to make cities more successful? (More at

"ReuseReCONNECT," Realize Bradenton's project, involves experimenting with different uses of existing outdoor and vacant spaces to create vibrant community hubs. The organization will receive $90,140 from Knight to support the project.
The Knight Cities Challenge, which began in September, called for ideas to spur civic innovation in the 26 communities where the Knight Foundation invests. The challenge requested ideas that centered on one or more of three key drivers of city success: attracting and retaining talent; expanding economic opportunity; and creating a culture of civic engagement. In all, more than 7,000 proposals were submitted to compete for a share of $5 million in grants.

“Not only did the Knight Cities Challenge uncover a wealth of new ideas to make our cities more successful, it will help strengthen a network of civic innovators who are taking hold of the future of their cities,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives. “These important connections will help create a pipeline for new approaches to city transformation and spark the type of collaboration vital to growing and spreading good ideas.”

"We're deeply honored to be selected for this distinction and very excited to move forward with the project," says Judy Sedgeman, board chair of Realize Bradenton, adding that the ReuseReCONNECT initiative focuses on creative strategies to attract and retain millennials to Bradenton's downtown core. Sedgeman explains that Realize Bradenton’s winning idea is aligned with its previous work to positively engage citizens in the planning processes for the Riverwalk and the Village of the Arts Tapestry projects. Realize Bradenton was recognized in 2014 as the Public & Societal Nonprofit of the Year and, in 2013, as the Outstanding Public Interest Group of the Year for similar civic engagement processes which yielded positive results.

"Too often millennials are underrepresented in civic conversations," says Realize Bradenton's executive and creative associate Morgan Bettes, who was a key designer of the ReuseReCONNECT initiative. "ReuseReCONNECT engages millennials through a series of 'Pop-Ups for a Purpose' events, which will take place in temporarily transformed spaces and utilize a reusable kit of parts, including modular street furniture, lighting, temporary public art, and other objects. The focus is to bring young people together, including entrepreneurs, professionals, college students, artists, performers and community residents in downtown Bradenton," she says. "It's not just bricks and mortar but social connectivity and civic dialog that create a vibrant community and economic prosperity, today and for the future.”

According to Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, the ReuseReCONNECT initiative took root as part of Realize Bradenton’s work in The Patterson Foundation's "Aspirations to Actions" initiative in partnership with the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation.

"We held numerous community conversations with millennials spanning economic, professional, creative and educational backgrounds to find out what they desire in their Bradenton community. Multiple conversations revealed that the most desired change was more diverse opportunities for social gatherings that are outside of the typical bar scene," she says. "Millennials also expressed interests to engage in experiences that they can shape, as well as influence topics such as housing, transportation, jobs, public spaces and technology. ReuseReCONNECT will do exactly that."