Knight Ridder media long ago sold its newspapers, but the foundation started by the company’s founders still serves its Bradenton audience. Lilly Weinberg, director of community foundations for the Knight Foundation, says her organization constantly seeks ways to increase the strength of regions through the promotion of public spaces and improved communication channels between neighbors. After providing the keynote address at the SB2 Symposium, Inspiring Transformation: The Power of Changemakers, Weinberg sat down with SRQ to discuss the future of community improvement.

SRQ: What are the most important things the Knight Foundation is tackling in Bradenton? Weinberg: We need to prioritize what the assets are, and we start seeing what is bubbling up and naturally happening. The most exciting thing that’s happening is in the downtown area and around the Riverfront. I would say that is a tremendous asset we have in Bradenton. I would like to take those assets and build upon them. So we do partnerships with Realize Bradenton, like with Pop-Ups with a Purpose and with Millennials. I would like to look at how we can better connect the increasingly vibrant downtown to areas that are disconnected, and there are communities that are disconnected. When I was talking about economic opportunity, it’s the equity component I’m interested in. How do we make sure that you can bike from a neighboring neighborhood to downtown or the Riverfront and make sure communities that haven’t been prioritized get prioritized? We want to those communities on the seams of areas to be better connected.

What changes have seen over time as far where Millennials choose to live? Over the past decade, the major shift we have seen is among young people, 25- to 34-year-old college graduates. They are moving into the urban core. That has transformed downtown areas across the country. They want a little bit more of a dense area, but it doesn’t have to be a big city. They want diversity. But even more important is that walkability piece. They mainly want to live somewhere they can walk to places. A major real estate tool today is the WalkScore for your house or your apartment. That has exponentially expanded the value of homes across the country, because that is what young people are prioritizing.

Are high property values a problem for young professionals that want to live in downtowns? They can be. What we are also seeing is a shift in the way we are building. You see micro-units that are going up. West Palm Beach and Miami are putting up some. All the major cities. Of course, those are much more affordable for young people to live.

How important are local media partners? Local media and local news is so critical. It’s complicated. We have a whole journalism department that is working on this. What we know as a trend is that the news is becoming more national and less local. There are experiments going on around the country. What SRQ is doing with SB2 is great way of performing in local news. But it’s hard to form a profitable business model. The reason local news is so important is because that’s what is happening in your community. Who is going to hold decision makers accountable? The New York Times is not going to be reporting on the city commissioners in Sarasota. What is really interesting is that, increasingly, young people prioritize local things. They prioritize parks and libraries. They are prioritizing walkability and bike-ability.  Who makes the decisions for those things? Local people.

Is local media a way to reach young people when you do outreach? What we know is from [Stanford researcher] Raj Chetty’s work. What he has shown is where you live, where you reside and your household income is the determinant of the economic mobility that you will have. He has shown the no. 1 indicator for a lack of economic mobility is income segregation. Areas that are the most segregated have the least upward mobility, the least opportunity to go from the bottom fifth to the top fifth. That is a drastic change from when our parents were growing up. In some areas it’s as low as less than 5 percent who can go from the bottom fifth to the top fifth, depending on where you live. To me, that feels wrong. It feels like we have stifled the American Dream in a lot of ways. We are not going to solve this problem by investing in places that bring people together, but that’s a component of it. We know that talent cares about public space, but we also know that place can be a catalyst to bringing different people together and to engage together. We see it as a tool that we potentially put toward this problem in our country.

In Sarasota and to a lesser degree in Bradenton, you see communities of wealth blocks away from very poor areas. Is that a problem? We actually see that as an opportunity. If this is just blocks away, that’s kind of interesting. We see that as a potential for a community that’s on the seams. The question that we have is, “How can we engage both communities authentically to do things together and encourage interaction, whether it’s by design or civic engagement between communities?” We would say our challenge is how we get the two communities together.

You mention neighborhood communication. What we found is in 1970, only 30 percent of people interacted with their neighbors, and in 2009, that had decreased to 20 percent. Now over a third don’t even know their neighbors or communicate with them. What we have been able to track through City Observatory and their research is that increasingly what’s occurred is that things have become privatized. You have your own pool and your own backyard, and you have these things that, back in the day, you would go to public places. That’s an interesting trend to look at. If we do have great places to go, that potentially could bring people back together. Investing in that matters.


Lily Weinberg joined Knight Foundation in August 2012 and serves now as program director for community foundations, managing Knight’s $140-million investment in 18 nonresident communities. Previously, she was special assistant to President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen. Weinberg graduated from the Harvard Kennedy School and the MIT Sloan School of Management, where she concurrently earned master’s degrees in public administration and business administration. While attending graduate school, she worked with the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the New York City Economic Development Corp., in both cases creating strategies to promote economic development, entrepreneurship and business growth. Prior to entering graduate school, Weinberg worked with the Connected by 25 Institute, where she specialized in simplifying complicated foster care policies and implementing them. She earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and environmental studies from Emory University, which allowed her to study and research sustainable development in Botswana, Namibia, Peru and Turks and Caicos. A resident of Coconut Grove, Weinberg is active in Miami civic life. She graduated as a member of the 2012–2013 Leadership Miami class and was a fellow of the 2013 New Leaders Council. She currently serves as executive director of the New Leaders Council Miami chapter.