Macon ideas net nearly $200,000 in Knight Cities Challenge

When combing through 7,000 ideas to boost communities, the Knight Cities Challenge found two of the brightest plans in Macon.

As the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awards $5 million across the country, nearly $200,000 will go toward local projects.

“Both of these show what Macon is all about,” said Beverly Blake, Knight’s program director in Macon.

Macon newcomer Geoff Boyd will be awarded a little over $124,000 to start an umbrella organization to foster private preservation and enhancement of local parks.

Blake calls it the perfect project at the perfect time.

“We are seeing a never-before cooperative spirit between Macon-Bibb’s parks department and people living in the neighborhoods,” he said. “For urban dwellers, parks are their front yards.”

Over the next 18 months, Macon Civic Spaces will create a network of volunteers to advocate ways to make common areas more engaging venues.

“A lot of supportive people who are very interested in it were very open and candid,” Boyd said of his initial conversations.

The landscape architect, who recently moved near Washington Park, is modeling the effort after Park Pride in his former home city of Atlanta.

He wants to discover what other park benefactors have been doing right and share the ideas with people interested in sprucing up and invigorating parks here.

“Our goal is really to bring awareness to all the parks,” Boyd said.

He is also hoping to foster connectivity among neighborhoods and park enthusiasts that will thrive beyond the initial funded incubation period.

His wife, Lakey, an urban planner who has been working on Macon projects, was a finalist in the Cities Challenge.

Macon’s other winner, Josh Lovett, wants to steer newcomers and neighbors to all that Macon has to offer.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” Lovett said.

He will receive $75,000 to launch Operation Export Macon.

Somewhere out there, he’ll find a vintage-style travel trailer to showcase Macon-made products, food and experiences on the road.

“We haven’t found the perfect vehicle yet, so the search is still on,” he said.

He has visited local RV outlets and scoured the Internet.

“It will take something really authentic to make someone slow down and ... make a connection to the city,” said Lovett, who works with the College Hill Alliance.

He personally submitted the project, but he will be working closely with the alliance once it gets rolling.

The travel trailer loaded with Macon goodness will be visiting college campuses and other hot spots in the community, as well as roving to regional festivals and events.

“We’ll be welcoming thousands of new students to Macon,” Lovett said. “We’ll have it at Bragg Jam, Second Sunday concerts and taking it to places where people generally gather, and leveraging those audiences.”

A thriving community that attracts and retains talented people is what the challenge strives for.

Blake sees it as much as a marketing tool for outsiders as it is a way to spark new interest in those who live here.

“It’s highlighting what’s right about this place, and it will help us continue to build our pride in all things Macon.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.