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UM team wins Knight funding to create entrepreneurial hubs in underserved neighborhoods

By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

The University of Miami School of Architecture will  bring entrepreneurial spaces -- including incubators for startups, marketplaces and training centers -- into two underserved Miami area neighborhoods. Its project was funded with $650,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The so-called Third Place Project will create hubs that provide resources to entrepreneurs, artists and other creatives, nonprofits and civic leaders, while helping transform the neighborhoods. “Third places,” as defined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, are  informal public gathering places where people from all walks of life come together. 

The UM project is designed to fuel economic integration, said Charles Bohl, associate professor and director of the graduate program in Real Estate Development + Urbanism at the University of Miami School of Architecture and one of the project leaders.

"We have lots of very well to do and lots of poor people and they are clustered far from each other. Other cities have created these neighborhoods where the communities can cross paths; people are more connected and involved,"  said  Bohl, explaining he recently returned from Barcelona, which has 40 public markets that have become vibrant centers of activity.

Matt Haggman, Knight Foundation program director for Miami, said the project will also help ensure a constant diversity of ideas. “The Third Place Project will grow and foster the unique character and qualities of these neighborhoods, bringing the ideas of entrepreneurs, artists and others into the forefront.”

 The metropolitan Miami neighborhoods have not yet been selected, but it could be in areas such as, for example, Allapattah, Little Haiti/Little River or Opa-locka, said Bohl, adding that the School of Architecture has already been working in these long-struggling urban areas for years. The new spaces will build on the art, culture and entrepreneurial energy already present, and a key component is that they will provide training programs to entrepreneurs and nonprofits through the incubators, he added. The two projects will be created over the next two years.

Along with the School of Architecture, the project will also involve UM programs in business and social entrepreneurship, including the Center for Urban and Community Design, the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, and business startup and support programs at the School of Business Administration.

The next step is to identify and secure sites that have the best potential to serve as gathering places. It could be land  or a structure that could be adapted, with indoor and outdoor space. Architecture faculty and students will help adapt existing buildings, or create  “pop-up” structures to house entrepreneurs and vendors. Kiosks could be arranged to create year-round marketplaces  that showcase the mix of art, commerce, food and entertainment and attract new visitors -- while also offering full Internet connectivity and other resources for the businesses.

The Third Place Project is evaluating project sites and is slated to begin work during the 2015-2016 academic year. Over the past 2 1/2 years, Knight has made more than 100 investments in entrepreneurship in South Florida. 

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Read Knight blog post by Charles Bohl here.