New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg likes to say that cities are the new laboratories of democracy in the United States (sorry states!), particularly in an era of political paralysis in Washington. This was the premise behind the $9 million Mayor's Challenge launched last summer by Bloomberg Philanthropies, inviting any city with a population larger than 30,000 to submit a groundbreaking idea for funding. This morning, Bloomberg announced the five winners – including a $5 million grand prize to Providence, Rhode Island – for potentially replicable innovations "bubbling up" from cities in early childhood education, recycling, data analytics, civic entrepreneurship and resident wellbeing.
"When we asked the federal government to do things, they were unwilling and/or unable to do anything to help us in the great challenges that are facing the America public," Bloomberg said in making the announcement. "When we ask the state governments, we get a similar response. It's really cities around the country – in fact around the world – that are making a difference in the problems people face every day."
In total, 305 cities submitted ideas, and the below five winners were picked to receive funding from 20 finalists announced in December. Bloomberg heartily invites other mayors to plagiarize from the projects, an invitation that suggests that cities must get their best solutions from each other if other levels of government can't do that job. "It is the nicest thing that could happen to all of us," he says, "with or without attribution."
Grand Prize ($5 million): Providence, Rhode Island
Research suggests that in just the first few years of life, low-income children hear millions fewer words than their middle- and upper-income counterparts, impacting the development of their vocabularies and setting back their long-term prospects for academic and career success. This program aims to close that "word gap."
Chicago ($1 million)
To enable "data-driven" government, Chicago is planning to develop an open-source predictive analytics platform to inform better decisions and head off problems related to everything from city services to traffic to winter storms.
Philadelphia ($1 million)
The city wants to create a "social enterprise partnership" that will allow creative entrepreneurs in Philadelphia to work with City Hall on civic problems, as the role of city government evolves from "problem-solver to partnership-builder."
Houston ($1 million)
This "One Bin For All" trash/recycling scheme was also selected as the fan favorite in a vote run by the Huffington Post. The idea would go beyond even single-stream recycling to allow residents to discard all recycling and trash in a single bin for later sorting. Houston hopes that such a system could enable the city to recycle up to 75 percent of its waste.
Santa Monica, California ($1 million)
Santa Monica wants to be the first city in the nation to create a scientifically rigorous index for measuring the "wellbeing" of residents, with the goal of then using it to target city resources into those areas that do the most to improve "wellbeing."