Bloomberg

The Brazilian megacity triumphed over urban innovation projects from Colombia, Chile, and Mexico to take home top honors from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

This story was first published in Spanish on our sister site, CityLab Latino.

Being the largest, most sprawling city in Latin America has its advantages and disadvantages. Farmers who live on the fringes of São Paulo know this profoundly: On one hand, they have a market of more than 20 million potential buyers. On the other, it can be difficult for them to reach those buyers, a predicament worsened by ongoing city growth and environmental problems like lack of water.

But a new initiative proposed by city government could lend these struggling farmers a hand. As part of this year’s Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge, the Brazilian megacity drafted a proposal for a digital interchange platform designed to connect vendors with restaurants, markets, and other retailers in an effort to make it easier for them to sell their wares. On Wednesday, São Paulo’s proposal was named the winner of the third ever Mayors Challenge, which gives it a $5 million cash prize to implement the idea.

São Paulo took the grand prize out of a field of 900 original participants from throughout Latin America. But it won’t be the only one to take home a cash prize: Four other cities will also receive $1 million each to implement their respective proposals. The winners include two Colombian cities, Medellín and Bogotá, as well as Santiago, Chile, and Guadalajara, Mexico.

The Colombian capital of Bogotá proposed a project meant to improve children’s transportation to and from school. That daily commute can take more than an hour for many children, mainly because of nightmarish traffic. The idea is to create separate lanes just for school buses during school-commute hours, and implement learning activities children can partake in during the travel time. In Medellín, an initiative called Bancuadra will attempt to curb illegal funding in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where citizens lack access to the formal banking system and often have no choice but to resort to shady lending operations linked to organized crime. Bancuadra pools neighbors’ financial resources together to create a sort of small bank within neighborhoods, providing access to loans and other services that could help steer people away from illegal lending operations.

Santiago also won a prize for its proposal aimed at reducing obesity in a country where 64 percent of Chileans over 15 years old are overweight or obese, according to Bloomberg. The project, “Juntos Santiago” (Together Santiago), functions as a competition between neighborhoods to reduce childhood obesity. Each neighborhood group earns points for its efforts and improvements, which can then be converted to cash for neighborhood improvement projects such as new parks.

And Guadalajara earned $1 million for its proposal centered on fighting corruption and increasing transparency in construction and land use. The current permitting process in the Mexican city is so complicated that few can keep track of who receives what, making it an ideal place for favoritism and corruption to flourish. Guadalajara has proposed a new web platform that would map out the names of businesses, as well as their plans, permits, and payments, to make things easily trackable and root out corruption. The information would be available to the public, so anyone would be able to check in on the platform.

This year’s Mayors Challenge follows two previous competitions in 2013 and 2014, the first in the U.S. and the second in Europe. The previous grand prize winners in those regions were Providence, Rhode Island, and Barcelona, Spain. Check out a full list of previous winners and their proposals here.

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