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Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge Advances 21 European Cities To Final Stage

Bloomberg’s Philanthropies, a charitable fund run by former New York City mayor and American billionaire Michael Bloomberg, have announced the advancement of twenty one cities to the finals of its Mayors Challenge.

Michael Bloomberg / Getty

The Mayors Challenge is a competition which seeks out pioneering ideas that address Europe’s biggest challenges and improve urban life.  To be eligible a city must be located within the European Union or an EU affiliated country such as a candidate member.

Only applications from cities with a population of at least 100, 000 are considered and the deadline for applying was January 31st of this year. 

The Mayors Challenge requires applicants to define a clear problem and answer it with a solution that is as concrete as it is compelling. Four criteria are involved: Is the approach unexpected and new to the city?  To what extent will it be the first city to do what it plans?  Is it using talent, resources and partners outside of the city government in a meaningful way?  And will the idea generate energy and excitement within the city.

Bloomberg is looking for bold and creative ideas that include a fresh approach to solving the city’s problem.

The winner will be announced in the autumn and the grand prize will be 5 million Euros.  One million Euros will be awarded to each of four runners up.

The prize money is not the only reason for a city to enter the competition as participation in it can be a reward in and of itself.   Participants will have membership in an international network of cities who deal with their problems creatively and in a group.  They share and learn from one another and so the process is one of innovation and is designed to help contestants develop their ideas during the contest.

This year’s Mayors Challenge is a European version of last year’s American contest in which Providence Rhode Island won the grand prize of $5 million. They implemented an innovative project to improve poor children’s vocabulary by fitting them with recording devices that could count the number of words that they hear. This provides parents with material with which to better coach their children to increase their vocabulary.

Michael Bloomberg recently became the United Nations envoy for climate change.  He said in a statement that, “Cities face many urgent challenges – from climate change to social isolation to youth unemployment. “We need city leaders to continually reach for innovative new ways to address urban challenges – and then share what’s working with the world. That’s what the Mayors Challenge is all about.”

The 21 finalists are: Amsterdam, Netherlands; Athens, Greece; Barcelona, Spain; Bologna, Italy; Bristol, United Kingdom; Brno, Czech Republic; Cardiff, United Kingdom; Florence, Italy; Gdansk, Poland; Kirklees, United Kingdom; Krakow, Poland; Lisbon, Portugal; London, United Kingdom; Madrid, Spain; Schaerbeek, Belgium; Sofia, Bulgaria; Stara Zagora, Bulgaria; Stockholm, Sweden; The Hague, Netherlands; Warsaw, Poland; York, United Kingdom.

The Programs submitted by the various finalists involve fostering youth employment, improving the environment, increasing health and public safety standards and more.

Amsterdam, for example, will help its young find work through a cutting-edge gaming platform and robust offline coaching by entrepreneurs.  Warsaw wants to develop a new information system for the visually impaired.

Stockholm intends to help the ecosystem by producing biochar, an organic substance that increases tree growth, sequesters carbon, and purifies storm water runoff.  Citizens will bring their green waste to locations across the city for conversion to biochar and, ultimately, redistribution.

London will combat health problems with a coordinated, multi-stakeholder platform and new technologies (e.g., sensors and web and mobile apps), that will let its citizens track their own health and let its government help at-risk patients.

James Anderson, head of government innovation for Bloomberg Philanthropies, said about the plans proposed by the finalists, “While the ideas are very diverse, we identified key themes [which] tended toward networked, distributed solutions as opposed to costly centralized ones.”     

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