Recently, Bloomberg Philanthropies awarded nine American cities $1 million each as part of its US Mayors Challenge. This money will help leaders in these cities implement innovative solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing American urban centers, including drug use, climate change, economic opportunity, and homelessness. The nine winners were announced at the end of October, but the road toward this funding began long before that date. Notably, Bloomberg Philanthropies initially stated that only five cities would receive million-dollar grants, but the number was expanded to nine in an attempt to spread the funding among both larger and smaller cities, all of which had demonstrated strong work.
Applying for the 2018 US Mayors Challenge
The 2018 US Mayors Challenge actually began in June 2017 when Bloomberg Philanthropies invited any city in the United States with a population of 30,000 or greater to register as a participant. The first 300 cities to enroll received an in-person Idea Accelerator workshop to help city leaders identify the problems they wanted to address, think up creative new ways of solving them, and locate the experts in their community who could assist with this. Then, cities were required to outline a challenge they wanted to address and their innovative approach to tackling it in an application that was due last October. Of those initial applicants, 35 Champion Cities were named. These winners each received $100,000 to pilot the idea that they had submitted.
Each Champion City was encouraged to test and refine the idea over the course of a few months, and they received help in doing so. Representatives from each winning city came together for an intensive workshop with urban practitioners and other innovation experts from the extensive Bloomberg Philanthropies global network. In addition to working with these professionals, the teams from each city were encouraged to present to each other and learn from each other’s experiences, so that all could collectively strengthen their ideas. In August of this year, all Champion Cities submitted a secondary application with more specific details about implementation, partners, and timelines to demonstrate the feasibility of their plans.
The Criteria Used to Choose the Nine 2018 Grant Winners
The nine winners were chosen based on four predetermined selection criteria. The first criterion was vision. A winning idea should take a bold approach to the problem at hand; there may be a significant risk in implementing the idea, but it should have a substantial payoff. Secondly, the idea must have a direct, significant impact on the lives of city residents. Each solution should have a direct and measurable outcome based on quality of life. Additionally, the ideas were judged based on implementation and transferability. Cities must show that they have a viable means of bringing their idea to life and supporting it at least in the short term, which requires key stakeholder buy-in and support from residents. Finally, an idea should also address similar issues in other cities—it should be transferrable. In this sense, the whole project serves as an incubator for new, innovative social programs.
Bloomberg Philanthropies assembled an expert panel of judges to choose the Champion Cities and the ultimate winners. Experienced businesswoman Ursula Burns co-chaired the committee with Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. Other members included former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, media mogul Arianna Huffington, and actress Anna Deavere Smith, along with other academics, community leaders, and finance experts. All of these committee members had several years of similar challenges to look at for examples of the ideas that could provide the most success. Bloomberg Philanthropies had not operated the program in the United States since 2013, but it did award grants to cities in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2016 and Europe in 2014.
The nine winners for 2018 include:
- New Rochelle, NY: New Rochelle will use virtual reality technology to present plans for various public spaces and parks to increase resident feedback about these development projects.
- South Bend, IN: South Bend will provide reliable transportation to work for low-income and part-time workers by partnering with both employers and ride-share companies to help offset the costs.
- Durham, NC: Durham will provide incentives for local motorists to ditch their vehicles and embrace alternative forms of transportation.
- Denver, CO: Denver will install new air pollution sensors on schools around the city to gather data that will help officials improve air quality and make it safer for all residents to breathe.
- Fort Collins, CO: Fort Collins will provide landlords with financing options to help them make their homes more energy-efficient and safer for low-income renters.
- Huntington, WV: Huntington will place mental healthcare providers within emergency response departments to help first responders better deal with the opioid crisis. These providers will augment the care of first responders.
- Georgetown, TX: Georgetown will help residents install solar panels and battery storage units to become the first completely energy-independent community in the United States.
- Los Angeles, CA: Los Angeles will work with owners of single-family homes to help them build additional housing units on their property as a means of combatting homelessness. These units will house individuals experiencing homelessness for a specific period of time.
- Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia plans to reduce the trauma that the justice system can inflict on young people by building new facilities that connect youth to resources and help them address stress. Minors will be brought to these facilities instead of traditional police stations.