Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia win $1 million each in Mayors Challenge

This week, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced the winners of the Mayors Challenge, a contest launched last June to award $9 million to five US cities that come up with innovative ideas for solving major problems and improving quality of life. Out of a pool of more than 300 competitors, three C40 cities — Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia — took home $1 million each to put their ideas into action. 

According to C40 Chair and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, “cities are the new laboratories of democracy” where one city’s successful initiatives can be replicated by others around the world.

“Too often, great ideas don’t get the support — or the funding — they need,” he said. “The Mayors Challenge helps eliminate those obstacles by elevating and funding the most promising and innovative ideas. In the months ahead, we look forward to seeing these ideas implemented, take root locally, and then hopefully spread across the nation to improve the lives of all Americans.”

Houston’s proposal for a one-bin recycling system — combining trash, recyclables, and lawn waste with the goal of recycling 75 percent of all waste — was selected for its potential to transform cities’ sustainability practices. 

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his team developed an open-source platform intended to better predict underlying trends around the city to help leaders make smarter, faster decisions and stop problems before they happen.

Philadelphia’s “Social Enterprise Partnership” seeks to reform city procurement, seen as a key obstacle to local government innovation, by encouraging entrepreneurs and social innovators to generate solutions to the city’s most pressing problems. 

Providence, RI received top honors and $5 million for using technology to improve early childhood literacy. Santa Monica, CA rounded out the winner’s circle with a $1 million award to implement its Wellbeing Project.

A city’s proposal had to meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • address a major social or economic issue; 
  • improve the customer service experience for citizens or businesses; 
  • increase government efficiency;
  • enhance accountability, transparency, and public engagement.

“These five ideas reflect the most promising innovations that are emerging from city halls around the country,” Mayor Bloomberg told the New York Times, in an e-mail, “and we’re excited to support them because they have the potential to be replicated in cities large and small. While Washington is paralyzed by partisanship, mayors are moving forward with bold new solutions to many of our nation’s toughest problems.”