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Bloomberg Offers A Cash-Fueled Challenge For Cities To Solve Major Problems

Cities might be best positioned to lead the way to solutions to global problems: Big enough to foster innovation, but nimble enough to implement it. New York’s Mayor Bloomberg thinks so: He’s devoting more than $9 million in prizes to the cities that can come up with the best ideas to improve the lives of their citizens.

It’s something we’ve said many times before on Co.Exist: At a time when the world’s urban population is exploding and national governments can’t seem to generate even the most minor positive changes, we need to look towards cities for innovation. The problem is, cities are often short on cash. And that means even the best ideas may never get implemented. . A competition from Bloomberg Philanthropies for U.S. cities to create solutions to major issues is making cash-flow a little less of a problem.

The challenge, which is open to all cities with over 30,000 people, asks city governments to come up with ideas that improve city government and the local population by addressing social and economic problems, improving customer service for businesses and residents, enhancing accountability to and engagement with the public, or make government work better, faster, and cheaper.

"Every day, mayors around America are tackling increasingly complex problems with fewer and fewer resources," said Michael Bloomberg, philanthropist and mayor of New York City, in a statement. "Our cities are uniquely positioned to inspire and foster the innovation, creativity, and solutions needed to improve people’s lives and move America forward. The Mayors Challenge creates an opportunity for mayors to champion their boldest ideas—and to have them take root locally and perhaps spread nationally."

Indeed, New York City has adopted plenty of innovations from other cities, including the 311 information service and a new bike-sharing program—something that has already been implemented in cities worldwide.

While other sectors of government remain stagnant, cities continue to move forward. "The mayor believes that local leaders have a ground-up understanding of the issues Americans face. They’re already championing and fostering innovative solutions every day," says James Anderson, the leader of government innovation programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Entrants have until September 14th to submit their ideas. Later this year, Bloomberg will select 20 finalists to attend Bloomberg Ideas Camp—a two-day gathering to help cities refine their projects. After that comes individualized coaching, and finally, the announcement of winners in spring of 2013.

The grand prize winner will take $5 million to develop its idea, and four other cities will scoop up $1 million prizes. There’s no telling what kinds of projects cities will come up with, but we’ll be watching San Francisco and Philadelphia—the first two major cities in the U.S. to hire chief innovation officers.