Incubating Innovation: Bloomberg Mayors Challenge Profiles, Part 3

This is part three of a series about the 35 cities that have advanced in the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge. This week, we look at plans from Danbury, Conn.; Denver; Hartford, Conn.; Pittsburgh; and Vallejo, Calif.

by / March 23, 2018
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In Danbury, Conn., there is an ongoing challenge to provide enough affordable, quality child care to meet demand, according to city officials. This problem has prompted a municipal effort to help unlicensed child-care facilities upgrade to licensed.

As part of this work, a number of stakeholders have come together, including the mayor’s office, the health department and the local chapter of United Way, all with a shared goal of helping unlicensed child-care providers get licensed, thereby increasing the number of options in the city and reducing costs. This collaborative effort has led to Danbury being selected as one of 35 champion cities in the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge 2018, which had an initial pool of 320 applicant jurisdictions. As part of that program, Danbury will soon embark on a six-month testing phase for their work, which officials said will involve a tech component.

That tech component must, of course, be explored further, said Austin Samuelson, a community services coordinator with the Danbury mayor’s office, but part of the testing phase will likely be developing ways to include tech and the use of iPads and Web-based apps that are already available to help link child-care providers to parents.

“We’re very excited to move forward and continue to explore how we’re really going to solve this issue,” Samuelson said. “We have a very good sense of direction at this point, and technology will be a component of our innovation solution.”

The stakes are high for this project. In fact, fueled by a recent grant, a project aimed at addressing poverty rates and unemployment among the immigrant community in Danbury recently found that a recurring challenge for residents was child care and how not being able to get affordable child care of a suitable quality put a strain on families and limited career options.

The exact details of the Danbury project, of course, will remain flexible until idea and testing phases are wrapped up.

This article is the third in a series looking at the innovative ideas of 35 cities, including Danbury, that are currently conducting testing with support from Bloomberg. The ultimate goal for all of these projects is to create a solution that can be scaled by other cities that face similar challenges. With that in mind, these pilots have the potential to have a major impact on the gov tech market. In October, four of these cities will receive an additional $1 million in support, while one grand prize winner will get $5 million to support its idea.

Denver

Denver’s project involves developing and implementing a real-time, hyper-local air quality data monitoring system for 10 public school campuses throughout the city.

In a press release announcing Denver’s selection as a champion city, organizers note that “children are particularly susceptible to the acute and long-term health effects of air pollution — including decreased lung function, increased respiratory infections and missed days of school.”

This project, which is being led by Denver’s Department of Public Health and Environment, uses air pollution sensor technology that will be placed on public school buildings. The exact campuses that will receive the sensors have not yet been determined.

The press release, however, did note that part of the goal of this work is to decrease health and financial burdens for vulnerable residents, and that Denver families currently spend an average of $3,100 a year on asthma-related costs, which totals more than $30 million of citywide annual spending.

The sensors will likely collect data about air quality that can be used to inform both policy decisions by the local government as well as the behaviors of the residents themselves.

Hartford, Conn.

The project from Hartford, Conn., is also aimed at improving quality of life for young residents, this time by helping public servants that work with children recognize and respond in real time to those who have been exposed to gun violence.

This, of course, is a depressingly timely project, as ongoing gun violence in schools has been in the headlines and debated on the national political stage. Hartford’s project to help those suffering from related trauma is called Alleviating Child Trauma in Our Neighborhoods (ACTION), and in a press release, city officials emphasized its importance.

“In too many communities around the country, young people who are exposed to the trauma of gun violence in their neighborhoods never get the support, treatment, or even the acknowledgement that they need,” said Mayor Luke Bronin in the press release. “Our proposal was designed to help provide timely support and assistance to kids exposed to gun violence in our own community. I’m proud of our team’s innovative proposal, and I’m thankful to Bloomberg Philanthropies for selecting Hartford as a Champion City. Our team is looking forward to developing the proposal further, in partnership with all of our stakeholders, including Hartford Public Schools, the Hartford Police Department, and the Village for Families and Children.”

How the city plans to identify and address those suffering from trauma remains, of course, to be determined by the work it does in the upcoming testing phase.

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s aging and inefficient housing has earned the city the dubious distinction of being sixth worst in the country in terms of energy burden, which according to a press release from the city results in residents spending more than double the national average on their utility bills.

To combat this, the city has proposed a solution that would increase demand for retrofitting residential properties, accomplishing this through reduced costs via group purchasing of materials, as well as through facilitating do-it-yourself product installations. Ultimately, Pittsburgh’s goal is to reach 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2035, an inherent challenge given the city’s location in fossil fuel-rich Pennsylvania.

In the past, the city has compared this project to group discount platforms such as Groupon, noting that it could aggregate purchasing demand across the city in order to make high-quality efficiency products more accessible at lower costs. These products would be aimed at retrofitting, weatherizing and other achievements that would make homes more energy efficient. The goal would be to create an easy-to-use platform that incorporates offers from regional nonprofits and utility providers. Other potential components include do-it-yourself workshops and a mobile van program that would help make the new platform known and accessible to residents.

Vallejo, Calif.

The project in Vallejo, Calif., centers around creating a system that can map subsurface pipes in order to boost the city’s ability to improve its infrastructure.

To accomplish this, Vallejo is taking a design-centered approach, one that would potentially use ground-penetrating radar technology to generate data sets to be processed through an image identification process and as well as through a machine learning algorithm. The overall goal would be using technology to learn all that the city can about its pipes and other below-ground infrastructure, as well as to take a data-driven approach to making necessary repairs.

In a press release announcing Vallejo’s status as a champion city, Mayor Bob Sampayan expressed his excitement for the upcoming Bloomberg testing phase, noting that if successful, “This innovation will enhance our ability to assess and monitor critical systems in our community.”

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.