The 2012-2013 Mayors Challenge, funded by (New York City Mayor Michael) Bloomberg Philanthropies, has announced the winners of its contest seeking innovative locally-bred solutions to problems plaguing cities throughout the country.

"This challenge is all about identifying a need, solving a problem, and sharing local knowledge so that other cities and citizens can benefit from the insight and actions of their peers," the Mayors Challenge website declares.

The top prize awarded in the $9 million contest went to Providence, R. I., for its "Providence Talks" project, which aims to encourage greater academic success in low-income children. Employing small recording technology, the initiative measures children's exposure to words from birth to age four, noting that exposure to spoken words in these formative years is the best predictor of a child's future success in school. Providence Talks now has a $5 million award to fund the recorders, as well as coaching and other tools for parents to use to narrow the word gap.

The four other winners -- Chicago; Houston; Philadelphia; and Santa Monica, Calif. -- were each awarded $1 million to devote to their projects.

The Chicago SmartData Platform intends to gain true civic value from big data by developing an open-source predictive analytics platform from the ground up. Chicago will share the platform, once constructed, with other jurisdictions without the resources to effectively leverage the power of big data. The SmartData Platform "... will help leaders make smarter, faster decisions in real-time to help address and prevent problems before they develop," according to the project's Idea Summary.

One Bin for All is Houston's idea to use technology to help the city boost its recycling rate -- currently at 14 percent, compared with the national average of 35 percent. Residents will be able to combine all trash and recyclable materials in one receptacle for automated sorting at a high-tech sorting and recycling facility. Officials estimate the program will boost the city's recycling rate to 75 percent.

Philadelphia aims to inject agility into the traditional government-citizen relationship with its Social Enterprise Partnership (PSEP) initiative. A new purchasing process aims to introduce new players into the mix, giving entrepreneurs with fresh perspectives the chance to take on challenging urban problems. Described as a way to put research and development into the RFP process, the PSEP will reframe urban challenges, provide seed funding for new ideas and pilot potential solutions at City Hall.

Respresenting the West Coast, Santa Monica, Calif., will launch "The Wellbeing Project," one holistic metric that measures a variety of quality of life indicators to provide more visibility into whether city resources are helping citizens thrive. The metric will focus on wellbeing in several areas: economic, social, health, academic and environmental.

"By looking through the lens of wellbeing, the city will know whether or not we're making the most effective use of resources to meet people's needs," said Mayor Pam O'Connor.

Complete summaries and videos are available for each project on the Mayors Challenge website.