In an effort to motivate cities nationwide to think outside the box, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched his Mayors Challenge – and 20 cities have been selected as finalists for $9 million in prizes.

The contest tasked cities across the nation with creating inventive and innovative ideas that, once implemented, will benefit their community. More than 300 cities applied, and a panel of judges later narrowed down to the 20 finalists.

Later this year, the finalists will compete in a two-day idea camp in New York City to continue developing their ideas; a grand prize winner will receive $5 million, and four additional $1 million winners will be announced in 2013. Qualifying cities had to have at least 30,000 residents to participate.

Here’s a glance at the top 20 finalists that focused on technology:

St. Paul, Minn.

Permit Saint Paul

The city is pushing efforts to provide online access to the permit review and license process for residents, developers and business owners to better customer satisfaction and development outcomes, and create better government transparency, while also reducing costs. The plan is to develop an online tool that walks applications through a step-by-step process to provide better understanding of regulations, community review requirements and anticipated time frames.

Hillsboro, Ore.

Building Mobility: GoPoint Hillsboro Transportation Hub Network

Hillsboro wants to develop transportation hubs “based on a just-in-time, coordinated management model – throughout the community that connect neighborhoods and employment sites with sustainable transportation options.”

The GoPoint platform is intended to help citizens in using alternate methods of transportation like bike sharing, car and ride sharing, personal car rentals, hourly car rentals and vanpools. According to the Mayors Challenge website, the new platform will “leverage the largest existing local electric vehicle infrastructure network to increase the availability and use of electric vehicle transportation and these additional sustainable transportation modes.”

Boston

Cumulus: Sparking the Next Generation of EdTech

Through the Cumulus platform, Boston wants to put student data in the cloud to give parents and guardians control to share the data with educators and entrepreneurs.

Chicago

Solving Big Data: The SmartChicago Analytics Platform

The city of Chicago aims to develop an open-source analytics platform that “identifies real-time patterns and provides a single operating picture for decision-makers using data aggregated from all city departments.”

According to the city, the system is the first of its kind to conduct pattern detection in real time using large-scale multivariable space-time data. The system is expected to help government leaders make improvements in the city with a quicker decision-making process.

Lexington, Ky.

CitizenLex

The city is developing a platform to post city government data, identify civic problems, and crowd-source innovative solutions to help build a better city.

Phoenix

Phoenix: Smartest Energy City in the World

The city plans to transform Phoenix into the Smartest Energy City in the World by developing community-driven 'smart-energy districts' that improve neighborhoods, maximize energy diversity and reduce the urban heat island. Phoenix partnered with an Innovation and Efficiency Task Force and 15 urban village planning committees to develop customized districts within its 15 urban cores.

“Each district will identify its unique attributes and challenges while accomplishing citywide common goals utilizing a master matrix of energy-smart options such as cool roofs, smart grids, energy efficiency, renewable energy, vacant lot transformation, code development/incentives, education, climate adaptation, trees and shade, waste to energy, urban agriculture, green transportation infrastructure and transit-oriented development.”

Providence, R.I.

Providence Talks

The city is focusing on children born into low-income households, and plans to “equip every family in Providence with the new technology and coaching necessary to measure their child’s household auditory environment and intervene to close vocabulary deficits in real time.”

For more information on each city's innovative idea, visit the Mayors Challenge.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.