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Incubating Innovation: Bloomberg Mayors Challenge Profiles, Part 5

This is part five of a series about the 34 cities that have advanced in the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge. This week, we look at plans from Boston; Lincoln, Neb.; Moreno Valley, Calif.; New Rochelle, N.Y.; and Princeton, N.J.

by / April 6, 2018

New Rochelle, N.Y., like many other American cities, is undertaking a revitalization of its downtown area, aimed at making it attractive to residents, revelers and, perhaps most importantly, businesses that can spur progress in economic development.

To further its goals, the city has created a group called the Interactive Digital Environments Alliance (IDEA) New Rochelle, which has created facilities to bring the urbane, young talent at the core of the city’s growth. As part of the 2018 Bloomberg Mayors Challenge — a philanthropic contest that encourages cities to come up with innovative solutions to shared challenges — New Rochelle has a project that seeks to bolster its development and planning efforts through the use of augmented and virtual realities.

The end goal is to foster greater citizen engagement through use of AR and VR, which would allow interested citizens and business owners an immersive glance into plans before stakeholders decide whether to execute them. Think of a typical planning meeting, and you may imagine a two-dimensional rendering or floorplan spread out for perusal, or perhaps projected onto a wall or screen for mass viewing.

What New Rochelle is developing as a participant in the Mayors Challenge would give one a chance to virtually experience development in its downtown area in a simulated three-dimensional reality. Amelia Winger-Bearskin, executive director of IDEA New Rochelle said builders in the private sector already use this tech; the city’s project aims to bring it to government planning.

“If you’re in the business of building physical spaces, you’re going to use the most advanced technology to build that, visualize that and market that,” Winger-Bearskin said. “Architects and developers are already invested in AR and VR.”

Ralph Dibart, executive director of the New Rochelle Downtown Business Improvement District, said the city is already leading a major development program that involves thousands of new units of housing, retail locations and office space. A recent development associated with that will be a VR, motion capture-equipped, live-work residency in a space provided by the city, one he estimates will have three live-in residents and five total fellows — likely making it the first such municipal program in the country.

It’s essentially a cohort of AR and VR experts working on projects connected with civic engagement, public art and other municipal concerns. The Bloomberg project, officials said, is largely in the same vein.

“The goal is to make downtown the home for immersive technology, entrepreneurs and other people working with and using this technology,” Dibart said. “People have founded artists’ districts, we’re founding a district for technologists.”

This article is the fifth in a series looking at the innovative ideas of 34 cities, including New Rochelle, 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.


Boston’s proposal for the 2018 Bloomberg Mayors Challenge is essentially a new and more equitable approach to the way the city allocates its resources for sidewalk reconstruction.

The city recently detailed what it’s working on in a press release announcing that it had been chosen as a Champion City, noting that in some of its neighborhoods the municipal 311 service system is used twice as much as in others to report problems. As a result, the city is using a new approach that augments 311 requests by taking into consideration other factors such as community need, pavement condition and usage rate “with the goal of getting a clearer picture of the condition of city sidewalks in every neighborhood throughout Boston.”

Revamping policy related to sidewalk maintenance and repair fits into Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s recently announced citywide Resilience Strategy, which is focused on fostering equity by removing barriers such as systematic racism or other obstacles that limit access to opportunities. The Mayors Challenge program seeks to ensure that resources for sidewalk repairs are more evenly allocated by using additional data and paying closer attention to areas with “socially vulnerable populations who are disproportionately affected by environmental and infrastructural hazards.”

Lincoln, Neb.

The work Lincoln, Neb., is doing for the 2018 Bloomberg Mayors Challenge is related to driverless shuttles.

In a press release, the city announced that it is proposing to pilot an on-demand autonomous vehicle service, which would be operated by StarTran in downtown Lincoln. The goal of this would be to reduce traffic congestion, thereby also improving air quality. Like the other 33 champion cities in the challenge, Lincoln is using $100,000 allocated by Bloomberg to refine its idea and develop a prototype, which essentially amounts to one driverless shuttle that Lincoln plans to test this summer.

Should Lincoln advance to the next round of consideration in the challenge, officials would use the additional funding support from Bloomberg to test four driverless shuttles that would cover a 2.6-mile loop in downtown during 2019. Residents would be able to summon these shuttles using their smartphones or kiosks that would be located on the routes.

In a statement, Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler said a past decision to install underground fiber in downtown lead to the creation of the Lincoln Broadband Project, which is “the cornerstone for Green Light Lincoln, which will support operations and data gathering for the new driverless shuttle system.”

Moreno Valley, Calif.

Moreno Valley, Calif., which is located in Southern California’s Riverside County, submitted a project aimed at bolstering the level of education in its community.

Moreno Valley discussed it’s project in a press release, noting that for the majority of the city’s residents formal education and career training stopped at high school, creating a barrier to higher wages and better opportunities. Lack of education is also a problem for local businesses seeking a skilled workforce. What Moreno Valley’s Mayors Challenge proposal seeks to do is remedy this by incentivizing and supporting working adults who want to purse education or technical training.

This, like the other entries in the challenge, is a shared problem for many cities, known as “earn vs. learn,” which essentially means that citizens are unable to give up their jobs to properly make an investment in education that would allow them to earn more money.

“The unique opportunity provided to us by Bloomberg Philanthropies will mean that our residents will no longer have to choose between earning a living and receiving an education,” said Mayor Yxstian Gutierrez in a statement. “They can have both. And our businesses will have ready access to an educated workforce. As mayor, I am taking the bold steps necessary to lift up our residents and businesses and create the workforce of the future. I proudly accept the Mayor’s Challenge and I am humbled by this historic moment as our city is designated as a champion city.”

Princeton, N.J.

Princeton, N.J., has proposed a plan to drastically decrease its carbon footprint by reducing and recycling food waste and using the resultant compost to sequester CO2 in the soils of area farms.

In a press release announcing this project, the city points out that nearly 25 percent of Mercy County’s trash is made up of food and organic waste. When that sort of waste goes into a landfill to decompose, the result is methane, and there is yet to be an efficient strategy to fix that. Princeton’s plan seeks to use methods such as behavioral science to develop interventions that can reduce food waste before it reaches the landfill. As part of this, the city is looking into installing a local food digester to turn waste into compost for the aforementioned local farms.

It’s a relatively simple concept — less organic mass in landfills will mean less methane gas — for which no simple solution is readily available. This is what Princeton seeks to change.

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Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.

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