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Nine Cities Earn $1 Million Via Bloomberg Philanthropies’ U.S. Mayors Challenge

The awards will go toward supporting projects that address a wide range of civic challenges, from homelessness and the opioid crisis to climate change and more.

Nine cities have won the Bloomberg Philanthropies U.S. Mayors Challenge, which comes with $1 million for each jurisdiction to put toward implementing solutions to civic issues they face.

The awards come after a year-long competition, during which city leaders proposed, tested and developed projects capable of solving local problems — projects that also could be scaled for national use. The $1 million is specifically intended to be used to begin implementation of the winning projects, which address a wide range of challenges, including homelessness, climate change, the opioid crisis and more.

The winning jurisdictions are as follows: Denver; Durham, N.C.; Fort Collins, Colo.; Georgetown, Texas; Huntington, W.Va.; Los Angeles; New Rochelle, N.Y.; Philadelphia; and South Bend, Ind.

The projects are notably diverse, with no two winners so much as sharing the same general subject matter. Denver is putting in air pollution sensors around schools. Durham is incentivizing alternate transportation behaviors for single car commuters. Georgetown is partnering with residents to boost use of solar energy. Los Angeles is incentivizing the addition of new housing units on existing properties for the homeless. New Rochelle is developing its downtown with virtual reality tech. Philadelphia is creating new trauma facilities for children. And South Bend is helping low-income and part-time workers get to their jobs by matching up ride-share providers with employers.

In the wake of the award announcements, Government Technology spoke with two of the mayors from the winning towns. Mayor Steve Williams of Huntington discussed his jurisdiction’s project, which supports first responders embroiled in the opioid crisis by embedding mental health professionals within their departments.

Huntington, like many cities and towns throughout the nation, is dealing with an opioid epidemic the likes of which has never been seen before. What this means for first responders, is an unprecedented number of overdoses and near overdoses, a veritable stream of psychological trauma every day on the job.

To address this, Huntington is building a system that will see mental health professionals working daily with first responders, so that they can learn what they go through and also intimately acquaint themselves with the rigors of addressing the crisis.

“It’s to help fight the opioid epidemic, but it’s also to help protect those who are helping us,” Williams said.

Williams said that even before the winners were announced, working with Bloomberg Philanthropies had helped his city develop this idea, guiding their efforts with data throughout.

“What’s been wonderful about working with Bloomberg Philanthropies is that they bring technical support to the table and really stretch you,” Williams said. “Data rules. They like the saying, ‘In God we trust, but with everyone else we demand data.' They’re really data-driven in measuring what can be done, how it can be scaled and set up so it can be replicated elsewhere.”

All of this is key to the mission of the U.S. Mayors Challenge, especially the last bit about replicating these projects elsewhere. It’s nigh-universally accepted within government innovation circles that many jurisdictions face similar problems. Huntington, for example, is far from the only city facing a large-scale opioid epidemic, and so the first responders in Huntington are also not the first at risk of facing burnout. Essentially, if the $1 million Huntington uses to develop this program works, they could create a blueprint to be used in any number of other towns.

Mayor Wade Troxell of Fort Collins’ project was also selected. The project is a public-private partnership that seeks to make rental housing safer and more energy efficient by offering landlords a mix of low-cost financing, simpler underwriting and a group of pre-screened and reliable contractors. All of that is aimed at helping them make energy efficiency upgrades to their rental properties, things like improve insulation and weather sealing that will reduce utility bills for residents while also leading to cleaner air.

“Part of it is scalability, not only for our community but for other cities,” Troxell said. “One of the points of the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge is sharing. So, upon our success we’ll share with other cities.”

He said that other cities had already reached out to inquire about the project before it was selected as one of the nine winners.

This is essentially the fourth cohort of Mayors Challenge winners. The contest is conducted regionally, with a 2013 challenge having taken place in the United States, 2014 in Europe and 2016 in Latin America and the Caribbean. New to the contest this year was a testing phase, during which 35 cities received up to $100,000 and technical advice from organizers to support and build out their ideas. The nine winners today were chosen from that group.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine