When Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term Mayor of New York City, kicked off the 2017 Mayors Challenge on Monday, more than 200 mayors from across the United States responded with a resounding, “I’m in!” within the first 48 hours.
Bloomberg, who made the announcement at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Miami, explained that the Mayors Challenge is an ideas competition designed to help U.S. cities with more than 30,000 residents solve their most urgent issues.
“The Mayors Challenge invites cities to propose bold new ideas for tackling big problems,” he said. “We then select the best ideas, help cities refine them, and give the five most promising proposals funding to implement them.” Thirty-five cities will win up to $100,000 each to help test their ideas. Of those cities, five will win $9 million — $5 million for the grand prize winner and $1 million for each of the other finalists — to bring their ideas to life.
There was no shortage of big problems — and even ideas to tackle those problems — expressed among the mayors gathered in Miami on Monday.
“There are so many problems in our community that are not being addressed by the federal government…. [The Mayors Challenge] is a great opportunity for Gary.”
— Karen Freeman-Wilson, Mayor of Gary, Ind.
“We’re always looking for support and partnership to make great ideas come to the forefront,” said South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who listed economic equality, city growth, and infrastructure among his city’s most pressing concerns. “When you have an opportunity like this, it stimulates new thinking, will create a network of partners who can compare notes and share best practices, and, who knows, may get some great resources for a great idea in our city.”
Karen Freeman-Wilson, Mayor of neighboring Gary, Ind., was equally enthusiastic about the opportunities presented by the challenge. “There are so many problems in our community that are not being addressed by the federal government,” she said, citing jobs, transportation, and housing among her highest priorities.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell of Honolulu zeroed in on homeless as one of his city’s most critical issues. “Per capita, we have one of the highest rates in the United States,” he said. “Our place is sick unless we can take care of the homeless.” And Mayor Tom Tait of Anaheim, Calif., said he is taking a broad approach at tackling his city’s biggest problems. “What I’m working on is a cultural change — to create a city of kindness,” he said, “Because that will affect all sorts of other issues, like crime, trust in the police department, and elder abuse.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said West Sacramento, Calif., might use the Challenge to explore issues of food innovation. “We are in the richest agriculture region in the country, next to the best food university in the world, but have never yet successfully translated that into either solid hunger and food access strategies.”
Innovation experts will visit each of the first 300 cities that sign up for the Challenge to deliver one-day city hall training sessions to accelerate idea development by drawing on the expertise of the community.
“Our goal is to jump-start more great ideas that can help America tackle its toughest challenges from the ground-up — and to spread idea that work,” Bloomberg said. “One of the criteria is that winning ideas be replicable. So even if your city doesn’t win, you’ll be able to learn from ideas that prove successful, and maybe adapt some of them for your city.”
Visit the Mayors Challenge website to RSVP and for more details on the Challenge.