2012-2013 Mayors Challenge

Last year’s Mayors Challenge took place in the United States, where over 300 cities participated, addressing issues from early childhood education to waste management to well-being—all at the local level. A diverse selection committee chose the winners. The five winning ideas highlight the array of complex yet common challenges global cities are facing.


The United States had 5 winners out of 305 cities, representing 45 states.

Winner: Providence Talks

Providence, RI

MAYOR Angel Taveras | POPULATION: 178,000

By their fourth birthday, children who grow up in low-income households will have heard 30 million fewer words than their middle- and high-income peers. This is the single greatest predictor of future academic outcomes.

Providence Talks solves this problem, for good. Using a small recording device and proven technology, the program measures word exposure for children (ages zero to four) in low-income households, and delivers coaching and tools that help their parents close the word gap.

Winner: The Chicago SmartData Platform

Chicago, IL

MAYOR Rahm Emanuel | POPULATION: 2,707,000

Several cities across the country – especially New York – are working aggressively to crack the big data “code.” These systems will allow cities to harness the full potential of available data to understand underlying trends and issues and better direct resources. In this rapidly advancing field, there are few, if any, systems that are set up to spread.

Chicago will solve this problem by building the first open-source predictive analytics platform from scratch. Since it will own the IP, Chicago will be able to (and intends to) make this platform available to other cities – ones that may not have the resources to complete such a project on their own.

Winner: One Bin For All

Houston, TX

MAYOR Annise D. Parker | POPULATION: 2,145,000

Houston’s rate of recycling is roughly 14%; the average rate of recycling for American cities is 35%. Decades of consumer education have failed to significantly change behavior.

One Bin for All is a revolutionary idea in which residents discard all materials in one bin. Existing technologies – combined for the first time through an innovative public-private partnership – will do the sorting post-collection, enabling the city to achieve an estimated 75% recovery level.

Winner: FastFWD

Philadelphia, PA

MAYOR Michael Nutter | POPULATION: 1,536,000

City procurement is stifling innovation in Philadelphia and in cities across the nation. Today's approach puts government in the position of not just defining the problems but also prescribing the solutions. This limits the ability of government to leverage people, ideas, and talent to solve major challenges.

Philadelphia will establish a new procurement process that allows new players to respond to RFPs and help generate solutions to the toughest urban challenges. Philadelphia will issue challenges and seed the most promising in accelerator programs. The strongest graduating projects would be piloted by the City.

Winner: The Wellbeing Project

Santa Monica, CA

MAYOR Pam O'Connor | POPULATION: 90,000

Currently, cities have no holistic way to measure their success. Mayors on the ground are focused on quality of life and wellbeing issues, but still have to look at economic indicators (or measures of specific issues, such as obesity or crime) to see how they’re doing.

Santa Monica will create a sophisticated single metric focused on economic vitality, social relationships, health, education/care, and local environment – a way to measure wellbeing. This will enable the city to manage for better outcomes in these key areas.

Providence Talks


The Chicago SmartData Platform


One Bin For All




The Wellbeing Project


Ideas Camp

The 20 finalists selected in 2012 attended Ideas Camp — a two-day gathering of top city innovators who came together to strengthen each other's ideas and bolster plans to see them through. Watch this video to see why Ideas Camp became a highlight of the Mayors Challenge for our finalists.

Big Patterns & Bold Ideas

Based on the 305 submissions to the Mayors Challenge, Bloomberg Philanthropies released a publication showcasing five key shifts taking place in cities across the United States. Take a look at these surprising and inspiring insights here.

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