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Bloomberg Philanthropies Highlights Urban Innovation Trends in Europe’s Cities

LSE Cities’ report examines new push by European cities to improve results for citizens in the wake of the economic crisis, changing demographics and the widening trust gap between citizens and their leaders

London – February 5, 2015 – Bloomberg Philanthropies and LSE Cities today released Innovation in Europe’s Cities, a new report by LSE Cities on the way Europe’s cities continue to innovate out of the economic crisis and respond to the region’s pressing social, environmental, economic, and governance concerns. The report examines 155 submissions from the 2014 Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge – a competition that encourages cities to generate bold ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life.

Based on an analysis of socioeconomic data and submissions from cities across the continent, the report shows that local leaders are eager to experiment with new approaches. Mayors are harnessing innovative approaches to overcome critical social, economic environmental and political dynamics facing their cities – tapping the power of new technologies, partnerships, and the creativity of the public.

“Increasing economic disparity, national gridlock, aging populations, and high levels of youth unemployment throughout Europe necessitate the adoption of innovative solutions at the city- level,” said LSE Cities Director Ricky Burdett, who helped lead the study. “The Mayors Challenge provided valuable insights into the insufficiency of traditional government approaches to deliver on what citizens want. This competition also highlights the increasing value of citizen partnership with innovative local governments to meet those needs.”

As part of the 2014 Mayors Challenge, roughly 600 European cities with populations of 100,000 or more residents were eligible to apply and 155 submitted applications. The 2014 European contest followed the inaugural challenge in the United States, which launched in 2013. A third competition, in a region yet to be announced, is currently in development.

“Today, city leaders facing urgent challenges must have the courage to try creative new ideas. The Mayors Challenge is designed to help pioneer new innovation and spread the most promising ideas around the world,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies. “This report sheds light on the approaches that European cities are taking – and that Mayors from the around the world can learn from.”

LSE Cities’ researchers identified a number of innovative approaches deployed by cities across the region. Using new technologies, cities designed platforms to take citizen involvement to scale, empowering the public to take action on local problems, volunteer, share skills and maximize under-used community assets. To leverage resources and extend impact, cities formed new partnerships with businesses, universities and community organizations. Cities deployed new public participation tools such as crowd sourcing, citizen-centered design and gaming.   A key finding of the report was that practically every solution was focused on connecting people to each other and to government.

Submissions from 155 cities focused on local challenges in five thematic areas:

1. Economic development: doing more with less and fostering economic prosperity through the efficient management of people, resources and time. From Gornicza, Poland to Rijeka, Croatia, a number of cities suggested innovative school-level training models to prepare students for employment and connect them to the future job market.

2. Civic engagement: building partnerships and facilitating citizen action to improve the quality of life in cities. Examples include Ruse, Bulgaria; Gdańsk, Poland and Oulu, Finland, which all proposed using smartphone applications that enable citizens to vote on projects or propose solutions.

3. Social inclusion: increasing the capacity of individuals or communities to participate more fully in society. Some cities proposed to make a profound impact on a particularly vulnerable segment of the community. The spectrum of ideas included Utrecht, the Netherlands, which suggested innovative measures to capitalize on the economic benefits of language diversity to better integrate migrant communities, and Braga, Portugal, which aimed to decrease isolation for residents with severe dental conditions by providing free dental care.

4. Health and well-being: promoting improvements in physical and mental health to enable a better quality of life, reduce healthcare costs and increase productivity. Many cities proposed gaming techniques to prompt healthier lifestyles, including Sheffield, United Kingdom, which suggested distributing free activity-monitoring devices and running mass events with prizes to encourage walking and social cohesion.

5. Environment: securing the future through sustainable solutions to planning, transport and energy. Proposals from across the region suggested innovative methods for engaging citizens in the campaign for greener cities. Groningen, the Netherlands proposed changing consumer behavior through smart grids, while Brest, France planned to co-design an interface with citizens to track individual carbon emissions and incentivize behavioral change.

“Throughout the analysis, we continually saw the importance of collaboration – between cities and citizens, the private sector, and academic institutions– as a vital component to successful innovation,” said James Anderson, the head of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Government Innovation program, which promotes public sector innovation capacity and spreads proven and promising solutions among cities worldwide. “In this day and age, we’re seeing very few government-goes-it-alone proposals.”

The report details the five 2014 Mayors Challenge winning cities – Athens, Kirklees, Stockholm, Warsaw, and grand prize winner Barcelona. It also includes additional information about the 16 finalists that made it to the last round of the competition. “The Mayors Challenge is in itself an innovation. By considering bottom-up initiatives at the city level, it confirms that at a time of general disillusionment with systems of governance, local government has the capacity to be resilient and pro-active in ways that national governments and international institutions find difficult,” the report concludes.

The full report can be accessed here:

About LSE Cities
LSE Cities is an international center at the London School of Economics and Political Science that carries out research, education and outreach activities in London and abroad. Its mission is to study how people and cities interact in a rapidly urbanizing world, focusing on how the design of cities impacts on society, culture and the environment. Through research, conferences, teaching and projects, the center aims to shape new thinking and practice on how to make cities fairer and more sustainable for the next generation of urban dwellers, who will make up 70% of the global population by 2050. Twitter @LSECities

About Bloomberg Philanthropies
Bloomberg Philanthropies’ mission is to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: Public Health, Environment, Education, Government Innovation and the Arts. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s charitable activities, including his foundation and his personal giving. In 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $462 million. For more information on the philanthropy, please visit or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @BloombergDotOrg.