Champion City Part 1: What is the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge?

Every year, Bloomberg Philanthropies (a private philanthropic foundation) presents the Mayors Challenge, a competitive grant and coaching program designed to encourage city leaders to uncover and test bold, inventive ideas that confront the toughest problems cities face. Hundreds of cities apply to participate in the Mayors Challenge, but only a small amount are accepted into the program. New Rochelle was accepted this year: a huge honor for our community.

How does the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge Work?

If you wanted to make a wedding cake, but didn’t have a lot of baking experience, it wouldn’t be a good idea to bake the cake the day before a wedding without having practiced, right? Instead, you should make a simple sheet cake a few months out. Later, you would try stacking two cakes with a layer of frosting between (taking note of what’s required to prevent the cake from collapsing.) Eventually, you would practice decorating the cake with fondant. Finally, you would invite the happy couple over to taste flavors and choose between cake toppers. Now you’re prepared to bake a wedding cake!

That’s sort of the idea behind the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge. City governments should be brave and try challenging new projects that could make a big difference in their city. The “wedding cake”, if you will. But before launching a large and complicated new project (which can also be expensive!), they should try out several mini-versions of the project first. The lessons learned from from each mini-version can help government officials fix and improve the idea before building out the final, more complicated version. (The word for the process of building on and improving an idea in several stages is ‘prototyping’).

Cities that are accepted into the Mayors Challenge program (like New Rochelle) are given a financial grant and coaching support by Bloomberg Philanthropies, so that we can test and improve upon an idea three different times. Thanks to Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge program, we can afford to do this important work! At the end of the Mayors Challenge process, we will have an opportunity to apply for more coaching and funding support from Bloomberg Philanthropies to build out our big idea that we tested.

Who is involved with the Mayors Challenge program?

The City of New Rochelle, the New Rochelle Downtown Business Improvement District and our organization: the Interactive Digital Environments Alliance (IDEA), are partnering on this project.

What idea is New Rochelle trying to test during the Mayors Challenge program?

Our team is trying to figure out how new “immersive” technology (like virtual reality headsets or augmented reality phone apps) can help our citizens clearly understand big public construction or development projects happening in New Rochelle. We also want to figure out how this technology might allow citizens to more easily help design some of these spaces, or at least give their City government good feedback on how they feel about the spaces.

Our team will be visiting popular parks and other locations this spring and summer to let citizens play with mini-versions of our big technology idea and give us their opinions to help us improve and build our final concept. We think these sessions will be fun (you might get to wear a virtual reality headset!). Everyone who participates is entered in a drawing to win a $200 visa gift-card… and we’re seeing what we can do about having free cookies around too.

New Rochelle Library Green and the new solar sculpture in the park. New Rochelle train platform

If you would like to know when these sessions are happening, please give us your information here.

Help us develop our idea by filling out this fast and simple survey.