New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is offering European cities millions to come up with plans to improve urban life, tapping his personal fortune as the end of his tenure nears to extend his cities-as-civic-laboratories campaign outside America as the end of his own tenure nears.
The billionaire businessman-turned-politician invited about 600 sizeable European cities on Tuesday to compete for 9 million euros -- about $12 million, from his personal foundation.
The competition could signal how Bloomberg aims to maintain and broaden his impact on government after his 12-year tenure ends in December.
“I am a big believer in the power of cities to shape the future,” Bloomberg said in a statement to The Associated Press ahead of a news conference at London City Hall. He said the contest would spotlight “bold ideas which can take root in Europe and spread around the world.”
Modeled on a Bloomberg Philanthropies contest that awarded $9 million to five US cities this year, the European competition seeks ideas that solve problems or make government more efficient or citizen-friendly.
It's open to cities with 100,000 or more residents in 40 countries. Winners of a 5 million euro grand prize and four 1 million euro awards will be announced next fall.
“Cities have a vital role to play in the recovery of struggling nations across Europe,” Mayor Matteo Renzi of Florence, Italy, said in a statement. He and London Mayor Boris Johnson and Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz of Warsaw, Poland, later joined Bloomberg at Tuesday's news conference.
Some other foundations give governments money to try new approaches in various areas. Still, “flexible funds for early-stage innovation are hard to come by in cities in the United States and Europe and around the globe,” said James Anderson, who oversees Bloomberg Philanthropies' government innovation work.
In the recent US version of the Mayors Challenge, the $5 million top prize went in March to Providence, Rhode Island. Its project aims to improve poor children's vocabulary by outfitting them with recording devices if their parents agree to it, counting the words the children hear and coaching parents.
Four other cities that won $1 million apiece -- Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Santa Monica, California- also are gearing up their projects.
As mayor, Bloomberg isn't shy about encouraging others to follow New York's lead on such new initiatives as trying to ban many eateries from selling super-size, sugary drinks. Meanwhile, he's borrowed bicycle-sharing and some other ideas from elsewhere.
The organization also supports environmental, education, health and arts projects. It gave away a total of $370 million last year.