Photo essay: Cities test—and improve upon—50 bold urban innovations
In June, the Bloomberg Philanthropies Global Mayors Challenge announced its 50 finalists, or Champion Cities, representing the boldest urban innovations to emerge from the pandemic. Now, these cities are prototyping their ideas with residents, business owners, and other stakeholders before submitting their final applications. Here, our team of Bloomberg Cities photographers shows how these tests are making innovative ideas even better.
Alisha Moultry (left) and Destiny Nelson-Miles, who are apprentices at the Jones Valley Teaching Farm in Birmingham, Ala., strategize with city officials looking to create a Birmingham Food Corps. Because more than 50 percent of its residents have limited food access, the city wants to partner with and scale up the success of Jones Valley—creating a corps of high-school graduates to expand hyper-local farms throughout the city. Recent high-school graduates themselves, Moultry and Nelson-Miles shared both their experience and offered city officials ideas for getting more young people involved in the Food Corps.
Cape Town, South Africa
In Cape Town and across South Africa, the number of people experiencing hunger has doubled as a result of COVID-19. Rather than build food banks from scratch, the city is testing a program to expand its existing network of 300 community-run soup kitchens by helping each one feed more people. One of the test kitchens is run by Maria Dlokolo (left), who is affectionately known as “Gogo” (or “Grandma” in English) to the Gugulethu community. Her kitchen received critical equipment and dry ingredients from the city so she can feed more people every day. As Executive Mayor Dan Plato explains, increasing the capacity of soup kitchens is a more sustainable and community-oriented alternative to food parcels, and it allows residents to have at least one guaranteed meal for the day.
Members of the community group Comités Barriales de Emergencia (COMBAS) identify meeting points and ecological structures in Cartagena that will help them support their neighborhoods in an emergency situation. The city is prototyping and gathering feedback on ways to empower community actors as first responders. This work comes after the city's emergency-response system proved ineffective at helping women in under-invested areas during recent flooding. The program will also distribute emergency kits with a geolocation bracelet and panic button to provide real-time locations for emergency services.
Glasgow, United Kingdom
Students from Saint Paul’s High School in Glasgow engage in a “design jam” aimed at finding ideas to reduce the impacts of climate change. In the wake of the pandemic, their city is tackling the dual challenges of poverty and the warming planet—and looking to co-create solutions with residents. In the long-term, the city aims to embed design-led innovation skills in the community as a way to both tackle these emerging problems and equip residents with marketable skills.
A construction worker in Kigali begins work on a new water reservoir that will improve water access for residents. Water, sanitation and hygiene services are limited in most of the city, and through the Mayors Challenge the city is building a reservoir as well as smart-waste disposal stations equipped with sensors to ensure timely collection of waste. Not only will the project keep the water supply cleaner, it will also decrease the need for costly repairs after flooding.
Osei Assibey Bonsu, deputy director of waste management in Kumasi, shows residents of the Moshie Zongo neighborhood the types of toilet technologies that will be tested in their homes as part of the city’s Mayors Challenge project. Currently, homes in the area don’t have toilets, and many public toilets are unusable because trucks can’t reach them to empty the septic tanks. As a result, the entire area relies on a single 16-seat public toilet facility, where residents have to pay 50 pesewas—the cost of about two 500 ml bottles of water—to use the bathroom.
Lansing, Mich., Mayor Andy Schor works on visual-word puzzles with students at the Lansing Salvation Army’s Child Development Center. The Center is a prototype in the city's efforts to reverse learning loss during pandemic school shutdowns. The prototype, which focuses on pre-Kindergarten through 3rd-grade students, uses a variety of online and in-person learning opportunities created in partnership with organizations throughout Lansing. For example, the Salvation Army’s in-person classes offer students activities such as bowling and scavenger hunts to help them learn numbers, and bingo and singing to learn the alphabet.
City officials from Meru visit a nearby farm to learn more about using insects to reduce organic waste. Up to 80 percent of all municipal waste in Meru is organic, so city leaders are enlisting new allies in reducing some of that waste: black soldier flies. The flies consume most types of organic waste and can gain up to 5,000 times their body weight in a small period of time, according to Dr. Julius Nyoro, a black soldier fly expert. Once grown, they can be used as a sustainable food source for fish or other domestic animals. Implementing the program in Meru will also create employment, both formal and informal, for residents, especially women and young people.
New Orleans, USA
An official from the New Orleans mayor’s office asks a construction worker about the questions residents ask him when he’s working in residential areas. It’s part of a new program called ‘Project Why,’ which is finding new ways to engage residents about public infrastructure projects and, ultimately, build trust. With trust in public institutions at historic lows, one of the project’s goals is to empower all city employees to focus on the "moments that matter" for residents—how and why a road is being rebuilt and how long it might disrupt someone’s commute, for example—rather than focus only on city-driven priorities and outcomes.
Residents of Paris attend the grand opening of the Climate Academy, a community center designed to teach young people about environmentalism. There are classes—on everything from vegetarian cooking to repairing and reusing clothes—art exhibitions, and more. In this prototype of the Academy, every room has a different lesson to teach. In the exhibition and lounging room, above, the insect sculptures along the wall were built by Academy students, working with students from a visual art school in Paris. The sculptures, which stand more than two meters tall, were created out of recycled material and highlight the loss of biodiversity among insects.
A pharmacist dispenses medically assisted treatment (MAT) for someone suffering from opioid-use disorder as part of a test the city of Paterson, N.J., is conducting to get critical treatment to appropriate patients within 90 minutes. Currently, those who seek help often have to wait days for treatment, and the recommended MAT is offered less than 30 percent of the time. The city’s proposed process starts with a call to a hotline, which arranges for hospital care and the delivery of proper care all within an hour and a half. As part of its Mayors Challenge process, the city is working to see how this plan might help both housed and homeless populations.
A Phoenix resident gets information from a city respresentative about job opportunities at a test run of the Career Mobility Unit, a mobile center that will bring job information and job interviews out into neighborhoods with high unemployment. In order to break down barriers to entry in the job market, the city is testing how to bring computer access, career counseling, education, childcare solutions, and other services out into the community to support job seekers, and even connect them to employers ready to make on-the-spot hires.
Maria José Gomes, who owns her own fashion business, tells a team from the city of Recife that entrepreneurship can make women more empowered and independent. The city is launching the "Tá com elas" program, a new way to help women entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. The program will provide credit, offer mentorship through a network of experienced business women who will be paired with recent business graduates. The city is testing its idea with multiple women, including Gomes, to learn more about what these women think is essential to the program and how it can be most accessible and impactful.
In Rourkela, where food vendors lack the proper cold storage for their fruits and vegetables—and as much of 30 percent of produce is wasted at the end of the day—the city proposes providing women entrepreneurs access to solar-powered storage units and electrical-vehicle distribution options. Their plan is to both reduce waste and provide new job opportunities for women like those in Rourkela’s Women Self-Help Group, who are seen weighing and registering leftover produce while testing the cold room at VSS Market.
COVID-19 lockdowns mean seniors have fewer exercise options and many are socially isolated. As part of the Global Mayors Challenge, the city of Taipei created “樂齡智動趣” (Le Ling Zhi Dong Qu), a chatbot on Taiwan’s most popular messaging app, “LINE,” that offers seniors daily exercise routines, health-related advice, and a chance to connect with each other. The city invited a group of seniors to the Taipei Gym to test and give feedback on the chatbot. Even under face masks, the elders provided positive feedback—and made friends with each other at the event.