Barcelona, Spain, tops innovative cities contest

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NEW YORK (AP) — Barcelona, Spain, captured the grand prize in a competition that spurs cities to develop novel approaches to improve urban life, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced Wednesday.

Barcelona was awarded 5 million euro ($6.5 million) as top finisher. Four others were awarded 1 million euros ($1.3 million) each: the metropolitan area of Kirklees, England, and the cities of Stockholm; Warsaw, Poland; and Athens, Greece.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the winners, selected from 21 finalists, in Paris. The prizes came from the billionaire businessman-turned-politician's personal foundation for innovative ideas that could also potentially spread to other cities.

"To meet the biggest challenges of the 21st century, city leaders must think creatively and be unafraid to try new things, and the Mayors Challenge is designed to help them do that," Bloomberg said in a statement.

Cities were challenged to come up with creative solutions to critical urban issues, such as youth unemployment, aging populations, civic engagement, environment and public health and safety.

Barcelona's project focused on improving the quality of life for its growing elderly population with the creation of a support network that would include relatives, friends, social workers and volunteers.

In an email to the foundation after the announcement, Barcelona's Mayor Xavier Trias said, "The Mayors Challenge inspired Barcelona to address the issue of isolation among elderly residents, and this prize will enable us to achieve a more connected and inclusive society."

Kirklees proposed a social capital project that calls for pooling its idle assets such as citizens untapped time and expertise and empty unused spaces to "make the most of what it has and do more with less."

Stockholm focused on combatting climate change by encouraging residents to produce biochar, an organic material that increases tree growth, isolates carbon and purifies storm runoff.

Warsaw proposed a transportation accessibility idea to help the blind and visually impaired navigate the city more easily by providing auditory alerts through mobile apps.

Athens' civic engagement project called for creation of a new online platform to address "the large number of small-scale challenges accelerated by the Greek economic crisis."

"The Mayors Challenge inspired Athens to find ways to link the dynamic input of public-spirited citizens back into municipal priorities," Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis said in an email to the foundation.

Bloomberg said the winners "represent the best of the best, and all have the potential to improve lives."

His foundation said 155 European cities with populations ranging from about 250,000 to 1 million from 28 countries competed for 9 million euros — about $12 million — in prizes.

The Mayors Challenge in Europe was modeled on a Bloomberg Philanthropies competition that debuted in the United States last year.

In the U.S. version of the Mayors Challenge, the $5 million top prize went to Providence, Rhode Island. Its project called for improving poor children's vocabulary by outfitting them with recording devices if their parents agreed, counting the words the children hear and coaching parents. The four other cities awarded $1 million apiece were Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Santa Monica, California.

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