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Barcelona wins $6.5 million urban innovation prize

Barcelona won a global urban innovation contest sponsored by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies. Its winning project is to create a network of support for elderly residents.

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Barcelona, Spain, has captured the 5 million euro ($6.5 million) grand prize in a competition that spurs cities to develop novel approaches to improve urban life.

The Mayors Challenge is run by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Four other cities won 1 million euros ($1.3 million) each: the metropolitan area of Kirklees, England; Stockholm; Warsaw, Poland; and Athens, Greece.

It's the first Mayors Challenge in Europe. The inaugural competition was in the United States last year.

Bloomberg announced the winners Wednesday in Paris. They were selected from 21 finalists.

“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,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies. “We received great proposals from all over Europe, and the competition over the past year has been fierce. The decision for our selection committee was not easy, but the five winning ideas we announced today represent the best of the best, and all have the potential to improve lives. Cities are shaping the future of our planet, and Bloomberg Philanthropies is committed to helping mayors pioneer new innovations – and to helping their most promising ideas spread around the world."

Cities were challenged to come up with creative solutions to critical urban issues, such as youth unemployment.

Barcelona's project proposed creating a network of public and private support for its elderly.

Here's how the Bloomberg website described the project:

More than one in five Barcelona residents is over 65, and by 2040, one in four will be. As lives grow longer, Barcelona – like many cities globally – is grappling with new health problems and debilitating social isolation. To address this growing problem, Barcelona will use digital and low-tech strategies to create a network of family members, friends, neighbors, social workers, and volunteers who together make up a "trust network" for each at-risk elderly resident. This will help identify gaps in care, enable coordination of support, and promote quality of life.

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 transportation incentives and a unified public transit payment system that would encourage greener modes of travel.

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

Bloomberg Philanthropies said 155 sizeable European cities from 28 countries competed for 9 million euros – about $12 million – in prizes.

In the U.S. version of the Mayor's 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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