CITY HALL — Santa Monica city officials announced Wednesday that the city by the sea won $1 million in a nationwide competition to fund work on a unique measurement with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life for all of its residents within five years.
The task, called the Santa Monica Wellbeing Project, will take data that is already available and new information to create an index to put a measurement to the otherwise vague question of “How are we doing?”
The money comes from the Bloomberg Mayor’s Challenge, a competition put together by Bloomberg Philanthropies, headed up by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. There were five winners, with four receiving $1 million prizes and one grand prize winner, Providence, R.I. which walked away with a cool $5 million to fund a literacy plan.
Santa Monica’s city officials will team up with the RAND Corporation to create surveys to gather information and create the index that will be used to guide future budgets and better target city resources to address the needs of Santa Monica residents.
“We will use it to say where are the issues, problems, obstacles and how to deploy resources to target and address those gaps with the goal of providing everyone with the things they need to live a fulfilled life and provide well-being,” said Mayor Pam O’Connor.
The plan is on a two-year budget, during which time city officials will work with RAND to identify what is missing from the metric and create methods of gathering more subjective data than hard numbers Santa Monica already collects or can gather in areas like health, education and the state of the local environment.
Researchers will build the criteria, surveys and architecture for the index, and review it, O’Connor said.
“All of this is to design the index to do it in rigorous ways and allow it to be valid and replicable,” she said.
Other winners included Houston, Texas for a new one-bin recycling method that axes sorting but increases recycling rates; Philadelphia, for creating a more efficient method for local governments to buy things; and Chicago, which will try to build a system that takes municipal information and identifies trends.
Houston also had the added benefit of coming in first in the Huffington Post “fan favorite” contest, winning them additional funding from computer giant IBM and coverage on the HuffPo website.
Winners had to create a solution to a municipal problem that was unique, but also one that could be replicated by other cities across the nation.
Although states have long been considered Petri dishes for policies that eventually take hold nationwide, cities can no longer rely on the state or federal government for help in solving the most ubiquitous problems, Bloomberg said Wednesday.
“Cities are the new laboratories of democracy,” he said.
For once, others should be encouraged to plagiarize and take these ideas to improve their cities.
“We want people to take them, and if we can make cities work better, maybe we can instigate state and federal government to do other things,” Bloomberg said.
Santa Monica was one of 305 cities that entered the competition last September. Winners were chosen based on four criteria: vision, the ability to put the idea in practice, the potential for impact and the ability for other cities to take the model and apply it to their own local governments.
Santa Monica will also receive a sculpture created by designer Olafur Eliasson to commemorate the win. Eliasson is a Danish-Icelandic artist known for sculptures and large-scale installation art employing elemental materials such as light, water and air.