Lexington is one of 20 finalists in $9 million contest to improve cities

bfortune@herald-leader.comNovember 5, 2012 

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray announced Monday that Lexington is one of 20 finalists in a $9 million urban-innovation contest created by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to inspire cities to generate bold ideas to solve major issues.

Lexington's idea is to create CitizenLex.org, a Web site that offers a continuing way to tap into residents' ideas for innovative solutions to challenges facing the city and for improving city life.

The city knows its idea will work because it already has, said Derek Paulsen, Commissioner of Planning.

This summer when Gray asked citizens to give their ideas for the Mayor's Challenge, 7,000 people participated in telephone and on-line town halls. More than 440 ideas from residents turned into an idea itself.

Suggestions included ways to help educate children and ideas to help with the Better Bites program, an initiative to include healthy snacks and meals at the Lexington Legends concession stands and some Lexington public pools, Paulsen said.

The Web site would not be a bulletin board where residents post ideas that "go into a black hole," he said. "It's about getting interaction from citizens about what the issues are and what some of the solutions are."

"CitizenLex is a way to get informed citizen engagement," Paulsen added.

The city could also use CitizenLex to release more information about what's going on in local government.

"We think if we give people more information, they will come up with even better ideas, more targeted ideas that we can work with them to implement," he said.

Gray said in a statement: "Giving the people more of a say is challenging for elected officials," but "the democratic fabric is stronger when the democratic processes are encouraged."

The contest, launched in July and called the Mayor's Challenge, is sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Cities of 30,000 people or more were invited to propose ideas that would address a major social or economic issue, make it easier for residents or businesses to deal with city government, or enhance efficiency, accountability and public participation.

A stipulation was that ideas have to be ones that could ultimately be implemented by other U.S. cities.

Finalists were picked from more than 300 applicants.

Cities came up with novel ideas for tackling issues as disparate as recycling and infant mortality, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies on Monday.

The cities will now hone their proposals as they compete for a $5 million grand prize and four $1 million awards.

The next step in the contest is Ideas Camp, a two-day gathering in New York City in November, during which city groups will work with experts to refine their ideas.

Revised proposals are due back to the Bloomberg foundation at the end of January.

Winners will be announced in late winter or early spring.

Attending Ideas Camp from Lexington will be Paulsen; Jane Driskell, Commissioner of Finance and Administration; Jamie Emmons, the mayor's chief of staff; and Nick Such, a computer specialist.

If Lexington is selected a winner, Paulsen said the city would use its prize money to hire a director of innovation to take ideas submitted by residents and bring them to reality.

Regardless of where it places, Lexington will implement CitizenLex.

"We would certainly love to win," Paulsen said. "But we've got to be realistic and say, if we don't win, how can we implement this idea in a way that makes sense and brings change?"

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010.

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