What Works Cities touts $42 million investment; Bloomberg cites states, cities as antidote to 'alternative facts'

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Bloomberg Philanthropies released an annual report on Wednesday, in which founder, billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg writes that a bipartisan “counter-assault” against Washington’s “alternative facts” trend can be found emerging in cities and towns across the country.

Bloomberg references an increasing willingness by government leaders in Washington to ignore or distort facts to suit their political motives.

The report’s release coincides with a new investment of $42 million, also announced Wednesday, into Bloomberg’s What Works Cities initiative, which is centered around helping 100 American mid-size cities gather and use data to improve community quality of life and government operations and service. Data and facts are increasingly allowing governments to improve lives, Bloomberg writes, despite attempts by Washington to undermine reality.

“Of course, there has always been spin in politics, but this is different: It’s a direct assault on facts and data,” Bloomberg writes of the current presidential administration. “And the increasing disdain for facts is making it harder for America to address major challenges here and around the world, including those that our foundation focuses on. Fortunately, however, while the assault is concentrated in Washington, a counter-assault is under way in both red and blue states. It’s being driven from the ground up, and we’ve only just begun to capitalize on its potential.”

What Works Cities, which recruited mid-size cities in cohorts since its creation in 2015 and eventually reached the initiative’s target of 100 members in January, uses municipal data to solve different issues in each participating city. Common challenges range from basic government transparency and accountability to specific challenges around health and safety, homelessness, or urban blight.

The new funding will allow the initiative to “deepen and expand” the efforts already underway, WWC Director Simone Brody told StateScoop in an email.

“One way we’ll do that is by opening our community of cities — which provides access to peers in other cities as well as leading experts and resources — to any U.S. city with a population of more than 30,000,” Brody writes. “This community is learning from and building on each other’s work, enabling them to drive change more quickly. As the number of cities sharing their learnings and collaboratively tackling their challenges increases, this movement will accelerate.”

The new report highlights several of the initiative’s victories. Tacoma, Washington, used data to cut the time devoted to building-code inspections by 70 percent. Louisville, Kentucky, doubled the revenue it collects from fines by finding new ways to make people pay their parking tickets. Boston, Massachusetts, used data to inform a plan that would expand its bike-share system by more than 50 percent.

Brody says the funding will also allow organizers to focus on the initiative’s certification program, an offering launched last year as a way to both recognize and benchmark the progress of cities seeking to make greater use of data. The first nine certificates were announced in January and Los Angeles became the first city to earn gold certification, a mid-tier designation between platinum and silver certifications.

There are also plans to announce additional programs in the coming months, Brody said, but did not specify what those may be.

In the report, Bloomberg entrenches his charity further in support of mayors, whom he says do not share “the current unprecedented tolerance for dishonesty in U.S. politics.”

“As Washington has grown more dysfunctional, American cities have grown more dynamic,” Bloomberg writes.

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Bloomberg Philanthropies, Data & Analytics, Michael Bloomberg, Smart Cities, State & Local News, Tech News, What Works Cities
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