Billionaire Michael Bloomberg Wants to Break the ‘Urban Doom Loop’

The former mayor is launching an idea-sharing network encompassing 3,000 cities with a $50 million investment.

Sustainable planting. Healthier eating. Language development education. These are among the initiatives that Michael Bloomberg is attempting to replicate among thousands of global cities through Bloomberg Cities Ideas Exchange, a $50 million project launched by the billionaire’s foundation Bloomberg Philanthropies yesterday (Oct 18).

Man with grey hair in black suit
Michael Bloomberg at the opening of the Perelman Performing Arts Center on September 13, 2023. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

Bringing together local governments with global and regional organizations, the exchange aims to create an idea-sharing organization for cities struggling with issues ranging from climate change to housing crises. The exchange will include tools like “Idea Tours,” opportunities for local officials to visit other cities to view successful initiatives, and an “Ideas Evaluation Fund,” which will measure the replication potential of local projects.

In addition to its $50 million investment in the exchange, Bloomberg Philanthropies will also give to more than 40 cities to implement new ideas that have proven successful elsewhere. “Our goal is to transform what is currently an informal and ad-hoc word-of-mouth arrangement into an organized and data-driven operation that enlists the strongest networks around the world,” said Bloomberg, 81, in a statement.

Bloomberg has first-hand knowledge of introducing city initiatives—in addition to founding his eponymous media, finance and data company, he was mayor of New York City for three terms between 2002 and 2013. Health-focused programs, such as the introduction of a bike share system and anti-smoking measures, were a key focus of his tenure.

Despite having left office a decade ago, Bloomberg, who has a net worth of $96.3 billion, has continued working with local mayors. A competition run by his foundation has for years challenged local officials in the U.S. and around the globe to submit solutions for urban challenges. Named the Mayors Challenge, the most recent edition in 2021 called for ideas addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, with winning cities receiving $1 million each to implement their specific proposals.

The winning ideas of the thirty-eight projects chosen since 2013 have been implemented in 337 domestic and international cities. A language-enrichment program for children in Providence, Rhode Island is now running in Birmingham, Alabama, while a project geared towards healthier eating and activities for students first run in Santiago, Chile, was subsequently copied in Buenos Aires, Argentina. And after Stockholm won in 2014 for its Biochar Project, which uses carbon made from twigs and branches for urban planting, the initiative was replicated in Lincoln, Nebraska.

What is the “urban doom loop”?

Innovation is needed now more than ever to break from the “urban doom loop,” a term used to describe collapsing cities, according to a recent Bloomberg article from the billionaire. The primary issue for local leaders dealing with crime, homelessness, educational failures and declining businesses isn’t a lack of money, but a need to manage and implement innovation, he said. “The doom loop is not destiny. Cities can break out of it.”

The Bloomberg Cities Ideas Exchange aims to address this issue by drawing from the key tenants of the Mayor Challenge—but on a much larger scale. The exchange will be accessible to more than 3,000 cities through its founding partners, which consist of the United States Conference of Mayors, Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth, Red de Innovacion Loca, C40 Cities and the Partnership for Healthy Cities.

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg Wants to Break the ‘Urban Doom Loop’