Urban innovation: civic crowdfunding project wins Wellbeing Cities award

By David Donaldson

Wednesday June 5, 2019

Kigali residents enjoying car-free day. Source: Wellbeing city awards.

Initiatives for car-free streets, youth skills, green development, a wellbeing index and public crowdfunding have all been recognised at this year’s Wellbeing Cities awards.

Milan has taken out the top award at the 2019 Wellbeing Cities awards for its civic crowdfunding project.

Under the initiative, public donations for small-scale local projects with high social impact are met by the city government up to the value of €50,000.

These have included a program that takes film screenings to hospitals, public vegetable gardens, a community carpentry “laboratory”, a remote sensing system for care of elderly people, and a range of other initiatives.

So far 16 projects have been co-funded in this way, with the total amount raised from private citizens during the campaigns equal to around €330,000, and the overall investment exceeding €650,000 with the city’s contribution.

Four other cities have been announced as 2019 Wellbeing City laureates for each of the award’s major categories.

Melbourne’s City of Moonee Valley was the only Australian local government shortlisted in this year’s awards, recognising its urban forest initiative, but it was bested in the sustainable environment category by Lisbon’s green development and pedestrian access initiative.

Santa Monica

California’s Santa Monica took out the community prize for its wellbeing index, which allows the city measure the impact of policies and programs on citizens’ lives. It measures wellbeing across five domains: health, the place where you live, community ties, learning and economic opportunity.

The index has been informed by the city’s administrative data, resident surveys and social media.

They found, for example, the 70% of residents are bothered by noise — whether from neighbours, planes or traffic — and 50% of Santa Monicans rate community gardens as the number one amenity they’d like to see more of.

A new city performance management program has also been created to track city departments’ progress towards wellbeing and environmental sustainability outcomes.

“We have hard evidence that too many of us struggle with stress, disconnection, social isolation,” says Community Adviser Jonathan Mooney.

“We have data that shows that the cost of living and economic inequality is too high. … Now that we know more about how we’re doing, we can act.”


Indian city Pune won in the economy and opportunity category for its lighthouse project, a program for disadvantaged youth to foster workplace competencies and skills for a meaningful career. There are currently five lighthouse offices, and eventually each of the city’s 15 wards will have its own.

“A lighthouse is a physical space that acts as a center for livelihood-related activities,” explains Pune Municipal Commissioner Rubal Agarwal.

“These spaces are large, open and filled with light, as a metaphor to the process of self-discovery that youth go through when they enroll into the program. This self-discovery and sense of possibility is delivered through an 80-hour program called the ‘foundation course’, which is the first segment that youth go through, when they enroll into the lighthouse.”

The city estimates that by 2022, there will be 20,000 youth alumni.

“This will be a strongly networked set of youth leaders who can then create hubs for social and economic change across the city,” says Agarwal.


Rwanda’s capital city took out the public health award for its car-free day initiative — a part of the global movement towards car-free streets.

Twice a month Kigali residents are asked to leave their cars at home to encourage greener living, physical activity, and neighbourhood interactions. Sports and family activities are held in space normally occupied by polluting traffic. Free medical services are also offered onsite, including medical checkups, eye and dental care.

The city is planning to expand the initiative to further areas and wants to work with more private and civil society organisations inclined towards improving health.

“In the course of implementing the car free day we have learnt valuable lessons,” explains Mayor Chantal Rwakazina.

“Urban centres shouldn’t shy away from implementing new, out of the box, and sometimes disruptive solutions. Our cities need new thinking but this can only be possible through consultation with the beneficiaries and different stakeholders.

“Another lesson is that if you are starting something new, start small and expand gradually. It is also important to keep the lines of feedback open. This has helped us to iron out some challenges the people were facing.”


The Portuguese capital’s environmental action plan helped it win in the sustainable environment category.

This includes making urban spaces safer and more accessible for pedestrians, restricting car use, launching an electric bike scheme to help tackle the city’s hills and improve access to public transport, quadrupling solar energy generation by 2021, and a green corridor linking open spaces. The plan is to be monitored by the city’s climate change department.

The city is also making a big effort to reduce water use as part of its climate change adaptation strategy.

Lisbon has already cut its carbon emissions by more than 50%, for which it has also been named the 2020 European green capital.

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