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The Rochina favela in Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian city became a finalist in the 2021 Global Mayors Challenge for a plan to improve housing conditions in favelas with a mapping technology. Photo: Fabio Teixeira/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Bloomberg Philanthropies announced on Tuesday morning the 50 champion cities that will advance to the final round of the 2021 Global Mayors Challenge.

Why it matters: Cities around the world have come under unprecedented pressure because of the health and economic effects of the pandemic, and they'll need to evolve to thrive in the future.

What's happening: Mayors from 631 cities in 99 countries submitted ideas for the most important public innovations needed by their localities.

  • That initial list was whittled down to 50 finalists in 29 countries, with each idea judged on vision, potential for impact, feasibility, and transferability.

The big picture: Unsurprisingly given the shadow of the pandemic, innovations focused on improving health and reducing unemployment were common around the world.

  • U.S. cities zeroed in on racial justice and equity, while social inclusion was a major theme in Europe and raw infrastructure topped concerns in fast-growing African cities.
  • "A common theme was that cities are working to address the inequalities that the pandemic has underscored across a wide range of issues, including access to healthcare, economic opportunity, and clean/vibrant urban spaces," says Mellody Hobson, co-CEO and president of Ariel Investments and a co-chair of the Mayors Selection Committee.

What they're saying: "It is critically important that cities around the world control the pandemic to ensure the long-term sustainability of urban life," says David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and a co-chair of the selection committee.

  • "But it is just as important that we don’t simply return to business as usual once the pandemic passes," he adds.

What's next: 15 of the 50 finalist cities will be selected for the grand prize, receiving $1 million and technical assistance to implement their ideas.

Go deeper

Sep 22, 2021 - Axios Twin Cities

Bag fee returns for Minneapolis shoppers in October

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Time to wash that tote. Minneapolis' 5-cent fee for single-use shopping and carryout bags is back in effect, beginning Oct. 1.

State of play: A city ordinance requiring that grocery stores and other retailers charge customers who don't bring their own bags took effect in January 2020, but the city delayed enforcement until now due to the pandemic.

  • The rule includes a number of exemptions, including items in produce and flower bags, farmers' market vendors, and customers who receive benefits from federal and state food assistance programs.

The big picture: A growing number of cities and states have adopted policies aimed at reducing use of single-use plastics in recent years.

  • But concerns about germs during the pandemic slowed or paused implementation of many bans and fees across the nation.

Zoom in: Minneapolis and Duluth were the major Minnesota cities with fees on the books as of 2020.

  • Efforts to enact a statewide fee have failed to muster support in the Legislature. DFL lawmakers supporting that proposal expect to introduce it again next year, a spokesperson told Axios.

The other side: Grocers and other retailers have opposed the local fee push, citing concerns about enforcement and effects on businesses if shoppers head to other cities without them, like St. Paul.

The bottom line: Want to avoid paying up? Bring your own bag.

Updated 2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Tax season nightmare ahead for understaffed IRS

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The IRS will start accepting 2021 tax returns in less than a week, and the filing delays and administrative headaches to come might eclipse last year — which was “one of the worst filing seasons," according to an independent advocacy agency within the IRS.

Why it matters: For taxpayers, especially with complex or paper filings, this means headaches, delayed refunds, and mistakes.

China builds its own movie empire

Expand chart
Data: Gower Street citing Comscore; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

China blocked all four of Disney's Marvel movies from being released in its theaters last year, a grim sign for U.S. film giants being squeezed out of the world's fastest-growing box office.

Why it matters: The Chinese Communist Party is using domestic films as a key conduit for mass messaging aimed at achieving political goals, leaving little room for foreign views.