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Ford launches mobility challenge to address health in East Austin

Tuesday, June 25, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Ford Motor Co. initiated an eight-month mobility challenge Monday to identify and fund ideas that could help East Austin residents access the resources necessary for a healthy lifestyle.

“We just celebrated as a company our 116th birthday,” said Jeff Jones, vice president of Ford City Solutions. “We recognize that in that first century of work, the automobile was a great disruptor. But now we’re entering a new era where new technology is there, and when we get into urban centers we recognize that there are additional technologies and ideas to help make people move easier throughout cities.”

Austin is the fourth city to participate in Ford’s 2019 City:One Challenge alongside Indianapolis, Detroit and Mexico City.

Austin’s challenge will focus on ways to ease access to East Austin services like grocery stores, health care, parks, and recreation centers, especially for families and individuals for whom such services have historically been withheld.

“We recognize that Austin’s eastern neighborhoods are changing, which is impacting Austinites’ ability to get to the doctor’s office, grocery stores, recreational areas and other locations that promote a healthy lifestyle,” the Austin City:One webpage states. “The East Austin of tomorrow makes this movement between healthy locations simple and affordable.”

To that end, Ford is partnering with the Austin Transportation Department’s Smart Mobility team to launch a competition of sorts to source the best mobility ideas from individuals, groups and businesses within the community. Other contributors include Dell Technologies, AT&T and Microsoft.

Jones said Monday that those interested can get involved immediately by visiting the challenge website, sharing their experiences and signing up for a series of community workshops beginning Thursday, July 18, at the Asian American Resource Center in Northeast Austin.

Participants may then begin submitting their proposals in mid-September.

At some point in October, Ford will work with a committee of community members and city officials to select around a dozen of the submissions to be further developed. Once final proposals have been submitted, Ford will select up to two ideas to share a total funding award of up to $100,000 to help launch pilot programs and test the ideas.

In an interview following the announcement, Jones told the Austin Monitor that funding after the initial pilot phase will depend on the type of project and the interest it generates.

“There’s a lot of awareness that’s generated from (the challenge) so it’s great for the entrepreneur that has that idea, because in addition to the city contributing in many different ways – including perhaps maybe even non-monetary contributions like permitting and regulation to ensure appropriate adoption – there’s a lot of awareness that’s generated within the angel and (venture capitalist) community as well,” he said.

Mayor Steve Adler said the challenge represents a great opportunity for the city to reconcile with its past and prepare for its future.

“As wonderful a city as this is, with as much resources as we have, to be in a city where the life expectancy for someone growing up on the west side of our town is 10 years longer than someone growing up on the east side of our town is a shameful statistic, but it’s also true. Maybe there will be an idea that addresses that,” he said.

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