Get to know the cities behind What Works Cities

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In April 2015, Bloomberg Philanthropies launched What Works Cities, a program designed to help cities make governance more open, transparent and accessible. Since then, Sunlight has been proud to partner on the project, working with cities in every part of the United States. No WWC city is like the other: each has rich history and traditions that make it stand apart. This reminds us that open data isn’t just about policy: it’s about places and the people who have made them what they are.

To get to know all of the What Works Cities, read on for fun facts and trivia. And if we missed something about your city, let us know!

Anchorage, Alaska

Urbanites may run into squirrels, pigeons and the occasional raccoon, but Anchorage is a walk on the wild side: The city is home to about 1,500 moose. They have ample room to roam since Anchorage has an area of about 1,900 square miles — about the size of Delaware. Most of that area is Chugach State Park, ice fields, glaciers and lakes spread out over 495,000 acres.

Baltimore, Md.

When Francis Scott Key scribbled “Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,” he was in Baltimore watching the British bomb Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. The drama inspired him to write the poem that later became the “Star Spangled Banner.” Baltimore also proudly houses the largest collection of Matisse paintings in the world, on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Buffalo, N.Y.

How did you spend your last Dyngus Day? You probably didn’t party like Buffalo, whose Dyngus Day bash is the largest in the world. The holiday occurs on Easter Monday as a celebration of Poland, its people and the oncoming spring. And even if you’re nowhere near Buffalo, you can still munch on Buffalo wings: They were created by local Teressa Bellissimo in 1964 for her son and his friends.

Bellevue, Wash.

Until 2012, Bellevue was home to the Museum of Doll Art, which boasted a collection of over 1,500 dolls. Over 20 years, tens of thousands of people came to see the dolls, antique and contemporary (and hopefully not too disconcerting). Today, people may want to check out the North American headquarters of the Pokemon Company – who knows what rare Pokemon are up for grabs.

Boston, Mass.

Doors opening: Boston’s Tremont Street Subway, circa 1897, was the first subway in the U.S. And 263 years before that, settlers founded Boston Common, the oldest public park in the country. Many of its visitors today are college students: A third of Boston’s population is made up of students enrolled at one of 35 universities inside the city limits.

Cambridge, Mass.

The Harvard Museum of Natural History features the Glass Flowers, a collection of life-like models of plants made from glass. For centuries, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have made a home in Cambridge, which is just a stone’s throw from Boston.

Cape Coral, Fla.

Venice, take a seat. Cape Coral boasts 400 miles of canals, the most of any city in the world. Travel and Leisure called it one of the “World’s Most Beautiful Canal Cities.” And Cape Coral came up quickly, established just half a century ago in 1957. Cape Coral also boasts the largest population of burrowing owls in Florida.

Chattanooga, Tenn.

Chattanooga’s Walnut Street pedestrian bridge is one of the longest in the world. Once you have gotten that workout, recline on the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, the steepest in the world. Famous Chattanoogans include actor Samuel L. Jackson and R&B supertar Usher.

Charlotte, N.C.

The Carolina Renaissance Festival happens in Charlotte every year, drawing 160,000 revelers in their most fashion-forward armor, cloaks and gowns. On a totally different note, Charlotte is a major banking city, home to Bank of America.

Denton, Texas

Denton is part of North Texas Horse Country, where you can find over 300 farms and ranches, plus all sorts of horses, from Arabians to Appaloosas. The North Texas State Fair and Rodeo draws 100,000 people a year. Denton has received praise for its music scene, with the Huffington Post dubbing it an “indie band factory.”

Denver, Colo.

Denver averages 300 days of sunshine a year, which may be part of the reason it was named one of the happiest American cities. Another reason may be its history: Denver’s first permanent structure was a saloon. Now the city brews more beer than any other city in America.

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

For its canals, Fort Lauderdale earned the nickname “the Venice of America.” (No word from Cape Coral on this matter). With all that water, it’s natural that the International Swimming Hall of Fame is located in Fort Lauderdale. Over 100 marinas are spread out over the city and there are more than 50,000 registered yachts.

Greensboro, N.C.

The famous Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in took place in Greensboro in 1960. Today the old Woolworth’s building houses the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Prominent Greensboro residents, past and present, include Attorney General Loretta Lynch and authors Nicholas Sparks and Orson Scott Card.

Gresham, Ore.

With a population of 105,000, Gresham is the 4th-most populated city in Oregon, located just minutes from Portland. Steven Spielberg filmed part of his 2001 blockbuster “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” in Gresham, at Oxbow Regional Park.

Independence, Mo.

Visit Independence to tour the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, which exhibits documents and photos from the 33rd president’s life. Another famous resident was notorious wild west outlaw Jesse James. Off the beaten track, the city is also home to Leila’s Hair Museum, which exhibits wreaths and jewelry made from human hair.

Jackson, Miss.

The Mississippi Blues Trail features several stops in Jackson, including those devoted to music legends like Cassandra Wilson and Bobby Rush. Through the 1960s, singers and fans of the blues, jazz and soul music congregated in the Gold Coast area – as did bootleggers and gamblers. Since then, Jackson’s cultural offerings have developed in exciting ways: The International Museum of Muslim Cultures, the first of its kind in the U.S., opened in 2001. Its collection includes ancient manuscripts from Timbuktu.

Kansas City, Kan.

In 2011, Kansas City became one of the first to partner with Google to receive Google Fiber. And you can also find a bit of Europe in KCK: The Rosedale Arch, a small-scale replica of France’s famous Arc de Triomphe, is dedicated to the men of Kansas City who served in World War I. Famous residents include Eric Stonestreet, of Modern Family, and Trai Byers of Empire.

Kansas City, Mo.

If you’re headed to KCMO, you’re going to need lots of napkins and an empty stomach. The city is famous for its barbecue, including legendary restaurants Arthur Bryant’s (c. 1920), Gates Bar-B-Q (c. 1946) and Jack Stack (c. 1957). The city also enjoyed the spotlight as the setting of the 2012 film “Looper.” The Kansas City Plant manufactures 85 percent of the non-nuclear material in the U.S. nuclear bomb arsenal.

Las Vegas, Nev.

Las Vegas is home to some of the most lavish hotels and casinos in the world, making it a major world destination for business conferences, trade shows and conventions. And despite being located in the desert, Vegas has become a symbol of sustainability for cities worldwide, embracing renewable energy and other environmentally friendly practices. You also might recognize the giant cowboy on Fremont Street — known as Vegas Vic, this Sin City icon holds the title of the world’s largest mechanical neon sign!

Lexington, Ky.

Fifty breeds of horses graze on 1,200 acres of pasture at Lexington’s Kentucky Horse Park. The park also features museums, galleries, theaters and working farms. Lexington calls itself the Horse Capital of the World (no word from Denton on that yet.) After (or during) the races, sample Kentucky’s famous bourbon at one of Lexington’s many distilleries.

Little Rock, Ark.

The Bill Clinton Presidential Library contains 76.8 million pages of paper documents, plus 21 million emails and 2 million photos. The Little Rock Nine integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957, a major turning point for civil rights in the U.S. Little Rock hosts the annual Riverfest, a major music festival.

Louisville, Ky.

Party on: 90 percent of the world’s disco balls are made in Louisville. At a Louisville party you might catch Jennifer Lawrence, Tom Cruise or the band My Morning Jacket — all Louisville natives. One more famous native: boxing icon Muhammad Ali. The Muhammad Ali Center celebrates his life.

Mesa, Ariz.

The Hohokam settled in Mesa thousands of years before European explorers arrived. They built a 125-mile canal system that is still in use today. At the Mesa Grande Cultural Park, visitors can view the remains of Hohokam settlement dating back to 1100 AD. Mesa is also the third-largest city in Arizona.

Milwaukee, Wis.

Whether you hunt and peck at the keys or your fingers fly across your keyboard, you can thank Milwaukee newspaper editor Christopher Latham Sholes for inventing the QWERTY keyboard in 1867. And the next time you drink a Pabst or Miller beer, think Milwaukee, which is home to both companies.

Naperville, Ill.

Next time you crunch into a Triscuit, think of Naperville. It’s home to the only Triscuit factory in the world. You can also find the Millennium Carillon, whose bells can be played by hand or by computer. Naperville also hosts its own film festival.

New Orleans, La.

Go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, jazz music or the Saints – stay for the alligator sausage cheesecake at Jacques-Imo’s Cafe. During Mardi Gras, suppliers sell over 1 billion pairs of beads. NOLA is also the birthplace of the po-boy sandwich, which gets its own festival in October.

Providence, R.I.

Providence has the highest number of donut shops and coffee shops that are able to lease commercial coffee machines for their shops and offices in the U.S., which may be the greatest accolade on this list. The old New England city is also home to various firsts: the first Baptist church in the U.S., established in 1638, and the first indoor shopping mall, circa 1828.

Raleigh, N.C.

If you’re looking for shade, Raleigh’s a good bet: The city is nicknamed City of Oaks due to the amount of trees. The city was named after Sir Walter Raleigh, a confidant of Queen Elizabeth I — that is, until she threw him in the Tower of London.

San Francisco, Calif.

If you’re walking along the water on San Francisco bay, you might run into the Wave Organ, an acoustic sculpture made of granite, marble, PVC and concrete. Other facts you may not already know about SF: It’s home to the 200-member San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, the first of its kind in the world. The city has a long history of environmental activism, going back to 1892, when John Muir founded the Sierra Club.

San Jose, Calif.

The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose houses the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts on display in North America. It was founded by the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, which sounds like it deserves its own movie starring Nicholas Cage. More famous organizations based in San Jose include Adobe, TiVo and Cisco.

Seattle, Wash.

You can thank Seattle for your frappucinos and pumpkin spice lattes: The first Starbucks opened at Pike’s Place Market in 1971. You can also thank the city next time you #throwback to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as Seattle is the birthplace of grunge. Other prominent musicians include Death Cab for Cutie, Macklemore and Fleet Foxes.

Scottsdale, Ariz.

It’s a relaxation destination: Scottsdale has over 200 golf courses and the most spas per capita in the U.S. But Scottsdale is about more than R&R: companies headquartered there include the Henkel Corporation, which makes brands like Dial and Purex, Cold Stone Creamery and P.F. Chang’s.

Saint Paul, Minn.

The Wabasha Street Caves in Saint Paul date back centuries to when Native tribes used them. Then they became a silica mine, a mushroom farm and then a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Today you can take the Ghosts and Graves tour, the Lost Souls tour or have your wedding there.

Tacoma, Wash.

Since 1875, Tacoma has grown in the shadow of Mount Rainier, one of the world’s largest volcanos. It’s still active. Tacoma also brings the heat at the Museum of Glass, boasting 75,000 square feet of glass work from the 20th and 21st centuries, plus a hot shop featuring live glass blowing.

Topeka, Kan.

In Topeka, you can visit the National Brown v. Board of Education National Historical site at Monroe Elementary School, which was at the heart of the case. In 2010, Topeka’s mayor declared that the city would thenceforth be known as Google, Kan. For April Fool’s that year, Google changed its name to Topeka.

Tulsa, Okla.

The Gilcrease Museum is home to the largest collection of art related to the American west in the world. Plus, from October 2016 to January 2017, visitors can immerse themselves in Chocolate: The Exhibition. Tulsa is also the home of musician Garth Brooks and singer-songwriter Ester Dean, who has written songs for artists like Beyonce, Selena Gomez and Nicki Minaj.

Victorville, Calif.

Victorville, a city of 120,000 located in southern California, is home to the California Route 66 Museum. The town’s history dates back to 1885, when the Santa Fe Railroad built a line snaking up from San Diego to Barstow, via Victorville.  

Waco, Texas

Waco, a city of 124,000 halfway between Dallas and Austin, is the birthplace of Dr. Pepper. A pharmacist and hobbyist soda jerk named Charles Alderton invented the drink in 1885. Nowadays, Waco is a college town, home to the 17,000 students of Baylor University.

Wichita, Kan.

The city is home to Chance Rides, one of the leading roller coaster and amusement ride companies in the world. If you’re looking for excitement, you could also go to a Wichita State Shockers game. The mascot comes from Wichita’s farming history: In the early 1900s, student athletes made extra money by harvesting (“shocking”) wheat. Elsewhere in the category of unusual mascots, the city’s baseball team is called the Wichita Wingnuts.