On Airports and Urban Spaces

Airports – places of arrival, transit, and departure. But what happens after the last plane leaves the airfield? Find out below what our fellows learned about urban development and new urban spaces during their visit to three former airports.

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Recap: NUP Fellows Travel Across the United States

Our Second New Urban Progress Trip Took Our Fellows to Chicago, Denver and Austin

Our New Urban Progress fellows travelled within the United States to explore how cities can provide examples, best practices, and solutions on how urban areas can serve as primary actors against global crises. During their visits to Chicago, Denver, and Austin, our fellows learned from experts at the local governmental, institutional, and community levels about how they approach everything from eroding trust in democracy to the climate crisis from different urban standpoints. This tour was the second of two delegation trips, after visiting Germany last fall. You can find a recap of 2021’s visit to Berlin, Leipzig, and the Ruhr Valley here.

Rewatch the Highlights

Our Trip: A Week Across the United States

The first stop brought our fellows to the financial and cultural hub of the Midwest: Chicago. Our fellows explored Chicago’s role as a leading example for democratic, sustainable, and innovative urban development. The delegation kicked off their tour with several meetings with high-ranking city officials, professionals, and institutions. 

Meeting Chicago’s Deputy Mayor 

During their meetings with Chicago’s mayor’s office, our fellows had the opportunity to engage in a lively discussion with Deputy Mayor for Economics and Neighborhood Development, Samir Mayekar. The core topic of debate was how the City of Chicago encourages innovation and growth that is inclusive and does not leave historically excluded communities behind. How can Chicago continue to be a regional, national and international leader but also bring equity to all their communities? As Chicago faces an increasing wealth gap, racial economic inequality, skyrocketing living expenses, and all against a backdrop of the threats of climate change: What steps is Chicago taking to counter these and other challenges directly? 

Chicago Council on Global Affairs

How – and why – should cities be global actors? The delegation sat down with city experts to discuss this question and more. The fellows learned about the research and publications that the Chicago Council on Global Affairs has done on the subject and left with fundamental approaches to continue working on what it means to be a transatlantic city. 

World Business Chicago 

The delegation met with the Executive Vice President of Innovation and Venture Strategy, Abin Kuriakose to discuss the innovation ecosystem of Chicago and how it differs from other major cities. The conversation also centered on how economic growth can be inclusive and beneficial to all residents of Chicago. 

After Friday’s meetings with city actors and political researchers and institutions, our fellows had the opportunity to meet with local communities and transatlantic actors on their second day in the Windy City. 

Progressive Actors on the Ground

While touring the Chicago Lakeview neighborhood, our fellows learned about the role of local businesses, community actors, and the chamber of commerce in ensuring equitable local development in the city. The afternoon walking tour took the delegation through several neighborhoods, the economic core, a lakeside park, and the historic baseball stadium Wrigley Field. Along the way, urban planner Adam Rosa from COLLABO, the Chief of Staff of the local Alderman, and Maureen Martino the Executive Director of the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce gave concrete examples of how different actors in the community work together on creating a more democratic and equitable community to live in. 

Round Two of Transatlantic Conversations

After last year’s successful transatlantic gathering in Berlin, our fellows partook again in a transatlantic evening in Chicago. During the dinner, German Consul General to the United States, Wolfgang Mössinger, spoke of the importance of the democratic and equitable cities providing the foundation for a stronger transatlantic relationship grounded in shared values. 

Shared visions are a core pillar of transatlantic collaboration. Our fellows learned about the development at an airport on Northerly Island, which provided another example of  shared transatlantic ideas. 

Mueller Central Neighborhood Project

How cities reutilize urban spaces has become a topic of debate across the Atlantic. During last year’s tour through Germany, our fellows discovered the democratically revitalized Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin, a former airport that was shut down permanently in 2008. Now one of the largest green spaces in an urban setting, the area offers opportunities for community projects and gardens, social gatherings, and recreational activities. In Chicago, our fellows learned about a similar project commissioned by the Chicago Park District. During their meeting at the Smith Group, our fellows learned about the redevelopment plans of a former airport on Northerly Island into a park and community gathering space. Equipped with a 50-acre freshwater lagoon, woodlands, and public meeting spaces, the park in progress demonstrates the potential of shared transatlantic strategies. 

Both projects in Berlin and Chicago emphasize the importance of democratic processes and public engagement during their drafting and implementation phases and are examples of successful sustainable, democratic, and innovative urban development. 

After a long weekend in Chicago, our fellows flew to Denver, Colorado, to visit their second city on their delegation tour through the United States. Denver’s metro area nearly doubled its population in the last 30 years, bringing economic growth but also rising living expenses to its inhabitants. Our fellows met on their first day with city officials and community organizations dedicated to creating safe outdoor living spaces.  

Sustainability as the Basis for Long-Lasting Urban Development

During their meeting with Cinceré Eades from Denver Parks & Rec, our fellows discussed the city’s climate adaptation and mitigation policies. As the city increasingly faces droughts, flash floods, wildfires, and other climate change-related threats, Denver has adopted various strategies to mitigate the climate’s impact on the population. Ms. Eades named the Stormwater Improvement Project as an example, which aims at preventing recurring flooding of open spaces that could otherwise serve as recreational areas. Securing urban spaces and re-utilizing them for public benefit is a core element in pursuing an urban development beneficial to all inhabitants. 

Housing Hour 

Our fellows spoke to four organizations that focus on short and long-term relief to Denverites experiencing homelessness and housing in general. The experts emphasized the importance of community engagement, networked-based community organizations, while putting lived-experience at the core of decision making, in order to create visible change in the housing crisis.  Innovative solutions brought forth e.g. from the Colorado Village Collaborative, are the construction of tiny houses to bridge the living experiences from the streets to more stable housing. The core question during their talks was whether and how cities prepared for rising living expenses in times of drastic population and economic growth? While the city supports these efforts generally, our speakers pointed to the constant shortcomings of land and financial resources. 

On their second day in Denver, our fellows had the opportunity to speak to officials from the mayor’s office and researchers at the University of Denver on the future urban development of Denver.

City of Denver

The City of Denver employs 13,000 workers. The delegation meet with a handful of them, including from the public safety, immigration and refugee affairs, art and culture, and housing departments. The interactive meeting gave us an inside look of how the Mile High City works towards its goals of making Denver more inclusive and equitable for all its residents. 

Smart Cities

During their meeting with John Tolva and Meghan White from Colorado Smart Cities Alliances, our fellows discussed the purpose and potential of smart cities in the state of Colorado. Mr. Tolva spoke of the potential of “smart cities” in making cities more equitable during their expansion processes”, highlighting their goal to improve the quality of life beyond tech through economic development and collaborative ecosystems. Also, they discussed how Colorado as a region could work together to share best practices and technologies for a wider impact across the state. 


Our fellows traveled to Boulder, Colorado, for their final day in the Centennial State to discuss climate policies with Boulder sustainability officers.

Small City with Big Ambitions

During their meeting with various sustainability from Boulder, our fellows learned how the city punches above its weight when it comes to climate policies at the national and international level by experimenting with policy and impactful collaboration. The delegation heard a group which included, the former Colorado State Assembly Majority Leader, a lawyer working for the Environmental Protection Agency, the former Mayor of Boulder, Boulder’s Chief Sustainability Officer, as well as an energy policy expert. For our experts, cities – and especially Boulder – are where much of the meaningful work towards a just transition and environmentally-friendly future first takes place. The question is how it can then be scaled up and out. Our speakers also discussed how coupling climate policies to economic security can make progressive energy policies more tangible to the public, also in more rural areas as they begin to face the consequences of climate change first hand. 

The Importance of Accessible Green Spaces for Public Health

During their hike in the outskirts of the City of Boulder, our fellows personally experienced the benefits of wide green spaces in the urban vicinity. The importance of equal access to green areas is a point often referenced in city climate action plans (such as Chicago’s), as clean air and various other health benefits go hand-in-hand with the proximity to parks. 

After traveling from Denver to Austin for their final stop on the NUP delegation tour, our fellows kicked off their visit with an audience at the mayor’s office. 

Meeting Mayor Adler

Through its C40 network and other collaborations, Austin aims to share best practices with other mayors and contribute to ambitious climate policies internationally. Mayor Adler spoke of the need to manage population growth rather than encouraging it – for Adler you give 100% effort in managing growth, compared to 0% effort in encouraging it. As the city currently records nearly 160 new people per day and property value jumped from $350,000 to $650,000 in the last two years alone, he emphasized the responsibility to ensure access to basic services and affordable housing. Regarding democratic participation, Mayor Adler spoke of making democratic platforms, such as town hall meetings, more flexible and accessible to community members. A Democratic bastion on a highly Republican state, our meeting with Mayor Adler offered invaluable insight into how a city can pursue and implement progressive energy, housing, and innovative policies despite conservative state directives. 

Black Austin Tour

During their first afternoon, the delegation went on a tour of Austin’s historic black neighborhood to understand the historic inequalities and their influences on current politics in the city. Led by a neighborhood local, the delegation learned about prominent Black community leaders, visited several museums and discussed how different communities have contributed to the richness of the neighborhood. 

On their final day in Austin, our fellows had the opportunity to observe yet again another example of transatlantic visions and continue to explore Austin’s climate strategy.

Transatlantic Visions of Urban Spaces

Democratically  transforming a former airport in Austin into living and recreational areas – sound familiar? 

After visiting Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin and Northerly Island in Chicago, our delegation continued to learn about innovative ways the grounds and buildings of former airports can be re-invented for community spaces, affordable housing, and green areas in urban settings. The Mueller plan to redevelop the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport site in Austin focuses on ensuring diverse, affordable, and sustainable housing. While inspirational, our guides also discussed city legislation that prevents similar developments in other parts of Austin. 


The group met with activists from Rethink35, who are advocating for stopping the current freeway expansion of the the I-35, which goes directly through the city and has historically segregated Austin. They gave their takes on how they work in networks with other groups and how they are trying to gain more support at City Hall for their cause. 

Democratizing Policy-Making

Our fellows also discussed democratic engagement in city policies by the example of the Austin Climate Equity Plan, which was adopted by the city council in 2021. The plan’s goal is to equitably reach net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. During the drafting process, special emphasis was laid on engaging with racially and economically diverse residents about the challenges, barriers, and opportunities facing historically excluded groups. This policy serves as a prime example of how community actors can be included and contribute to forming policies impacting their living spaces directly. 

Going home with new ideas

After nine long days of traveling through the United States and visiting three cities, our fellows concluded the second New Urban Progress delegation tour on Saturday. Reflecting on the meetings and people they were able to meet, discuss with, and learn from, our fellows will now begin the next phase of the project and finalize their three papers on how cities can become key actors in the fight against global challenges.

After visiting cities in the US and Germany, our fellows will come together in their working groups to prepare the final papers for the paper launch in July. Stay tuned for more information about their discoveries on how urban spaces can shape progressive politics

New Urban Progress is the joint metro initiative of Das Progressive Zentrum, the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft and the Progressive Policy Institute. The project was supported by the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany, funded by the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).

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Empowering Cities: Financing the Climate Transformation

Cities are a major cause of greenhouse gas pollution. However, they are also the places driving change: From modernizing buildings to making mobility sustainable, cities have plenty of tools at their disposal to become climate-neutral. But the ecological transformation is expensive. So where does the money come from?

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Democratizing the City

Three New Urban Progress fellows gave lightning talks at Innocracy, an annual conference about democratic innovation

Cities are dynamic networks brimming with social, economic and political life. Yet, how inclusive and reflective are these spaces of everyday people’s interests and needs? Several core aspects of modern urban life, specifically personal data, housing, and the effects of climate change can be improved by democratizing decision-making at the local and city level.

At Innocracy 2021, three New Urban Progress fellows gave “lightning talks” – short presentations of a key aspect of urban democratic practice. They gave concrete examples of how some of the most significant challenges to our societies can be met by cities – and the communities that reside in them. The session was moderated by New Urban Progress Steering Committee member Diego Rivas.

Rewatch the event:

About the speakers

  • Victoria BoeckResearch Associate for Open Data at the Technologiestiftung Berlin.
  • Julian St. Patrick ClaytonDeputy Director for Policy and Research at the Center for NYC Neighborhoods.
  • Richard Lawrence Jr., Principal Planner at the city of Alexandria, Virginia.
  • Diego Rivas (Moderator), Steering Committee Member, Project Manager at Das Progressive Zentrum.

About Innocracy 2021

This session was part of the Innocracy 2021. The annual conference assembles thinkers and doers who work on democratic innovations. This year’s edition, titled “Democratising Democracy”, focussed on identifying fields which are excluded or being removed from democratic control and on exploring whether and how (re-)democratising them could lead to a better future.

New Urban Progress is the joint metro initiative of Das Progressive Zentrum, the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft and the Progressive Policy Institute.
The project is supported by the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany and funded by the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi).

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Mayors as Progressive Motors

At this year’s Progressive Governance Digital Summit 2021, the debate on cities, mayors and their international connectivity was a particular highlight. On 11 June, the conference organised by the think tank “Das Progressive Zentrum” brought together the cities of Budapest, Strasbourg, Berlin and Boston virtually to debate how urban areas can promote democracy and a sustainable environment within their city limits and beyond.

NUP Fellow Sanjay Seth was invited to give an insightful input on how cities can best implement efficient climate protection.

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Fellow Focus: Victoria, Sanjay and Alexander

We proudly introduce the last three fellows of the New Urban Progress programme: Sanjay Seth, Victoria Herrmann and Alexander Czeh. Sanjay works on the City of Boston’s Climate Resilience Program, Victoria leads the Arctic Institute, and Alex works on sustainable transportation for the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and a shared cargo-bike provider. They all are passionate about cities and sustainability, and how urban environments offer the opportunity to experiment and try out new ideas for a sustainable future. 

Each Monday until the end of the year, we will be showcasing two of our fellows from the United States and Germany with a short video. Find last week’s Fellow Focus about Jamaal Glenn and Melanie Kryst hereTo catch the other videos and learn about our fellows, follow this space here, or @AHG_Berlin@DPZ_Berlin and @ppi on Twitter.

New Urban Progress is the joint metro initiative of Das Progressive ZentrumAlfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft and the Progressive Policy Institute.

The project is supported by the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany and funded by the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi).


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Fellow Focus: Jamaal and Melanie

This week’s Fellow Focus introduces you to Jamaal Glenn and Melanie Kryst, two of the New Urban Progress Fellows. Melanie works as a project lead for Transdisciplinary Urban Development at the Humboldt-Viadrina Governance Platform in Berlin, Jamaal is a Professor at New York University teaching finance, entrepreneurship and marketing, and also leads Schmidt Futures’ entrepreneurship program and venture capital investing. Both Jamaal and Melanie believe that connecting cities globally can empower cities and people to rise to global challenges.

Each Monday until the end of the year, we will be showcasing two of our fellows from the United States and Germany with a short video. Find last week’s Fellow Focus about Alison Noehrbass and Julian St. Patrick Clayton hereTo catch the other videos and learn about our fellows, follow this space here, or @AHG_Berlin@DPZ_Berlin and @ppi on Twitter.

New Urban Progress is the joint metro initiative of Das Progressive ZentrumAlfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft and the Progressive Policy Institute.

The project is supported by the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany and funded by the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi).


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Fellow Focus: Alison and Julian

Alison Noehrbass and Julian St. Patrick Clayton are part of the New Urban Progress Fellowship Cohort. Alison works as a Business Development Executive at Commonplace in London on place-based engagement and consultation. Julian is the Deputy Director for Policy and Research at the Center for New York City Neighbourhoods. For both, cities are the perfect environment to support change and innovation, and to foster community between people from different cultures. Hear them introduce themselves and why they are passionate about urban connections: 

Each Monday until the end of the year, we will be showcasing two of our fellows from the United States and Germany with a short video. Find last week’s Fellow Focus about Maria Willett and Marc Lendermann hereTo catch the other videos and learn about our fellows, follow this space here, or @AHG_Berlin@DPZ_Berlin and @ppi on Twitter.

New Urban Progress is the joint metro initiative of Das Progressive ZentrumAlfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft and the Progressive Policy Institute.

The project is supported by the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany and funded by the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi).


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Metro Diplomacy and Working towards City-Centered Transatlantic Relations

Two weeks after the 2020 US Election, Almut Möller (State Secretary of Hamburg, Germany) and Stephen Benjamin (Mayor of Columbia, South Carolina) discussed how cities have been developing into transatlantic changemakers. The conversation illustrated how social and economic ties between cities have been able to complement, and at times replace, classical transatlantic relations between Germany and the United States. 

A Stronger Transatlantic Partnership

In a lively exchange, Secretary Möller and Mayor Benjamin laid out how cities are emerging as transatlantic actors. As cities on both sides of the Atlantic tackle issues ranging from the pandemic to the climate crisis, the city leaders looked back on lessons learned from the past years and forward to a new chapter under a Biden administration. 

Underlying the conversation was a comparative analysis on how metro areas can most effectively operate within their respective federal structure. With urban areas representing large portions of both countries’ population and economic output, the relationship between central governments and city leaders will be crucial to addressing society’s greatest challenges.

The panelists articulated that cities have inherent democratic qualities that qualify them as strong transatlantic actors. Fundamentally, they have the ability to cultivate sustainable economic, political and social networks that are representative of their communities. And cities are democratically robust as an administrative unit in close proximity to its citizens.

“Cities are born, they are living, breathing organisms, that almost compel you to focus on the needs of the whole body, not just particular political interests” – Mayor Benjamin

Columbia and Hamburg as Transatlantic Cities

The two city leaders detailed how Columbia and Hamburg have mediated international relations for years. Columbia is a major military hub, with more than half of the US military trained at bases in the region before heading off on deployment and one of its partner city’s is Kaiserslautern, a small city home to many US troops stationed in Germany. Columbia is the capital of South Carolina, the state with the highest amount of European direct investment and home to BMW and Michelin. The state capital also demonstrated its global commitment by pledging to work towards the goals of the Paris Climate Accord, even after President Trump’s withdrawal.

“It all starts with dialogue, particularly focused on one specific data point, for example economic investment from X country, or intellectuals or professors at universities or colleges. Every community has that with some other community abroad, and there is an opportunity there to start digging a little deeper and see where synchronicity exists” – Mayor Benjamin

Hamburg, as a city-state in the German Federation and with an international tradition as one of the major cities of the Hanseatic League, has a long history as an international actor. Almut Möller represents the city to the Federation of Germany, the European Union and international networks. Hamburg also works with nine partner cities, including Chicago in the United States. Secretary Möller stated that Hamburg places a large focus on developing wider networks of cities to address issues ranging from innovation to mobility.

Transitioning to the Biden Administration and the next Era of Transatlanticism

Urgently awaiting the next administration, the Secretary and Mayor gave examples on how they have filled the void of transatlantic cooperation at the national level the past several years. Mayor Benjamin met with the German Ambassador to the United States, Emily Haber, who was meeting with many local leaders to supplement her diplomatic work with the Federal Government. Secretary Möller emphasized how Hamburg engaged with US cities: she was in contact with Hamburg’s sister city Chicago and Mayor Lightfoot to exchange ideas and methods to address the coronavirus pandemic. Secretary Möller also named Mayor Tschentscher’s initiative to sign the 2018 Chicago Climate Charter in support of the Paris agreement. 

As the United States transitions to a Biden administration, Mayor Benjamin sees an urgency in improving the relationship between cities and the Federal Government when addressing the coronavirus. Large sources of funding and support to metro and city level governments have been withheld, forcing leaders like himself to turn to local partnerships and form networks that are able to sufficiently support the community during the economic downturn as well as limited space in the hospitals.

Federalism, Collaboration, and the Coronavirus

Secretary Möller described the political structure in Germany as collaborative federalism, meaning that not only the German States, but also the larger German cities collaborate with the Federal level. Additionally, especially during the pandemic, the EU has sought a closer connection to city-level decision-making. It has been important for Hamburg as a city-state to engage with the Federal government to garner access to health services and funds to alleviate covid damages. It will be important, however, to compare and reflect on how Federal systems can best address the looming post-crisis economic challenges.

“Cohesiveness brings peace, that is a very important idea and to strive towards that is also very important for a city like Hamburg: We can only be as strong as our regional environment, national environment, and European environment.” – Secretary Möller

On the other side of the Atlantic, Mayor Benjamin noted the difficulties of learning from and addressing the pandemic while at the same time fighting it and all of its repercussions. He argued for the importance of humanizing the data that informs the public health policy and for local leaders to invest in adequately explaining policy decisions. The biggest lesson has been that it is possible to form new networks in times of need – this was done out of necessity due to a lack of state and federal support. Moving forward, cities need support from the federal government and the space to implement their funding as their democratic leaders best see fit.

“The only way that we can get out of this, is if we do this together” – Mayor Benjamin

This conversation took place as part of the transatlantic dialogue New Urban Progress. The event began by launching Cities as Transatlantic Changemakers, a working paper based on the findings from the project’s kick-off conferences in the United States and Germany. After introducing the working paper, the panel discussion with Almut Möller and Stephen Benjamin, moderated by Will Marshall, began. This was followed by a Q&A session. The project New Urban Progress will now continue with the Fellows beginning to work and expand on the most pressing urban issues ahead of us.

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Live: Metro Diplomacy – Cities as Transatlantic Changemakers

Did you miss our panel discussion Metro Diplomacy: Cities as Transatlantic Changemakers with State Secretary Almut Möller, Plenipotentiary of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg to the Federation, the European Union and for Foreign Affairs and Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina?

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