Empowering Cities – The Podcast on New Urban Progress

In a transatlantic forum, the New Urban Progress fellowship discussed solutions and approaches to today’s most pressing issues. The Empowering Cities podcast focuses on a selection of some of these discussions, ranging from financing the climate transformation, if there is a blueprint for progress, and why transatlantic exchanges matter.  

Five Podcast Episodes on Urban Progress

With Congresswoman Marylin Strickland and Former Mayor of Kansas City, Sly James, hosted by President of the Progressive Policy Institute, Will Marshall

With Fritzi Köhler-Geib, Chief Economist at KfW Group, Gereon Uerz, Head of Sustainability at GROPYUS, hosted by Andreas Horchler.

With New Urban Progress Fellows Maria Willett and Steffen Haake, hosted by Neel Brown, Managing Director at the Progressive Policy Institute. 

With New Urban Progress Fellows Richard Lawrence Jr. and Maria Willett, alongside Mayor of Wausau, Wisconsin, Katie Rosenberg, District Councilwoman, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (Berlin), Julie Richier, hosted by Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, Executive Vice President, Bertelsmann Foundation.

New Urban Progress Fellows, Ian Lundy and Julian St. Patrick Clayton, alongside Almut Möller, State Secretary and Plenipotentiary of Hamburg, Deputy Mayor Ulrich Hörning of Leipzig, and hosted by Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook

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Governance Summit

New Urban Progress In Action

After three years of transatlantic exchange, two trips, ten cities, and four conferences, the New Urban Progress fellows debate main takeaways on stage, put their ideas to the test, and discuss how cities can continue being key places of progress for local communities and the transatlantic partnership.  

Urban Power: Uniting Progressives in Cities & Across Regions

To debate some of the main conclusions of the New Urban Progress (NUP) fellowship, NUP fellows Richard Lawrence Jr. and Maria Willet pitched their working group’s action paper The NOVA Cities Index: Unlocking Urban Power to Mayor Rosenberg, of Wausau, Wisconsin and Berlin District Councilwoman Julie Richier. The two leaders represent a rural and highly urban area, respectively, and both had plenty to comment. Watch the whole session (including introductory remarks by the moderator Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook) for a lively conversation on how urban areas across the United States and Germany can deliver on local, regional, and transatlantic progress.  

Reflecting on Main Lessons and Paths Forward

After the main stage debate, a group of urban experts joined the NUP fellows in a breakout session to discuss the three year New Urban Progress fellowship. Topics ranged from cities as a transatlantic actor with an introduction by Almut Möller, State Secretary and Plenipotentiary of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, to the housing crises that so many cities are facing, to general reflections from NUP fellows Ian Lundy, Julian St. Patrick Clayton, and Deputy Mayor of Leipzig, Ulrich Hörning, on how cities can get better at going beyond words and implementing progressive policies that benefit all. Watch the entire session below.  

Almut Möller
“Foreign affairs is not something that can be taken for granted. It has to deliver to local communities.”

Julian St. Patrick Clayton
“As a city you have to find who you are, your mission statement, your guiding principles, your ethos as a city – after that you fight like hell to maintain that vision. You come back to the drawing board, […] you never lose sight of who you are there, because that is the only thing helping you to get where you want to be.”

Ulrich Hörning
“The key transatlantic takeaway for me is the role of capturing values through property taxes. This is something completely underdeveloped in Germany.“

From left to right: Ian Lundy, Julian St. Patrick Clayton & Ulrich Hörning

New Urban Progress fellows, steering committee members, and sounding board member Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook. (Excluding other fellows who followed along online!). 

Forward with New Urban Progress

The New Urban Progress fellowship began in 2019 and at a time when there were many doubts about the future of the transatlantic partnership. The fellowship’s mission has been to bring together young urban leaders not only to exchange best practices on how to make cities more innovative, democratic, and sustainable, but also to strengthen ties between Germany and the United States. As the fellowship comes to a close, the two concluding sessions took place during yet again a volatile moment for the transatlantic partnership.  One month before the midterms in the United States and with climate change, inflation, and the war in Ukraine still real challenges, the value of exchanging best practices at the city level, while strengthening ties between democratic actors in the two countries remain clear. 

For more concluding thoughts and lessons learned from the fellowship, watch the New Urban Progress Documentary and read the NOVA Cities Index: Unlocking Urban Power action paper. 

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The NOVA Cities Index: Unlocking Urban Power

The NOVA Cities Index is a tool and framework for cities to live up to their promise of progress. The index’s criteria were chosen based on conversations with urban leaders during trips to Germany and the United States as well as intensive work within the New Urban Progress fellowship. The action paper outlines why these criteria matter and what policies cities must deliver on in order to build urban environments that flourish for all. 

The NOVA Cities Index

Leaders internationally have to move faster to address the mounting challenges of climate change, rising inequality, housing insecurity, and health inequity. Over two years, our working group of fellows representing a diverse range of public, private, and civic experiences has studied these issues, speaking with activists, community leaders, elected representatives, and business leaders in cities across Germany and the United States. Our resounding takeaway from our experiences is that there is a shared understanding of our collective challenges, but a severe lack of requisite actions to meet them. Cities release climate equity plans while allowing freeway expansions in urban cores to proceed; they name ambitious emission reduction targets while still zoning single family housing en masse near transit stops. There is an impressive and deep understanding of the challenges facing cities, but there has to be more action.

The lack of action that we have observed is devastating because cities are exactly the actors that can make real, inclusive progress. To support urban leaders, our group assessed the actions necessary to respond to urban challenges and foster inclusive urban progress (considering shared challenges on both sides of the Atlantic). We devised a baseline criteria as guidance to determine whether the progressive visions espoused by many influential urban thinkers have been put into practice. At their best, cities are the life force of our civilization, bustling with an energy that unlocks the highest form of human collaboration and flourishing. The brightness of their potential is a ‘supernova’ (a powerful and luminous stellar explosion) for society, thus, we are excited to introduce the NOVA Cities Index: a blueprint for inNOVAtive cities.

The NOVA Index Criteria

1. Housing Affordability – In a Nova City, 80% of population is not rent burdened.

2. Land Use & Transportation – A Nova City is compact and dense.

3. Inclusive Innovation & Workforce Development – A Nova City invests in the success of its citizens, attracts talent, and fosters local entrepreneurs/economic development.

4. Open Data – A Nova City prioritizes transparency and commits to creating a single central open data portal for  its  city  and  making  100%  of  its  data  available.

5. Digital Equality – A  Nova  City  provides  digital  infrastructure  to  at  least  75%  of  its  population  and  is  working towards 100% within 5 years.


Read the the entire action paper for how these criteria were chosen and why they matter. 

What's Next for the Index?

The index is ready to be put to the test! It was first discussed and debated at the Progressive Governance Summit 2022 at the session on urban power – watch the presentation and debate here

The index will be pitched to city offices around Germany and the United States. We hope to engage with a growing group of urban leaders and generate productive conversations in the United States and Germany on how cities can continue to be places that deliver progress. 

Authors of the NOVA Cities Index 

  • Andrea Jonas is Project Manager for international urban development at the German Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Developement (BBSR).
  • Ian Lundy is Impact Investor at MSquared 
  • Jamaal Glenn is Director at Schmidt Futures and Adjunct Professor at New York University.
  • Marc Lendermann is Economic Counselor for the German Consulate General San Francisco.
  • Maria Willett is Chief of Staff at the City of Rochester Hills, Michigan.
  • Richard Lawrence Jr. is Principal Planner at the City of Alexandria, Virginia.
  • Victoria Boeck is Research Associate for open data at the Technologiestiftung Berlin.

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 for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).

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Empowering Cities Ep. 5 – Building Urban & Transatlantic Infrastructure

What are successful approaches and polices to the most pressing issues for German and US cities? How can cities and international networks strengthen the transatlantic partnership? Listen below for answers and more. 

Episode 5 of the Empowering Cities Podcast

The New Urban Progress fellowship spent three years examining and debating how cities can strengthen the transatlantic relationship. The fellows, partners, a project patron, and members of the sounding board participated in an end-of-fellowship discussion on what the most pressing issues are for urban areas in Germany and the United States, how we can deliver policy to address these challenges, and why cities are central to the transatlantic partnership. The discussion took place at the 2022 Progressive Governance Summit: Joining Forces, in Berlin on October 13th.  


"It is great to meet people and make new friends, but it is even better to do great stuff with each other that is felt very clearly in both cities"
Almut Möller is a member fo the New Urban Progress Sounding Board.
Almut Möller
State Secretary and Plenipotentiary, Hamburg
"As a city, you have to find your direction and definition of who your are (...) and then after that you fight like hell to maintain that vision of what that is"
Julian St. Patrick Clayton
Deputy Director for Policy and Research, Center for NYC Neighborhoods
"The messaging is important but the action has to be there, and the action has to follow and we can all look at these crises and respond with action from both the public and private sector in a way that is complementary and building alliances"
Ian Lundy
Impact Investor, MSquared

This episode is part of our podcast series Empowering Cities. Listen to Episode 4, as our fellows put the NOVA Cities Index as blueprint for progress to test, Episode 3, a look back at the main lessons from the two fellowship trips, Episode 2 on how to finance the green transformation, and Episode 1 on the American Rescue Plan

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Empowering Cities Ep. 4 – A Blueprint for Progress

City leaders share the same concerns: Climate change, rising inequality, housing insecurity and health inequity, to name a few. They all talk about working towards progress. But how can a city’s progress in these areas be assessed?

Episode 4 of the Empowering Cities Podcast

In this episode, New Urban Progress fellows Richard Lawrence Jr. and Maria Willett present their NOVA Cities Index, a blueprint with the goal to help city leaders focus on how to make their city more innovative, green, and equitable. They are joined by Katie Rosenberg and Julie Richier to debate how useful these metrics actually are and also discuss how urban power can bring progress locally, regionally and transatlantically. The session is hosted by Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook.

“We liken the progress of cities to stars or constellations. You have cities that shine bright like a supernova”
Richard Lawrence Jr.
Principle Planner, Alexandria, Virginia

This episode was recorded at the Progressive Governance Summit 2022. For the full session, which was called “Urban Power: Uniting Progressives in Cities & Across Regions” and included Brian Hanson, watch our recording of the entire session. 

This episode is part of our podcast series Empowering Cities. Listen to Episode 3, a look back at the main lessons from the two fellowship trips, Episode 2 on how to finance the green transformation, and Episode 1 on the American Rescue Plan

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Cities at the Heart of the Transatlantic Partnership with Deputy Mayor Mayekar

In April 2022, the New Urban Progress fellowship kickstarted their tour of the United States in Chicago. They met with Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar to discuss inclusive growth and innovation. A committed transatlantist, the Deputy Mayor also sent over thoughts on why cities are essential to the transatlantic partnership. 

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Thoughts on City Diplomacy with Mayor Adler of Austin, Texas

The New Urban Progress fellowship visited Austin in late April, 2022. They met with Mayor of Austin, Steve Adler. After our meeting, the Mayor shared some thoughts on city and subnational diplomacy and why urban areas need to lead the way in tackling global challenges. 

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Empowering Cities Ep. 3: Forging a Transatlantic Dialogue

Does Germany struggle with its unhoused populations the same way as cities in the United States do? What can the U.S. learn from Germany when it comes to improving public transportation infrastructure?

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New Urban Progress visits the United States

Our second New Urban Progress delegation trip will take our fellows to Chicago, Denver, and Austin

After last year’s delegation tour through Germany, our New Urban Progress fellows will now visit the United States. The three urban areas they will explore are Chicago, Denver, and Austin, where they will meet with city officials, urban planners, civic leaders, and entrepreneurs and continue to work on how cities can be more innovative, democratic, and sustainable.

Make sure to watch our interview with Deputy Mayor Ulrich Hörning during last year’s visit to Leipzig. 

Stay updated on our trip by visiting our website, social media and signing up to our newsletter here.  


First stop: Chicago (April 22 – 24)

The first stop of our New Urban Progress (NUP) delegation tour through the United States offered exciting insight into the urban planning of such a metropolis as Chicago. Not only were there numerous parallels to German urban development, but our speakers and hosts also emphasized the potential for a continued transatlantic urban cooperation. 

From Chicago’s city government over institutions researching the role of cities globally to the importance of communities on the grassroots level, our fellows learned a diverse set of perspectives and experiences on how individual actors and institutions approach global issues from an urban standpoint. Their meetings with Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and their tour through the Chicago Lakeview neighborhood provided the fellows with different approaches and insight into the work of urban actors at various levels. 

The Windy City also complemented our fellows’ experiences during their delegation tour through Germany. For example, the Northerly Island project, commissioned by the Chicago Park District, aims at transforming a former airport into a park. Equipped with a 50-acre freshwater lagoon, woodlands, and public meeting spaces, the park in progress resembles the Tempelhofer Feld, also a former airport in the heart of Berlin and visited by our fellows last year. Now one of the largest green spaces in an urban setting, the Tempelhofer Feld offers opportunities for community projects, public gardens, social gatherings, and recreational activities. Both projects emphasize the importance of democratic processes and public engagement in pursuing sustainable, democratic, and innovative urban development.

Chicago, as one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States, offered our fellows valuable lessons on how to make a city adapt to the effects of climate change and how to make urban development equitable and beneficial for all citizens. 

Find below a selection of our impressions in Chicago over the weekend and stay tuned for our next NUP visit: Denver, CO.

Second stop: Denver (April 24 – 27)

The second stop of our New Urban Progress (NUP) delegation tour through the United States brought our fellows to Denver, Colorado. As the Denver metropolitan area nearly doubled its population in the past 30 years, the local government had to learn how to address housing challenges and other related issues against the backdrop of climate change impacting the city’s infrastructure. Our fellows met with various actors on the governmental and civic levels who approach the challenges of rising housing prices, living expenses, and the effects of climate change from a diverse set of viewpoints. 

During their meeting with Colorado Smart Cities Alliance, our fellows learned how innovation makes cities more equitable through economic development and collaborative ecosystems. On the issue of housing insecurity, various community organizations also shared insight on how they create safer outdoor spaces for people experiencing homelessness and provide short-term emergency relief in the Denver metro area. Regarding climate change, our fellows spoke with various Denver and Boulder city officials who informed our fellows about initiatives and projects both cities are taking to mitigate and adapt to the impact of climate change. Their talk with sustainability officers from Boulder offered answers on how to measure, communicate, and best address the urgency of climate policies to the public, for example, by coupling policies to economic security to make progressive energy policies more tangible to the public.

Find below a selection of our fellows’ impressions in Denver and Boulder, Colorado last week. 

Third stop: Austin (April 27 – 30)

Our New Urban Progress fellows made their third and final stop on their US delegation tour through the United States in Austin, Texas. During their three-day stay in the Lone State capital, our fellows met with community organizations, activists, and local government officials on issues ranging from climate policies, democratic engagement, and urban development. 

After visiting Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin and Northerly Island in Chicago, our delegation continued to learn about innovative ways the grounds and building of former airports can be re-invented for community spaces, affordable housing, and green areas in urban settings, by the example of the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport site in Austin. The Mueller plan for the site’s redevelopment focuses, amongst other aspects, on ensuring diverse, affordable, and sustainable housing. Our fellows also explored Austin’s climate policies with two experts on the Austin Climate Equity Plan, which was adopted by the city council in 2021. During their meeting with Austin’s mayor Steve Adler, they had the opportunity to discuss the city’s efforts in ensuring progressive climate policies, democratic participation, and equitable urban development with the leader of the local government directly. 

After nine long days filled with new impressions, practices, and inspiration, our fellows now return home to continue working on their papers centered around inclusive growth & innovation, networked governance & democracy, and sustainability & social mobility in urban development. Stay tuned for our detailed recap of the trip and our paper launch conference.

Find below a selection of our fellows’ impressions during their visit to Austin, Texas.

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Deputy Mayor Ulrich Hörning of Leipzig on Civic Engagement in Urban Development

Picking up where we left off: As the fellows of New Urban Progress (NUP) are about to embark on their delegation trip through the United States, Deputy Mayor of Leipzig, Ulrich Hörning, reminds us of the importance of civic engagement in progressive urban development.

Last year the fellows of New Urban Progress had the opportunity to travel through Germany and visit Berlin, Leipzig, and the Ruhr Valley to explore urban development on this side of the Atlantic. On Thursday, April 21, they will embark on their second delegation trip, this time through the United States. 

Deputy Mayor of Leipzig, Ulrich Hörning, was one of the urban actors our fellows had the opportunity of meeting with during their visit to Leipzig. Facing various economic, political, and social challenges after the German reunification in the early 1990s, Leipzig has manifested itself as an economic and innovative hub in the region, as well as a desirable destination for students, families, and other individuals. Mayor Hörning emphasized the important role civic engagement played in the 1990s and early 2000s in enabling this prosperous development. 

As the NUP fellows prepare to travel to Chicago, Denver, and Austin, they will further explore the areas of entworked governance and democracy, inclusive growth and innovation, and sustainability and social mobility in progressive urban development. 


 New Urban Progress is the joint metro initiative of Das Progressive Zentrum, the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft and the Progressive Policy InstituteThe 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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