Cities within Liberal Democracies: Planning for the Unknown

Reflection Paper by the Networked Governance and Democracy working group.

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Meet Mayor Uwe Schneidewind – Our New Patron

New Urban Progress is thrilled to announce its second patron: Mayor of Wuppertal, Uwe Schneidewind!

Mayor Schneidewind joins Mayor of Leipzig Burkhard Jung as our project’s second patron. 

Uwe Schneidewind is Mayor of Wuppertal, a city of 350,000 in Western Germany. Mayor Schneidewind has a background in research and also served as President of the University of Oldenburg. From 2010-2020, he was the President of the Wuppertal Institute for the Environment, Climate, and Energy, a leading international think tank on sustainability research. Uwe Schneidewind is a member of the German Green Party and has been Mayor since 2020. 

New Urban Progress patrons are leading mayors in Germany and the United States who embody the program’s mission of an innovative, democratic, and sustainable urban future. 

They help build our network and increase the impact and quantity of our exchange on urban progress.

Preparing cities for challenges of the present and the future

Climate-neutrality, reducing carbon emissions, affordable housing, social mobility. The challenges for cities are multi-faceted and become increasingly complex. Watch the video below to see how Uwe Schneidewind attempts to tackle the growing climate crisis and how the city of Wuppertal can pose as a sustainable role model for other cities in the 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).

The New Urban Progress fellows meeting with Mayor Schneidewind in Wuppertal

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Recap: Our Delegation Trip Across Germany

Our first of two New Urban Progress delegation trips took our fellows to Berlin, Leipzig and the Ruhr Valley​

A capital shaped by competing visions, an east German city in the midst of a comeback, and a sprawling post-industrial metropolis tackling 21st-century transformations head-on: The first of two delegation trips brought our New Urban Progress fellows to Berlin, Leipzig, and the Ruhr Valley – urban spaces in Germany that are defining the future of the city.

Meeting for the first time, our fellows from the United States and Germany visited urban leaders who are making cities more innovative, democratic and sustainable. After a ten month digital work phase, the main goal of the delegation trip was to engage with best practices of urban progress and transatlantic cooperation in Germany.

From staff at the United States Embassy in Berlin, to Fridays for Future organizers, to the Mayors of Leipzig and Wuppertal as well as the Berlin State Secretary for Housing, the New Urban Progress fellows will be able to apply a wide range of approaches and lessons-learned to their project work. Below, see how our trip as a whole was a transatlantic exchange on the future of cities by exploring the places we visited on a map, checking-out our day-to-day itinerary, reading the trip journals, and watching short videos from our adventures.

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Rewatch the Highlights

Our Trip: A Week Across Germany

At the beginning of the delegation trip, the New Urban Progress fellows attended Innocracy 2021, a conference on democratic innovation.

New Urban Progress at Innocracy 2021: Democratizing the City

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? During the Innocracy 2021 conference, New Urban Progress fellows Victoria Boeck, Julian St Patrick Clayton, and Richard Lawrence Jr. gave lightning talks on democratizing the city. The discussion was moderated by Diego Rivas, Project Manager at Das Progressive Zentrum.

Watch the session here

Learn more about Innocracy 2021 here:

After a free day of exploring Berlin on Saturday, the fellows toured places that were once future visions of Berlin.

Contrasting visions of Hansaviertel and Karl-Marx-Allee

When Berlin was divided between East and West, the cold war competition also shaped urban planning. Hansaviertel is a neighborhood where the West’s ideas about modernity were put into practice, with residential buildings from many of the most cutting-edge post-war architects such as Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, Alvar Aalto or Walter Gropius. The Karl-Marx-Allee in the East presents a starkly contrasting vision: A grand boulevard lined with so-called “Arbeiterpaläste” (worker’s palaces), it was built as a show of strength towards the West. While visiting these unrealized visions, the fellows discussed why visions for a city are necessary, but also how visions can become a reality.

Current visions of the city: Innovation, Housing and Activism, Green Citizen Initiatives and Local Politics

To discuss Berlin’s current visions and how they are being implemented, the fellows focused on how actors in Berlin are making the city more innovative and more green. 

  • Innovation: Meeting with Adriana Groh of Sovereign Tech Fund and the New Institute, we discussed how cities can support innovation sustainably and the role of open source software in urban environments.
  • Local Politics and a Green Community: We also met district councilwoman in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Julie Richier. A member of the Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) and previously policy advisor on climate and international issues to the Berlin Senate, on a walking tour of the neighborhood, Julie talked about current initiatives on how the district is trying to make housing more affordable and the community as a whole more sustainable.
Living the Transatlantic Relationship

At the core of New Urban Progress is strengthening the relationship between the United States and Germany. Our delegation met with other leading transatlantic actors to informally discuss the future of transatlantic relations and what role urban spaces could play in improving transatlantic ties. With representatives from the Atlantic Brücke, German Federal Foreign Office, US Embassy and more, an impactful exchange took place. Elisabeth Niejahr gave a keynote speech on the role of local democracies in the transatlantic partnership complemented by a second keynote by Olaf Boehnke on building alliances of liberal democracies.

On Monday, the fellows went to two contested and unique spaces in Berlin: the former Tempelhof airport and Kottbusser Tor.

The former Tempelhof airport 

A vast expanse in the middle of the city: The former Tempelhof airport field is a unique public space made possible by the closing of the inner-city airport in 2008. Especially in the summer, the 355-hectare-park is brimming with activity. Built by the Nazis, the location of the Berlin Airlift and now a public park – this space has experienced drastically different purposes. After walking across the public park, we toured the former airport building, learning about its past as well as its current and future visions. 

North of the former airport turned park, the fellows visited the floating university. Stylized as the “Floating University”, this is no ordinary university, but an experimental place for learning, art, and neighborhood activism. It uses the rainwater collection basin of the former Tempelhof airport for numerous projects ranging from an “urban practice-in-residence” programme to a Kids Uni.


CityLAB brings together government, civil society, academia and start-ups to support digital innovations and to improve public services. The lab puts a special focus on civic participation, innovative administration, open data, and sustainability. It is developing a smart city strategy for Berlin. Examples for how the CityLAB employs digital tools to improve civic participation include the digital platform “Gieß den Kiez” (water the neighborhood), where citizens have coordinated supplying public green spaces more than 7000 hectoliters of water in 2021. CityLAB is a project by the Technologiestiftung Berlin. New Urban Progress fellow Victoria Boeck works as Research Associate for open data at the lab.

Kottbusser Tor

Kottbusser Tor is an iconic place around the subway station of the same name in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. It is home to social housing and, historically, a large Turkish immigrant community.  

New Urban Progress fellows toured the neighborhood with Wenke Christoph, Berlin’s State Secretary Urban Development and Housing. Also on the tour was an organizer from Kotti Coop, a non-profit group that works on improving civic participation in planning processes. On the tour, our fellows were able to learn about current housing policies in Berlin and what multiple actors are doing to make housing more affordable and accessible.

Drinks with local journalists and tech experts

At the end of the day, New Urban Progress fellows had the opportunity for an informal exchange with journalists from Der Tagesspiegel. Two journalists who focus each on one of Berlin’s districts for Tagesspiegel Leute, a set of weekly newsletters for each of Berlin’s twelve districts, led the discussion. Afterwards, the fellows talked to tech and innovation leaders living in Berlin.

On Tuesday, the New Urban Progress fellows traveled from Berlin to Leipzig. In both cities, they talked to actors deeply involved in the transatlantic partnership, including climate activists and having dinner with Leipzig’s Deputy Mayor.

US embassy

Situated right beside the Brandenburg Gate, the US embassy in Berlin is representative of the crucial role transatlantic relations have played in modern German history. The fellows met with a Political Advisor, the Technology and Science Advisor, and Economic Counselor to discuss new approaches to transatlanticism for today and the future. 

Senate Chancellery for International Affairs

The Berlin Senate Chancellery for International Affairs manages the city government’s 17 city partnerships and membership in numerous city networks. The fellows met with Thomas Honeck and Evelyn Baldenhofer. Thomas Honeck is an urban researcher, human geographer and media scientist. At the Chancellery, he is in charge of international network policies. Evelyn Baldenhofer is commissioner for Berlin’s transatlantic relations and coordinates Berlin’s city partnerships.

Meeting Fridays For Future activists

Before setting out to Leipzig, the New Urban Progress fellows met two young activists, Carla Reemtsma and Nick Heubeck from Fridays For Future. Berlin is a major hub for the youth climate movement: More than 100,000 people participated in protests on 24 September 2021 in Berlin, demanding bold climate policies ahead of the German election. In their exchange with New Urban Progress, the activists explained their grassroots approach to organizing locally, nationally, and transnationally.

A reception at DAIS

The German-American Institute Saxony (Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut Sachsen, DAIS) in Leipzig is strengthening the transatlantic partnership by bringing actors far away from the capital into the conversation. At the institute, the fellows discussed with DAIS representatives the role that cities and regions can play in improving ties between the two countries.

Dinner with Leipzig Deputy Mayor Ulrich Hörning

Before being elected Deputy Mayor of Leipzig in November 2015, Ulrich Hörning worked at the World Bank and in Germany’s Federal Ministry of Finance. The main topics on his agenda are Leipzig’s future urban development and digitalization. Over dinner, he discussed with the fellows how to involve all of society in long-term city planning, such as the Leipzig 2030 development plan.

On Wednesday, the fellows explored city development from three angles: long-term city planning, entrepreneurship, and civic activism.

Leipzig 2030

Leipzig has grown rapidly. At the Leipzig City Hall, the New Urban Progress fellows received a presentation from urban planners about Leipzig 2030 and how the city is working on making their comeback more permanent while raising the international profile of the city. The fellows also met with the Mayor of Leipzig Burkhard Jung.


SpinLab is a start-up accelerator based in Leipzig. Working with numerous partners, among them Dell Technologies and the Red Cross, SpinLab offers free support for young entrepreneurs to put their ideas into practice. A special focus lies in e-health, energy and smart city innovation. At SpinLab, the fellows were introduced to some of the start-ups that the start-up accelerator has helped grow.


Unteilbar (indivisible) is a civil society organization that has initiated large protests focused on anti-racism and social, gender, and climate justice. The first #unteilbar protest in Berlin attracted more than 240,000 people. Talking to the New Urban Progress fellows, the Unteilbar organizers explained how they unite actors from across civil society against the far right and for migration to keep communities open and welcoming to people from all backgrounds.

Cycling through Leipzig’s West

The New Urban Progress fellows explored Leipzig’s western neighborhood Plagwitz by bike! Biking through Leipzig, we were able to put streets and buildings to all of the plans and policies that we heard about.  Plagwitz is an area of the city that has made a surprising comeback, thanks to both far-sighted city planning and contributions from an active civil society.

On a stormy Thursday, the fellows took a train from Leipzig to the Ruhr Valley and began exploring the vast metropolitan area with two tours through Essen.

Structural Change in Essen

The Ruhr Valley used to be Germany’s strongest industrial region. The city of Essen was one major urban center in the sprawling metropolitan area that encompassed some of Europe’s largest coal mines and steel mills. For several decades, the region has been deeply shaped by structural change as old jobs have moved away. During a tour of the city, the New Urban Progress fellows gained an understanding how the urban landscape of Essen has been shaped by the global processes underlying the structural changes.

Folkwang Museum

Today, the Ruhr region has become internationally acclaimed for its arts and culture scene, but art has a long tradition in the area: Founded in 1902, Museum Folkwang is a leading museum of modern art. Our fellows had the opportunity to visit the museum’s exhibitions at the newly built museum site, which was constructed for the RUHR.2010 project when Essen was European Capital of Culture.

On Friday, the fellows saw how a region struggling through a difficult economic transition can still successfully tackle the climate crisis.

Wuppertal Institute

The Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, and Energy is a research institute and think tank focusing on climate and sustainability issues. Located in the city of Wuppertal, its research areas span the energy transition, sustainable consumption and mobility. The New Urban Progress fellows learned how the Institute advises cities on how to manage the ecological transformation.

Lunch with Wuppertal Mayor Uwe Schneidewind

Uwe Schneidewind was director of the Wuppertal Institute for ten years before he was elected the city’s Lord Mayor in November 2020. A member of the Green Party (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), he is considered one of Germany’s foremost economists and and a preeminent expert in sustainability research. Over lunch, he discussed with the New Urban Progress fellows the role of different actors in implementing change in an urban environment. 

Walking through “Klimaquartier Arrenberg”

Arrenberg is a neighborhood in Wuppertal with a dedicated community, organized in the non-profit “Aufbruch am Arrenberg”. Aufbruch can be translated either as “new start” or “departure” and signifies the neighborhood’s commitment to proactively manage change, oriented at the United Nations sustainable development goals. A major initiative is designating the neighborhood as a “Klimaquartier” (climate quarters), aiming to make living in Arrenberg climate-neutral by 2030. The New Urban Progress fellows toured the neighborhood to see such projects in practice.

Discovering an Industrial Park in Duisburg

The coal and steel industry was not only the major source for the Ruhr Valley’s economic power. It was also the first trade to be liberalized in Western Europe in the Coal and Steel Community, an early building block of European integration that would eventually develop into the European Union. Duisburg, a city in the western part of the metropolitan region, soon realized that even after they closed, the industrial sites were still vital to the region’s culture. The Industrial Park in Duisburg (Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord) is a public park that was designed for the International Architecture Exhibition Emscher Park in 1989. Today, it is often ranked as one of the best urban green spaces, precisely because it preserves and integrates many of the old industrial sites as monuments to the city’s industrial legacy. The New Urban Progress fellows experienced the park at night, when the decommissioned industrial buildings are lit in spectacular colors.

Before saying goodbye, the fellows visited the Zeche Zollverein, an internationally acclaimed coal mine-turned-monument and cultural site.

Zeche Zollverein

The Zeche Zollverein is a former coal mine that was closed in 1986. In 2001, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the Ruhr Valley’s best known industrial monuments and hosts many cultural institutions, including the Ruhrmuseum and the Folkwang University of the Arts. Zeche Zollverein’s green spaces also have exceptional biodiversity.

During their final day of the delegation trip, the New Urban Progress fellows toured the site and visited an exhibition focused on the life and economic contributions of the Turkish diaspora in Germany.


Part I: Berlin

Impressions from our Trip

Trip Journals

This was one side of the Atlantic – next year, we will see the other: In 2022, New Urban Progress will embark on a delegation trip through three US cities that are grappling with the urban challenges of today and tomorrow: Chicago, IL, Austin, TX, and Denver, CO. Until then, our fellows will continue meeting in digital working groups. Stay tuned for more!

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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In Motion: The NUP Delegation Trip in Germany

From October 15-23 2021, the New Urban progress fellows took a delegation trip across Germany. Visiting Berlin, Leipzig, Essen, Wuppertal and Duisburg, the fellows engaged and interacted with leading policy makers, activists, and community leaders. 

Watch the four videos below to catch a glimpse of our travels! 

October 15-19: Berlin

In Berlin, we discussed visions for cities of the future and met with initiatives and actors who are trying to implement visions of a more democratic, sustainable, and just city of their own. 

October 19-21: Leipzig

In Leipzig, we focused on how cities can build back better. From City Hall and discussing with Deputy Mayor Ulrich Hörning to biking out to repurposed factories, our delegation learned from many sides of Leipzig. 

October 21-23: Ruhr Valley

In the Ruhr Valley, we looked at urban examples of a green future, visited the Wuppertal Institute, and discussed with the Mayor of Wuppertal, Uwe Schneidewind, on how urban areas can go from industrial to sustainable. 

First impressions after the trip

After a week of travelling, what memories stay with us? On the last day of our delegation trip, three fellows talk about the lasting impressions the journey through Germany has made.

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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Wednesday, October 20, Leipzig: “The future of cities. Not for granted.”

In this Trip Journal, Julia Diringer, Julian St. Patrick Clayton, Sinaida Hackmack and Marc Lendermann​ look back at some of the stops in the booming east German city of Leipzig that impressed them most.

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Tuesday, October 19, Berlin & Leipzig: Transatlantic Conversations

In this Trip Journal, Grace Levin, Ian Lundy, Jamaal Glenn and Steffen Haake reflect on the transatlantic conversations they had in Berlin and Leipzig.

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Monday, October 18, Berlin: Transformations and the City of the Future

In this Trip Journal, Andrea Jonas, Friedrich Paulsen and Francesca Weber-Newth draw on their experiences made on Monday, October 19, which began at the site of the former Tempelhof Airport. 

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Sunday, October 17, Berlin: Two Visions, Similar Challenges

In this Trip Journal, Alexander Czeh, Alison Noehrbass, Andrea Gonzalez and Victoria Boeck reflect on a day in which they explored Berlin’s competing visions of social housing by foot.

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Forward to the Future: The German Election and the Transatlantic View

A panel discussion with Elisabeth Niejahr, Hertie Foundation, and Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, German Marshall Fund

Germany’s federal election at the end of September is still wide open. But whichever coalition will form the new government, one thing is certain: The end of the Angela Merkel era will bring big change – and may place transatlantic relations on a new footing. This panel discussion analyzed the defining issues of the elections and discussed what a new government would mean for US-German relations.

  • How might the new government approach key domestic issues, from pension reform to digitalization, migration, and affordable living?
  • How important of a role does the departure of Chancellor Merkel play in determining the country’s domestic and foreign policy?
  • How will the new German administration team up with the US to tackle common challenges such as climate change as well as cyber security threats?
Re-watch the event:

This event is part of our transatlantic dialogue New Urban Progress and was organized by the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft together with the Progressive Policy Institute and Das Progressive Zentrum. It took place on Wednesday, 15 September 2021. Our panel of experts included:

Elisabeth Niejahr: Managing Director for the area “Strengthening Democracy”, Hertie Foundation and Sounding Board Member, New Urban Progress
Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff: Vice President, German Marshall Fund of the United States
Sumi Somaskanda (Moderator): Senior News Anchor, DW News (Deutsche Welle)
  • Opening remarks by Dr. Claudia Huber, Steering Committee Member, New Urban Progress & Head of Europe Programme, Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft 
  • Closing statement from Crystal Swann, Progressive Policy Institute, Steering Committee Member of New Urban Progress 

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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Transatlantic Recovery and Renewal: Social Mobility and Climate Action

How can cities recover from the pandemic and build their resilience to threats like climate change? The New Urban Progress working group on Sustainability and Social Mobility explores how social and environmental issues are interrelated. In this post, the group sets the scene for making comparisons across the Atlantic.

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