Category: Publications

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.

As our New Urban Progress fellows explored different cities across the US and Germany, they observed and compared similar challenges on both sides of the Atlantic. Dominating debates regarding urban development center around population growth, quality of life, equitable innovation, and democratic participation. 

One example of how these four areas intersect and produce similar outputs was the reconstruction of former airport sites that offer an interesting case study for how cities can reutilize urban spaces. During their delegation trips, our fellows visited three former airports to learn more about their progressive redevelopment: Tempelhof in Berlin, Northerly Island in Chicago, and the Mueller Airport site in Austin. 

The former Berlin-Tempelhof airport field is a unique public space made possible after the closing of the inner-city airport in 2008. An attractive meeting space for Berliners and tourists, the 355-hectare-park becomes particularly active in the summer. Built during the Third Reich and serving now as a public park, this space has experienced drastically different purposes, from a military site to a democratically organized public space.


© Alex Probst, SNICE
© Alex Probst, SNICE


While Tempelhof in Berlin is particularly known for its large open space, the Mueller development project in Austin repurposes the former airport differently: The redevelopment plan intends to construct the 2.2 million square feet area with commercial and residential buildings. Bike lanes and future rail service are also planned. While a prime example of how to redevelop new spaces with a progressive urban vision, it is also an example of how city regulations can actively hinder it. As our guest speaker Greg Anderson from Habitat for Humanity explains, the plans set in motion in the Mueller development project are only possible due to the city’s development regulations not having jurisdiction over this space. A similar development in other parts of the city would not be possible due to Austin’s building code, thus allowing for more equitable, green, and transit-friendly architecture.


© Alex Probst, SNICE
© Alex Probst, SNICE


The third example of airport redevelopment was in Chicago, where our fellows visited Northerly Island, a man-made peninsula along Chicago’s lakefront. Initially planned as an island park, the area became a downtown airport in 1925 instead. Today, Northerly Island serves Chicagoans as an outdoor recreational space. 


© Chicago Park District


These three single examples connected can serve as a bigger picture about the necessity for more sustainable, democratic, and innovative city policies. Former airports are desirable places: They are usually close to the city center, infrastructurally well-connected, and cover large areas, making them contested spaces too. Berlin held a big referendum in 2014 about the development of Tempelhofer Feld. Voters decided against any development activities on the 355-hectare-airfield. 

Cities across the Atlantic face growth and increasing popularity, which create a housing shortage and, therefore, a need to build more apartments. Simultaniously, local residents demand green spaces to improve the urban climate and public health. Chicago and Berlin follow this demand by not constructing housing projects on their former airports, whereas Austin develops an entire new neighborhood. Transatlantic cities focus on public engagement and democratic processes, be it the Berlin referendum or local community participation in Austin on the preservation of the former control tower. Airport redevelopment projects can thus give us important insight into the potential of shared transatlantic strategies and policies. 

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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Cities within Liberal Democracies: Planning for the Unknown

Reflection Paper by the Networked Governance and Democracy working group.

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Becoming Climate-Neutral in the Heart of Industrial Germany

Wuppertal – A city with an intriguing story of urban transformation. Suffering heavily under the industrial shifts in Germany towards the end of the 20th century, it has started to emerge as one of Germany’s prime examples of how cities can adapt to the challenges of the 21st century. Watch as our patron Uwe Schneidewind, Mayor of Wuppertal, talks about his vision for a climate-neutral city and the role of mayors in reducing carbon emissions.

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. Uwe Schneidewind highlights ways in which the city of Wuppertal attempts to tackle the growing climate crisis and how it can pose as a sustainable role model for other cities in the future. 

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. Since 2021 he is also one of our two New Urban Progress Patrons.

Ulrich Hörning has been the Deputy Mayor of Leipzig, a city of almost 600,000, since November 2015. Before that, he worked at the World Bank as well as in the Federal Ministry of Finance in Berlin. He graduated from Harvard and has a Masters degree in Public Administration. The current main topics on his agenda are the future urban development and digitalization of Leipzig as defined in the urban development “Leipzig 2030″. Ulrich Hörning is a member of the German Social Democratic Party.

This video was filmed and produced by SNICE Filmproduktion.

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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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?

In this episode, Andreas Horchler talks to two experts in the field: Fritzi Köhler-Geib is chief economist at KfW Group, an important development finance bank. Gereon Uerz is Head of Sustainability at GROPYUS, a building company specializing in sustainable timber construction. Additional experts are Philipp Rode, Executive Director of LSE Cities and associate professorial research fellow at the London School of Economics, and Oliver Weigel, head of the division for urban development at the German Ministry of the Interior. 

How can we finance the transformation to the zero carbon city?


“The most costly scenario of all is doing nothing” – Gereon Uerz

The urban transformation is not going to be cheap.  According to a recent study by the KfW Group, Germany needs five trillion euros in order to become climate neutral by 2050. Instruments both old and new are on the table: From raising taxes to putting a price on carbon to issuing green bonds. The discussants weigh their pros and cons – while making clear: The costliest option would be to continue business as usual.  

The city as a challenge and opportunity


“If we want to get anywhere, we need to find ways to mobilize larger parts of the society for the energy transitions” – Fritzi Köhler-Geib

“It’s the city, stupid” says Oliver Weigel, raising the point that cities are where we meet the challenges and profit from the opportunities offered by every transformation. Cities thus have the potential to serve as a blueprint for a sustainable future. But this requires bringing in civil society and renegotiating the use of public space, among other things. The transition to climate neutrality is feasible, Fritzi Köhler-Geib emphasizes. The necessary technologies exist. What now needs to be done is to set the right incentives, so that companies will choose climate-neutral technologies over conventional ones.

This episode was produced and first released by the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft, post-production and additional recordings done by Das Progressive Zentrum. 

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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Friday, October 22, Ruhr Valley: Industrial Legacy and Climate Transformation

In the final Trip Journal, New Urban Progress fellows Maria Willett, Melanie Kryst, Richard Lawrence Jr. and Sanjay Seth
look back at some of the most memorable stops in the Ruhr Valley.

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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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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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