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).