Germany Kick-off for New Urban Progress: The digital Urban Forum

Developing a vision for the future of German cities

Metropolises offer a screen for the projection of social phenomena and are increasingly shaping political discourses at local and national level, both in the USA and in Europe. The project New Urban Progress is taking this up, creating a platform for progressive politics in urban spaces. In March, the project started in Washington D.C. with a discussion event on future issues of urban development from an American perspective.

The Urban Forum in May was the German kick-off for the project. In a series of three webinars, German experts reflected on the future of cities in the context of social and technological changes in society. Guest speakers Wolfgang Teubner, Gesine Schwan and Cordelia Polinna kicked off the three topical sessions with impulses on inclusive growth, networked policy-making and social mobility. The events were designed to be interactive: After the keynote speeches, participants shared their expertise and experiences in a discussion group, and then elaborated on central challenges and developed approaches to solutions in small groups.

 

Session 1: Cities for inclusive growth and sustainable innovation
Impulse: Wolfgang Teubner, Regional Director Europe ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability

How can cities and businesses promote growth and innovation? Through which forms of work and entrepreneurship can cities be strengthened in their sustainability and resilience? What role does the state play in this? Sustainable economic development must take account of social and environmental factors in order to create added value for society. Administration, business and civil society can implement such sustainable economic development in an integrated manner, especially if they evolve and pursue joint strategies. Purposeful encounters between different stakeholders are essential for this, as they build trust and foster a common understanding. For example, in the context of digitisation, the creation of new jobs or the adaptation of jobs that are being phased out is indispensable for sustainable economic development. This is where local actors can work together: The attractiveness of a city as a business location can be enhanced, for example, by existing companies, by subsidies or by the provision of attractive housing and living space by local authorities. A win-win situation is created when technological innovations are used locally for social innovations, thereby increasing the quality of life. Energy communities, for example, enable cheap and clean local energy supplies and require storage capacities and solutions for the effective distribution of locally produced energy.

 

Session 2: Cities as pioneers in networked policy-making
Impulse: Prof. Dr. Gesine Schwan, President Humboldt-Viadrina Governance Platform

Which democratic participation processes can make cities fairer, more efficient and more effective for citizens? Which actors will shape the social and economic developments of tomorrow and what forms of exchange do we need for this?

The way how civil society and business are involved in political decision-making must be continuously negotiated, taking into account existing democratic structures. The participation expectations of the actors play just as much a role here as the expected positive social results and effects.

Network-based policy-making depends on the broad participation of the civil society. Politics and administration must support this and devote the necessary financial, human and time resources accordingly. Planning processes must be designed in an adaptive manner from the very beginning. The already existing range of participation formats should be reviewed and adjusted to ensure that they are accessible in terms of time and space in order to effectively involve a broad share of the population. For example, dialogue-based participation formats are suitable for joint project planning. Digital formats are also effective, especially in combination with offline processes.

 

Session 3: Cities as drivers of sustainable development and social mobility
Impulse: Dr. Cordelia Polinna, Managing Associate Urban Catalyst

Which economic, political and social concepts can we apply in urban areas to promote equal opportunities and social mobility and to meet the ecological challenges of the present and future?

Social and environmental changes such as climate change or digitisation lead to adaptation in urban infrastructures and services, which can promote distributive justice and equal opportunities at the same time. Managing these change processes in a purposive manner is largely a task for cities. Here, administrations in particular can act as change managers. This management, on the one hand, depends on the local resources available. For example, public areas, which are indispensable for the provision of municipal services or infrastructure, are only available to a limited extent.

With the help of flexible space utilization or dense development, urban areas can be used more efficiently. For example, they can contribute to better accessibility of educational institutions or serve as local recreation areas. The aim here is to make administrative structures more agile, to create effective interfaces between the public sector, civil society and business, and to pool financial resources in order to do justice to social interests. Social, ecological and economic synergies can also be exploited in the area of mobility. Spaces for experimentation, openness to results and tolerance of errors enable the administration to develop creative solutions with other actors at eye level.

In all three sessions, one point became particularly clear: After decades of privatization and a focus on the "car-friendly city", it is time to rediscover and revitalize public spaces. In the discussion, there were several passionate pleas for a rethink that would reappraise the public space as a common good and a meeting place. One jointly developed priority was transport infrastructure, where the focus was to shift from the provision of parking spaces to the creation of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. Spaces for culture, creativity and civic exchange should also be given greater public support. With rents continuing to rise, it was suggested that consideration should be given to measures such as land value levies, which would instead allow the unproductive gains from land ownership to benefit the general public. The debate on the design and use of public spaces will be central to the city of the future.

 

The results of this forum, together with the findings of the parallel event in Washington D.C., will form the basis for the development of a transatlantic dialogue within the New Urban Progress project.

Our project website provides further information on the event and project news.

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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