Transcontinental peer learning for integrated and liveable neighbourhoods

Project description

Title: International implementation of the memorandum Urban Energies – Urban Challenges
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB); German Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs, and Spatial Development (BBSR)
Countries: Germany, South Africa, USA
Lead executing agencies: South Africa: Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA); USA: Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Overall term: 2014 to 2018


As part of the National Urban Development Policy, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) is supporting international cooperation in the area of urban development. The memorandum Urban Energies – Urban Challenges serves as the foundation for this work. It is an extension of the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities, which was originally adopted at European level in 2007. Created in 2012, the memorandum sets out key tasks for sustainable urban development in the global context, addressing specific issues along with modern forms of cooperation.

Working on the basis of existing cooperation agreements, such as with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and with the South African Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, BMUB aims to expand and further develop internationally oriented forms of learning and exchange. In so doing, BMUB contributes to realising the foundations for sustainable urban development as envisioned in the Leipzig Charter. At the same time, it ensures that the conditions are optimised for implementing the National Urban Development Policy and other relevant federal programmes. Through strengthening municipal actors and city-to-city cooperation, a direct contribution to the realisation of the New Urban Agenda and the Agenda 2030 is achieved 


By exchanging and jointly developing innovative approaches to the current challenges of integrated urban development, partners at the municipal and national levels from Germany, South Africa and the USA identify new solutions that can be applied to the regulation, performance and financing of public and social tasks in sustainable urban development in a globalised world.


Apart from regular expert and study tours organised for urban development practitioners and policy-makers, the project focuses on establishing and expanding two transcontinental learning networks that each connect six municipalities. Networks are already in place between Germany and the USA as well as between Germany and South Africa. Participants spend 18 to 24 months acquiring knowledge from one pilot project per city. The participating cities introduce their pilot project as a case study in the context of ‘living labs’. Over the course of the entire intervention, participants jointly enhance their knowledge in these labs, advising one another, developing their ideas and putting them to the test. Guided by the project team, they support the implementation of the pilot projects in their partner communities through mutual on-site visits and virtual peer advisory meetings throughout the entire period. For the participants, providing reciprocal advice and exchanging practical recommendations and tips in up to four workshops and virtual meetings is just as valuable as engaging in exchange with experts. The issues identified by the networks revolve around the technical aspects of integrated urban development, which can range from the design of public spaces to new concepts for mobility. They likewise include traditional governance challenges such as managing cross-departmental coordination processes and securing lasting engagement by civil society initiatives and citizens

In addition to providing mutual support for the actual pilot projects, the work carried out by the networks has an impact beyond the circle of participants. The project team and network members share and discusses insights gained from the projects with representatives from the national government level within the three countries. This knowledge is then integrated into national urban development policies in Germany, South Africa and the USA. The results of the concrete projects are also presented at conferences such as BMUB’s annual Federal Congress on National Urban Policy and shared with other municipalities via organisations such as the Association of German Cities.

The German-US and the German-South African networks both initiated a new cycle in June 2016. The participating cities are Bottrop, Karlsruhe and Leipzig with Baltimore, Charlotte and Pittsburgh (German-US), and Halle (Saale), Ludwigsburg and Munich with Ekurhuleni, Msunduzi and Nelson Mandela Bay (German-South African). The German-US initiative Dialogues for Change (D4C) is being implemented in cooperation with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and is strengthened further through contributions by the private sector and the partner ministry, HUD.


Participants from the municipalities have successfully used their involvement in the networks to increase public and international interest in their projects, thus gaining the attention of political decision-makers and local and national level. Additionally, they confirm that the peer learning format strengthens the design of their projects by confronting them with new issues seldom raised in their normal work context. They are now in a position to challenge existing assumptions and rethink conventional approaches. The hands-on advice has also equipped them with fresh, specific ideas for implementing their projects, whilst the joint discussion of stumbling blocks in the implementation has created an awareness that even though circumstances might differ, all participants are part of a global professional group of urban development and planning experts with a specific and vital role to play in shaping the city of tomorrow.

One of the tangible outcomes achieved by the completed project cycle from the D4C 2.0 network with the USA is a catalogue jointly developed by the cities. It contains four core principles of civic engagement and is now being actively used and disseminated by the municipalities, the respective federal authorities as well as by the German Marshall Fund. In South Africa, the project helped the Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to strongly involve for the first time civil society actors and other relevant ministries in developing the Integrated Urban Development Framework (IUDF). The learning network and the results achieved by the municipalities’ pilot projects are being utilised in South Africa to implement this new policy framework. The role and potential of city peer-learning networks were reflected together with further, BMUB-supported networks and an audience of 150 national, European and global experts during the 11th Federal Congress on National Urban Policy.  

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