If liberty guarantees the agency of individuals, justice is the “jurisprudential principle” that sets appropriate limits on that liberty yet “is consistent with the general welfare of humankind.”  Further, the concept of rule of law has formed a cornerstone of GMF’s democratization efforts from our beginning, and for GMF Cities, it goes hand-in-hand with systems of justice that are based on the full acceptance of human dignity.

Our work with cities in the social, economic, and climate realms is positioned through a lens of justice and equity.  Sadly, too many democracies have, throughout history, codified injustices resulting in disparities in both how people are treated and the outcomes they experience.  Cities and local leaders can be instrumental in undoing these injustices, whether around issues of income inequality or the gaps that exist because of racial or social biases. That’s our sweet spot, and our portfolio of work is defined byachieving equity, fairness, and indeed justice for all.

Cities throughout North America and Europe are rethinking policing as ways to restore confidence in public safety, experimenting with new kinds of community engagement that reach deeper to marginalized populations, and to assure safe housing across income levels and generations. As cities join other forces to tackle climate change, they are considering anew how projects impact socially disadvantaged communities and bringing residents into solutioning.  It is yet one more area where transatlantic connections can add meaningful value to those doing the hard work on the frontlines.

Current Projects

Multigenerational Housing

What Can the U.S. Learn from Germany’s Housing for Multiple Generations?

In 2009 the German Federal Ministry of Family, Seniors, Women and Youth began a demonstration program, Wohnen für (Mehr)Generationen, to assist in the development of 30 multigenerational housing projects. The program was intended to help older residents live longer in the community than they might if living on their own, strengthen relationships among generations, and help revitalize neighborhoods. While communal, shared, and multigenerational housing has existed in the United States, a specific federal program to support the design, planning, and development of such communities has not. With generous funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and in partnership with Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, GMF Cities will build a profile of the Wohnen für (Mehr)Generationen program as it has been implemented to-date and to assess the applicability of a similar shared multigenerational program in the United States. The German portion of the research will involve case studies of seven of the 30 projects, while the U.S. portion will involve interviews with experts in housing and in home and community-based supports for older people to test the findings from the first phase of the research.

Transatlantic Working Group on the Future of Work

The Transatlantic Working Group on the Future of Work—a partnership between GMF Cities, GMF Digital, Bruegel, and the European Commission—will stimulate cooperation, mutual understanding, and the formulation of practical and actionable policy recommendations for the EU and the U.S. to deal with multiple emerging challenges in the area of the future of work. The topics to be covered include the impact of automation, digitalization, and robotization and the distributional effects of these changes by age, gender, race, ethnicity, and educational attainment; the implications of these changes on social protection—pensions, health insurance, disability (invalidity) insurance, maternity/paternity benefits, and unemployment benefits; and the role of social partners going forward.  The action will seek to achieve this primarily by means of a very diverse group of highly expert stakeholders representing both sides of the Atlantic. 

The Transatlantic Working Group on the Future of Work will foster:

  • Dialogue, knowledge, understanding, ties, and cooperation among the experts and their parent institutions.
  • An appreciation in the United States of the European Union’s views, accomplishments, and institutions with regards labor, social protection, and the future of work, and vice versa.
  • Cooperation, mutual learning, exchange of best policy practice, and the formulation of practical findings and realistic recommendations through focused dialogue and consensus.
  • Strengthen strategic partnerships among key stakeholders, including administrations and policymakers, civil society, researchers, social partners, workers, and businesses.
  • A renewal of this aspect of the historic strategic alliance with the United States.
  • Reinvigoration of the EU-U.S. policy dialogue on work and social protection.

Chicago-Torino Lab: Cost of Segregation

Based on findings from the Cost of Segregation study in Chicago, Illinois and the GMF-funded research in Torino, Italy, “Does the Cost of Segregation Bridge the Atlantic,” GMF Cities will support an exchange between Chicago and Torino to deepen city professionals and appointed officials’ understanding of and appreciation for the effects of segregation by race and/or ethnicity, and explore how to build, strengthen or bolster policy and practice responses to counter these. The objective will be to leverage such an exchange to prompt Chicago and Torino to assess current practice and its effect; to explore how to expand on or improve current best practice; and where practice is absent, to explore what practices are needed to address the social and economic costs of segregation.  Specific topics will include how cities can leverage state and federal dollars more effectively to address the cost of segregation; regulatory barriers and how to overcome them; and how to overcome institutional bias in city bureaucracy. Participants will come to this work with unique cross-cultural competencies and a passion for increased transatlantic experience to:

  • Leverage the research that details Chicago and Torino’s local context, develop goals, and strategies to address the potential costs of segregation, and identify good practices and policies for doing so.
  • Share/transfer methods, experiences, and know-how across the Atlantic in both directions.
  • Adapt lenses of analysis used in the U.S. to a local European context to bring into focus potential similarities and opportunities for shared learning.
  • Raise awareness and generate a public dialogue regarding the potential costs of spatial segregation and solutions, to individuals and society.

Additional Information
Concept Note »


Projects in Development


Breaking Barriers to Affordable Housing

Increasing the availability and access to affordable housing in growing cities is one of the critical challenges of our time. Economic and demographic trends have led to many cities becoming places of privilege and exclusion, prohibitive prices and rising rents allowing only the most fortunate in, while many longtime residents are pushed to the periphery. Moreover, local, state, and federal policies and regulations can make it slower and more difficult for cities to increase the availability of affordable housing. However, this challenge cannot be addressed with simple and singular measures; it requires an integrated approach that encompasses policies and planning on housing, housing models, land-use, zoning, as well as more generally managing growth and its impact on broader city dynamics. Many cities in the U.S. and Germany struggle to effectively manage growth, much less harness growth in a way that is sustainable, equitable, and integrated across urban planning and policy areas. While the governance contexts are different, the Leipzig Charter on Integrated Urban Development offers a fitting framework to guide enhanced transatlantic cross-sector exchange and learning in this area.

In the framework of the original memorandum of cooperation between the German and U.S. governments signed in 2011 and building on the lessons and experience of the successful Dialogues for Change programs, GMF will build a cross-sector peer cohort of German and U.S. cities and federal partners. This cohort will learn from each other as well as highlight to others the opportunities in advancing affordable housing in growing cities that is integrated and sustainable.

Restorative Economies

GMF Cities will partner with The Yorth Group to empower key stakeholders and local government officials to drive a restorative and circular development model that empowers organizations and communities to do well by doing good—to generate economic prosperity through closed-loop and sustainable resource management, ecosystem restoration, and social enrichment.

The project will be structured in a way that triggers intentional regional collaboration, citizen engagement, a holistic understanding of sustainability, as well as the use of specific metrics and indicators to evaluate the progress of restorative outcomes.  Prior to the start of the project, statistics will be run for each participating region to assess their Restorative City Standard, measure a community’s current performance, the synergies between performance areas, and an ability to move towards positive values. The Restorative City Standard offers a city-region’s unique footprint with regards to its social, environmental, and economic impact, and provides a vital foundation from which improvements can be made. The project will offer intelligence on practical strategies and policies to improve each region’s environmental, social, and economic performance while exposing systems-wide risks and weaknesses.

An Equitable and Green Urban Stimulus: Pathways to Climate Resilient Cities

The outbreak of the coronavirus poses an unprecedented challenge to the resilience of our societies, and highlights fundamental flaws in our social, environmental, and economic systems. Cities have realized this from day one. As the engines of the modern economy, both driving growth and concentrating inequality, with high levels of population density and at the frontline of climate change impacts—cities are the focal point of the current crises. At a time when the coronavirus is reshaping life, cities are looking at their urban environment, adapting it for better management of the current context and reflecting on what it will look like in the aftermath of the crisis. To them, the coronavirus crisis has certainly redefined the meaning of climate change action by imposing several new tests: Every climate policy will be viewed from the degree by which it can speed and strengthen economic recovery; and every climate policy must help those who have been most vulnerable and whose economic prospects have been most devastated by the pandemic. The story of the recovery, and the story of the journey and commitment to get us to a point where we are resilient to climate change impacts will be around the relationship between individual, community, and local resilience. 

Against this background, The German Marshall Fund, in partnership with Democracy Collaborative and Climate Nexus, proposes to design a multi-city and multi-stakeholder peer-learning program: “Local Green Pathways for Cities.” The goal of the action is to build competencies and relationships across and within cities and their communities so they can design pathways that enable them to recover from the coronavirus crisis in ways that build community wealth, tackle inequality, mitigate the climate crisis, and nurture democracy. In particular, the programming will focus on housing, transportation, and the local transition to clean energy—all sectors with city jurisdiction, major climate implications, and deep inequities.

Additional Information
Concept Note »

Power of Community Utilities

We have a massive feat ahead of us if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change. We urgently need to end dependence on fossil fuels and transition toward a new, just renewable energy system. Publicly owned utilities and electric cooperatives are uniquely positioned to be champions of this energy transition. Because they are owned and operated by the communities they serve—and because they already provide almost 30 percent of U.S. residents with power—they are situated as key players in the urgent and needed effort to transition our electric grid to renewable energy.  These public and cooperative enterprises can also play a critically important role in developing equitable, sustainable, and resilient local economies. As anchor institutions, they can help support inclusive economic development while leveraging their core business activities and assets to create green jobs and build community wealth—principal elements of a just energy transition.

Democracy Collaborative, in partnership with The German Marshall Fund and guided by an advisory group composed of leading experts, practitioners, and community organizers, proposes to articulate an anchor mission framework for publicly and cooperatively owned utilities, identify emerging best practices in the U.S. and internationally, and suggesting opportunities for residents, activists, and policymakers to leverage the democratic ownership and governance structures of these utilities to achieve more sustainable, equitable, and resilient local economies. Based on the findings, Democracy Collaborative and GMF will embark on a second phase of the project focused on dissemination and implementation. This phase will seek to bring together an international community of practice to facilitate the exchange of best practices. We will also identify the types of tools community organizers and policymakers may need to advance these approaches and identify additional strategies to support implementation.

(Photo Credit: Rena Schild / Shutterstock)