The Transformative Power of Cities: Conference Documentation

Berlin, 29 June 2017


It will be decided in cities whether the transformation towards sustainability succeeds worldwide or not. Urban areas are playing a decisive role in this ‘century of the cities’: cities and their populations are thus drivers of global environmental change, while at the same time being affected by it. The progress of the transformation towards sustainability will depend substantially on the decisions that will be taken in cities over the next few years and decades. We need a paradigm shift away from incremental approaches that are essentially driven by short-term requirements, towards transformative changes with a strategic, long-term view of humanity’s natural life-support systems and the creation of a form of urbanity that promotes human quality of life.

Starting from a global perspective and a multi-sectoral (systemic) and transdisciplinary approach on urbanization, the conference gave special focus to two main issues for future urban development: the role of real-estate markets within the global financial system, and the influence of the increasing digitization of cities and urban living environments. 

Video documentation

All presentations and panels are available as video.    



Welcome note

Sabine Schlacke, Chair, WBGU, University of Münster

Keynote: Global Urbanisation and the Transformation towards Sustainability

Dirk Messner, Chair, WBGU, German Development Institute - DIE

Keynote: Germany’s Responsibility for Sustainable Global Urbanisation

Barbara Hendricks, Federal Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, Federal Republic of Germany


Thematic session 1: Do Real Estate Markets Lead to Unjust Cities?

Saskia Sassen, Columbia University

Stephan Bone-Winkel, Beos AG, University of Regensburg

Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur for Housing and Human Rights - video message

Joseph Schechla, HIC-Housing and Land Rights Network

Moderator: Karen Pittel, WBGU, Ifo Center for Energy, Climate and Exhaustible Resources

Coffee break



Cities as Complex, Self-organizing Systems

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, WBGU, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research


Thematic session 2: Digital Cities - Potential or Risk for Sustainable Development?

Carlo Ratti, Carlo Ratti Associati, SENSEable City Lab, MIT

Shivani Chaudhry, Housing and Land Rights Network (Habitat International Coalition - South Asia)

Moderator: Ina Schieferdecker, WBGU, Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems FOKUS


Sabine Schlacke, Chair, WBGU



Location: silent green Kulturquartier, Gerichtstraße 35, 13347 Berlin, Germany 

Conference team

Concept: Gesa Schöneberg, Benno Pilardeaux

Technical support: Viola Märtin, Mario Rinn, Martina Schneider-Kremer

Related report:

Humanity on the move: Unlocking the transformative power of cities