The role of inspirational leadership in bringing about successful urban regeneration has been neglected. This paper attempts to provide a corrective by exploring the role of place-based leadership in modern urban governance. It outlines arguments that are set out at greater length in the author’s new book, ‘Leading the inclusive city’ (2015). The forces that now shape the power of place in the modern world are discussed. These forces limit the scope for place-based leadership but they do not disable it. A new framework for understanding civic leadership — new civic leadership (NCL) — is presented. In any given locality there are various realms of place-based leadership reflecting different sources of legitimacy. The concept of engaged scholarship is introduced, and the idea of an Innovation Story is presented as a creative way of unearthing new knowledge about civic leadership. Two inspiring examples of effective place-based leadership are then outlined: Melbourne, Australia and Freiburg, Germany. Emerging themes for regeneration theory and practice are discussed and pointers for further research are suggested.