Harbour City in Hamburg: Bringing a New District to Life
As Germany’s second-largest city, Hamburg has a lot going on in it. People who don’t necessarily want to move to the capital find it a great place to live, because while still having almost as much to offer as Berlin, it’s not as spread out and somewhat less hectic. According to statistics about Germany, the country generally has a high popularity rate among other EU countries. Europeans are apt to move around the EU in search of places to live and work, and Hamburg is definitely a top destination. If searching for an apartment for months on end and loads of people showing up for any viewing is any indication. But not only foreigners feel the pull of the city on the Elbe river. There are also plenty of Germans who move to Hamburg. Based on a 2011 survey by YouGov, Hamburg as a state has the largest number of happy residents in all of Germany.
But there are challenges to be considered. Like most large cities, Hamburg is growing. There are several construction projects going on where no one is too sure when they will be finished or how they will influence the city landscape. Spiegel Online reported on the concerns about one of Hamburg’s most impressive ongoing developments, the HafenCity district (Harbour City). The magazine summed up the issue with the appropriate headline “The Challenge of Making HafenCity Feel Neighborly.” You’d think in a city as popular as Hamburg is, this would not be a problem? Well, it is, and based on personal impressions I can understand.
I am a Hamburg fan, having spent several years in this special city. I am excited to see the new things that are happening here. HafenCity is considered one of the most extensive projects in urban development in the world today. But it’s not just successful construction that’s important. Positive reactions and acceptance from future residents, as well as a thriving community are also key to ensuring a district is alive. Otherwise it just takes up space that might have been used for something else.
The new part of town is located on an island of the Elbe river that used to be called Kehrwieder and Wandrahm. Old warehouses formerly used by the port of Hamburg are being turned into office spaces and luxury apartments. A promenade on the waterfront and a university are planned as well. Another large-scale architectural project within the district itself is the Elbphilarmonie, an enormous concert hall which is also supposed to include a hotel and more luxury apartments right in the building. Many say the Elbphilarmonie will rival the Sydney Opera House – this seems to be a lingering epidemic ever since Sydney’s landmark came into existence. The Elbphilarmonie is certainly an eye-catching structure, blending in perfectly with the architectural style of the surrounding buildings. But one asks if before pouring an insane amount of money in a completely new concert complex, it wouldn’t make sense to allow more funds for upholding existing cultural institutions and landmarks that make up Hamburg’s history. Of the latter there are not too many original ones left, as the city had suffered through a massive fire in 1842 and then experienced bombing attacks during WW2.
HafenCity is expected to be finished around 2025. According to Spiegel, the new district will go on for almost a mile, connecting the city center and the Elbe. Based on my personal impression, HafenCity so far leaves a somewhat alien feeling. With many sleek, box-like structures and little greenery, the whole quarter so far doesn’t look too residential or approachable. “How can one make certain that this very important piece of real estate actually becomes a living, breathing part of the city — a place where people want to both work and spend their leisure time? Indeed, how can one guarantee that a brand new neighborhood actually feels neighborly?” asks Spiegel.
To solve this potential problem, architects and city planners are looking to apply an actual academic discipline called environmental psychology. Especially popular in the 1970s and 80s, it even has its own journal. The discipline’s definition of environment includes not only physical and architectural, but also social aspects. According to Spiegel, Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg, executive chairman of HafenCity Hamburg GmbH, the company overseeing the development, is optimistic about the social development of what he calls a “post-modern community”. His suggestion? Avoid compartmentalizing, i.e., separating office areas and residential zones too clearly, something typical for post-WW2 German cities. Instead, HafenCity aims for a mix – museums, the planned university, art galleries etc. will be close to commercial blocks and residence areas. Housing for wealthier tenants will be located near buildings for those with a lower income. All this is aimed at creating a sense of community.
HafenCity is expected to have some 5,800 residence areas with 12,000 residents, plus around 50,000 workers commuting there on workdays.
Image note: mr.u039E/ Flickr/ Wikimedia/ CC/ Some rights reserved
Stephanie Kopf writes for the blog www.trenditionist.com
She has lived in Siberia, New York City and Germany. Her subject areas include anything related to the human psyche, European news, education, communication in all its forms, as well as the interaction of all of these with each other.