HafenCity Hamburg, inspiring German initiative to develop green cities

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Mathilde CHARPENTIER

9839 Last modified by the author on 28/05/2015 - 12:18
HafenCity Hamburg, inspiring German initiative to develop green cities

HafenCity Hamburg is Europe’s largest inner-city development project. The idea of reconquering the waterfront for a new vision of urban development was conceived soon after the fall of the Wall and the Iron Curtain. On June 3, Marne-la-Vallée (France) hosts an event showcasing HafenCity and IBA Hamburg, another Hamburger urban development. Prof. Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg, CEO of Hafencity Hamburg, travels to present the work done in Hamburg to develop the city of tomorrow.

What is the story behind Hafencity?

Prof. Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg: First there is History. Hamburg is only 50 kilometers away from the former border with GDR. When the concept started to emerge in the 90ies, the reunification was a big topic in Germany and impacted many cities, included Hamburg. And there is the Hamburger history, one of a great harbor: the second largest in Europe, connected to Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. The challenge is to combine the development of a new vision of the city with the port which is at the heart of Hamburg’s economy.

HafenCity is a new downtown city that came to life after 10 years of reflection with architects, urban planners and researchers. The foundation stone was laid on February 29, 2000 with the Masterplan approved by the Hamburg’s Senate. This project aims to rebuild the city on the port. More than 2.32 million sqm gross floor area will be built. HafenCity consists almost wholly of new buildings, since not many old ones can be retained or are worth preserving, as the site of HafenCity was largely occupied by single-story sheds. This is still the case in Oberhafen neighborhood. A total 6,000 residential units for 12,000 residents are being built, as well as business premises offering in excess of 45,000 job opportunities, plus restaurants and bars, cultural and leisure amenities, retail facilities, parks, plazas and promenades.

Who are the people who make HafenCity possible?

Pr. J.B-B.: Our team has a very mixed background that mirrors the complexity of urban development. As we always need to adjust to the challenges we face, we had to have broad resources in terms of personnel: architects, engineers in landscaping, bridges, construction, geographers, economists, sociologists, urban planners of course and more… You could find more than 20 different academic backgrounds in the HafenCity team. My own background illustrates that. I come from urban development from the real estate point of view. All our visions are complementary and that’s what we need to create HafenCity and push it further.

We mostly come from the private sector but the supervisory board of HafenCity Hamburg GmbH consists of members of the Hamburg’s Senate.

What are the challenges that HafenCity faces?

Pr. J.B-B.:  For every major project of this size, the first challenge is to get started! Planning issues are well-known in theses case, you need to communicate the right message to all stakeholders: professionals, investors, public authorities, companies and most of all to the citizens. You need to tell them this project is for everyone. Not just another real estate development project. And oftentimes, this issue is underestimated by urban developers.

The second issue is coping with the cycles of real estate and the general economy. When building a new district, you generate an offer, regardless of the demand. It’s hard to anticipate a demand that doesn’t exist yet. This is a great difficulty in the 10 first years for a project like HafenCity.

Third issue is defining the quality of your project. For Hafencity we have multiple purposes and targets. Among those there are:

  • sustainability,
  • anti-flood protection since HafenCity is a river island,
  • quality social housing,
  • balance between housing, commercial, public spaces and office areas
  • a strong relation with the waterfront of the Elbe

What are the reactions in other cities and countries when you present your work around the world?

Pr. J.B-B.: We do not travel as missionaries, we don’t preach a final truth about urban development. We seek open and intellectual encounters with professionals and citizens from other countries and other cultures. In many places, we get responses based on the background of our audience. It’s a very diverse and inspiring experience. The responses in Baltimore were completely different from the ones we got in Zürich, because Zürich has more issues in common with Hamburg than Baltimore. Yet there are challenges we share and the dialog we create is a positive value.

How did you connect with EPAMARNE?

Pr. J.B-B.: We met with the people of EPAMARNE during an event in Central Europe. It was obvious as we started exchanging point of views and experience that there was an interest in strengthening the dialog between HafenCity and Marne-la-Vallée. That’s how we decided to present our work and IBA Hamburg’s work in Marne-la-Vallée.

Usually we decide on our destination first and we look for the right partners. This tie we found the partners first. We found that EPAMARNE and the professionals around Marne-la-Vallée are very well aware and informed on urban development topics, unlike what we saw in other cities. It’s very promising in terms of feedbacks and discussions. And we will use that to pursue our own work.

Professor Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg will present HafenCity at Marne-la-Vallée (France) on June 3rd to open the exhibition "HafenCity - IBA Hamburg: looking into the city of the 21st Century".

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