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Lessons from Hamburg

08 April 2019 Author: Kirti Chovisia

I was delighted to go to Hamburg on a recent RTPI Study Visit with other members of RTPI Yorkshire Region and Leeds Beckett University. The main objective of the trip was to explore the city from a planning perspective as well as to learn from ongoing projects and regeneration.

RTPI Members At Hafen City

RTPI members in Hamburg

As one of Germany's fastest developing cities, Hamburg has to find sufficient space for housing, office and industrial use, as well as improve its urban mobility. It has many ambitious planning policies and projects of relevance to urban design, planning and regeneration practitioners. 

During our four-day trip, we visited the Wilhelmsberg green city expansion scheme, Altona Museum, Elbphilharmonie and the Alster Lake and Park. We also had the opportunity of meeting with urban designers at the Hamburg Ministry of Urban Development and Planning and at the HafenCity Waterfront development area to learn in detail about the ongoing development, planning and policies of the city.

Wilhemsburg Central 

Wilhelmsburg Central is Hamburg’s biggest urban planning project, at the heart of Elbe Island, and one of the most innovative districts in Europe. It is part of International Building Exhibition (IBA) Hamburg, which began in 2013 with 70 projects. Some projects are still being constructed, while others are yet to begin.

IBA Hamburg has 1,733 residential units, either built or being built, of which 516 are modernised apartments. In addition, it has 100,000 square metres of commercial space, eight educational establishments, two senior citizens’ homes, three day nurseries, four sports facilities, a commercial park, a centre for artists and creative workers, an extension of the Assmannkanal and over 70 hectares of green space.

A living laboratory of innovative urban solutions, many of the projects in the area are experimental, seeking to address the urban issues that Hamburg and many other cities face today. Visiting Wilhelmsburg Central was a wonderful learning experience - the successful outcome of this development can help overcome many urban development challenges faced by cities across Europe.

HafenCity Waterfront development

HafenCity spans 388 acres of former industrial land between Hamburg’s downtown and the Elbe River. When completed, it will add 5,500 homes (some subsidised to be affordable) along with shops, parks, entertainment, schools and daycare, offices and a university. All will be walkable, accessible by public transport and compliant with the city’s green building standards.

Hafen City Waterfront Development

HafenCity is a redevelopment of a former inner-city brownfield site and has radically transformed the underused 157 hectares of the harbour and industrial space into a dynamic mixed-use district while complementing the adjacent Speicherstadt district. It demonstrates the city’s focus on densification in the built-up area and utilises inner-city space more efficiently than building on peripheral areas. 

HafenCity is a plan-led urban development and one of its major objectives is the urban mix of housing, workplaces and recreational use on a small scale. It deviates from the old model of dedicated office districts in that there are no single-use buildings, leading to cohesion and integration. Like all major urban development projects in Hamburg, new projects in HafenCity consist of three equal parts: social housing, condominiums and privately-funded rental housing. This ensures the right conditions for a good social mix and diverse urban neighbourhoods. 

Role model for other European cities

The Hamburg city initiatives are driven by the desire to face the global challenges of high urbanisation rates, increasing demand for energy and resources, outdated infrastructure and technological changes.

Hamburg is a dynamic city with rapid urban development addressing design and planning issues through experimental projects. Many lessons can be learned from this ongoing transformation in terms of development, overcoming housing crises, policy-making and planning. The successful outcome of Hamburg’s urban transformation can serve as a role model for the development of other European cities.

I would like to thank RTPI Yorkshire, Leeds Beckett University and my employer London Borough of Merton for giving me the opportunity of visiting and experiencing this amazing city. The trip has certainly provided me with a greater understand of European development from a planning perspective.

Kirti Chovisia

Kirti Chovisia

Kirti Chovisia is a recent graduate from University of Sheffield in MA Urban Design and Planning, and is now working at the London Borough of Merton.