A recent visit to Hamburg provided a range of surprises. The initial motivation to visit Hamburg was to look over Hafen City, the largest urban renewal development in Europe and now into its second decade. Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city with a population of 1.7 million people located on a thriving inland port and important infrastructure hub on the Elbe River. Melbourne’s urban design community likes to talk at length about the exemplar projects of Copenhagen and its effective bicycle network, however Hamburg seems to have done similar on a number of levels.
Within the old city, pedestrians can safely navigate on pathways that run contrary to the road pattern. The main vehicle traffic has been pushed on to a ring road system. This creates the opportunity for streets like Monckeberg Strasse, a major retail strip, to perform a new role that is pedestrian friendly but also accommodates bicycles and a bus route through a single surface paving treatment.
This pedestrianisation continues through the simple gesture of knitting the former port area back into the historic city. This has been done by continuing and extending the existing network of street corridors.
Hafen City has been planned as a series of precincts that have developed in a logical order. It is about a new urban identity for the city. The area of regeneration covers some 157Ha, 126Ha being land with 10.5km of new waterfront with promenades and squares, and will expand the city by some 40% in area.
Secondly, there was an early decision and commitment to build two underground stations to service the new area, with costs being recouped through increased land values. Thirdly, there has been a strong commitment to management by a separate but wholly-owned company as a subsidiary of the City of Hamburg.
Resilient infrastructure and communities
In Hamburg, Hafen City faced the issues of planning for the future now by developing infrastructure and communities that are resilient, rugged and adaptable to planetary changes. They have taken the opportunity for new models of buildings and new uses to inform these developments. In turn they have been able to attract some of the best of Europe’s architects. Hafen City, ensures quality through design competitions, constraints for developers, and sustainability requirements according to Stephen Behnisch from Behnisch Architekten. The scale is not overpowering, with most of the canal-side buildings capped at around 7-8 storeys and higher towers emerging on strategic sites up to 12-13 storeys. This scale still manages to create an effective density of development and mix of uses. Additionally, there was large investment in landscape the design of which was also subject to a competition process, rather than simply being left to the developers.
The masterplan was reviewed in 2010, and construction has commenced on a new university. The promenade area for the first few stages are in place and, like many waterfront renewal projects, is still to find its identity. New businesses, however, are grabbing the opportunity that this closely-linked area offers.
My observation is that good governance and effective investment in infrastructure, coupled with a high priority on good design outcomes, has been important to the quality of outcomes witnessed in Hamburg. Adapting has become the reality to future planning. (For further information see www.hafencity.com/en/home.html)