Hamburg in pictures: a welcoming city of opportunities

Through the provision of good affordable housing and education, strong social integration efforts, inclusive planning processes, and respect for built heritage as well as a distinctive cultural identity, Hamburg has created good quality of life within a conducive environment for its inhabitants. In this photo essay, we look at the various strategies and initiatives that make Hamburg a good city to live in.

Catering for a growing city
Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city after Berlin with a population of 1.78 million. Once a historic port city, behind only London and New York in terms of import and export volumes before First World War, Hamburg today remains a major port and a global service, media, logistics and industrial hub. In July 2015, Hamburg’s historic warehouse district and its neighbouring counting house district (Speicherstadt and Kontorhausviertel), were listed as world heritage sites by UNESCO.

Hamburg’s population is growing and expected to reach 1.9 million by 2030. Population growth is driven by birth surplus as well as immigration – young people in particular are moving to Hamburg for job opportunities and further education. As a growing city, Hamburg has to provide sufficient space for housing, office and industrial use, as well as improve its urban mobility.

Aerial view of Hamburg
Aerial view of Hamburg © Vallbracht

The historic Speicherstadt district – a UNESCO World Heritage Site © Hampel

River Elbe
The River Elbe © Rußmann

Port of Hamburg
The Port of Hamburg © Spahrbier

HafenCity: more city in the city
HafenCity is a redevelopment of a former inner-city brownfield site that radically transformed the underused 157 hectares of harbour and industrial space into a dynamic mixed-use district, while complementing the adjacent Speicherstadt district. It is a demonstration of the city’s focus on densification in the built-up area of the city and utilising inner city space more efficiently rather than building on peripheral areas, following the strategy of “More City in the City”.

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 and users are ‘forced to meet their neighbours’, leading to cohesion and integration. Like all major urban development projects in Hamburg, new projects in HafenCity consist of three equal parts: one third social housing, one third condominiums, and one third privately funded rental housing. This ensures the right conditions for a good social mix and diverse urban neighbourhoods.

HafenCity - aerial past
Aerial view of HafenCity before redevelopment

HafenCity - today
HafenCity today © Vallbracht

Marco-Polo-Terrassen © Thomas Hampel/EBBE&FLUT

Public waterfront
Public waterfront showing the diversity of mixed developments © Thomas Hampel/EBBE&FLUT

Office buildings around Sandtorpark © Thomas Hampel/EBBE&FLUT

City of short distances
HafenCity is developed as a city of short distances that promote walking and cycling © Thomas Hampel/EBBE&FLUT

Play spaces
Play spaces for everyone © Thomas Hampel/EBBE&FLUT

Residential developments that incorporate affordable housing components © Thomas Hampel/EBBE&FLUT

Oberhafen – railroad yard as cultural quarter © Thomas Hampel/EBBE&FLUT

A living laboratory of innovative urban solutions
After the great storm surge of 1962 that claimed the lives of hundreds of people in Wilhelmsburg in the south of the city – the largest river island in Europe, many residents left the area. In subsequent years this area became a “problem area”. Following a Conference and a policy paper in the 2000s, Hamburg developed the International Building Exhibition (IBA) as a powerful tool to develop and boost the growth of the booming metropolis.

IBA implemented some 70 innovative projects in the area, many of which are experimental and/or demonstrative in nature, seeking to address the many urban issues that Hamburg and many other cities face today. Similar to that of HafenCity, IBA adopts an integrated holistic approach which is broadly decoupled economically from political budgeting processes.

The extent of Wilhelmsburg © IBA Hamburg GmbH

Wilhelmsburg - new developments
New developments in Wilhelmsburg with access to public transportation © IBA Hamburg GmbH/Falcon Crest Air

Social housing - before
Social housing - after
Social housing in Wilhelmsburg – before and after showing the interventions to create a more intimate and liveable environment © Johanna Kähler (top), IBA Hamburg GmbH/Martin Kunze (bottom)

Bunker - before
Bunker - after
A former World War II bunker is converted into a renewable energy power plant © IBA Hamburg GmbH/Martin Kunze

Energy hill - before
Energy hill - after
A former landfill site is converted into “Energy Hill” – a renewable energy for 40,000 households and a viewing point © IBA Hamburg GmbH/

Inclusive planning processes
Over the last decade, Hamburg has made it a point to involve citizens in urban planning on a level that by far exceeds the statutory provisions stipulated by building and planning law. People have the opportunity to participate in the very early stages of planning – the results often lay the groundwork for the actual planning – through various channels including but not limited to workshops, face-to-face interviews, online participation, surveys or town hall meetings.

An example of such an inclusive planning process is Hamburger Deckel – the decking over for parts of the Autobahn A7, which currently divides densely populated neighbourhoods of the city, to provide noise protection. The conversations and discussions with citizens enabled the administration to convince gardeners holding allotment gardens within the implementation site to give up their existing plots and be compensated with new ones to be built on top of the new decks.

When completed, the decks will provide several additional benefits besides protection from traffic noise – enable land along autobahn to be developed; safe crossings for school children; and pedestrian/cycling shortcuts reconnecting previously divided parks.

Autobahndeckel - aerial view
Aerial view of the motorway (Autobahn A7) in 2016 – an urban artery leading to the tunnel under the River Elbe © Ministry of Urban Development and Housing/Matthias Friedel

Autobahndeckel - current noise protection
Current noise protection measures along the A7 © Ministry of Urban Development

Autobahndeckel - before after
The A7 today (left) and a visualisation of the future Autobahndeckel over the A7 (right) © Ministry of Urban Development © Ministry of Urban Development (left), DEGES/V-KON (right)

Autobahndeckel - visualisation
Visualisation of the future Autobahndeckel © DEGES/V-KON

This article was first published in January 2019. All images contained within this page are copyright of the respective owners indicated above and used with permission from the City of Hamburg, and shall not be copied, modified, or reproduced.