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Some 30 years in the making, Hamburg's HafenCity urban regeneration project is starting to realise its full potential. Sebastian Shehadi looks at the factors behind its success.

Located at Hamburg’s old harbour on the Elbe river, HafenCity is a pioneering urban regeneration project in one of Europe’s most historic maritime cities. Covering an area of 157 hectares, it combines office, residential and educational space, alongside cultural, leisure, tourism and retail facilities, while applying high standards of ecological sustainability.

HafenCity has been in the making for almost three decades. The idea for a new inner-city district in Hamburg was born in the early 1990s, following the end of the Cold War. The city moved quickly to become a key economic and logistics hub in central Europe, and out of this rapid ‘rebirth’, HafenCity broke ground in 2001.

A new downtown

The project’s masterplan looked at interaction between new buildings and the water, the elevation of structures for flood protection, the public character of many ground-level floors, and the extensive creation of mixed-use spaces.

“HafenCity is densely populated: 50% offices, 32% residential, 22% cultural/retail/university space,” says HafenCity chief executive Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg. “It’s what we call ‘a new downtown’ for the 21st century because it is immediately adjacent to the existing inner city location of Hamburg. The project is almost 60% finished.” 

Currently, 68 projects have been completed, such as the award-winning Elbphilharmonie concert hall and the area’s subway infrastructure. Another 71 projects are under construction or in the planning stage, while deals through the sale of land or exclusive options have been closed on about 1.8 million square metres, according to the HafenCity website. 

HafenCity has already established its popularity as a place to live and work, with more than 3000 residential units up and running, and 14,000 people working for more than 730 companies. Completion is expected between 2025 and 2030, at which point it will house about 12,000 people, with space for 40,000 employees. Private investment into the project currently stands at about €10bn, while public investment is at €3bn.

Roughly 75% of HafenCity has been taken up already by investors, according to Mr Bruns-Berentelg. “But developers are searching for specific tenants. For example, in the retail sector, we have Unibail-Rodamco,” he adds. “There are quite a lot of international companies who have taken our product, not as developers, but as investors. [They come] from all over Europe, and some from Asia... sovereign wealth funds, and funds from North America.” 

Sustainable environment

Mr Bruns-Berentelg believes HafenCity is a unique international investment opportunity within Europe. “It’s a great place for companies searching for integration into an urban environment. If you’re an entertainment company, or have a very specific cultural product you want to place in the market, HafenCity provides the footfall, the flow of people, the waterfront location and attractiveness,” he says. “HafenCity is also a highly sustainable urban environment [with eco-friendly buildings], for example. There’s transformative use of mobility, [encouragement of] electrical cars and an electrical autonomous bus system. So it is very much an experimental urban environment in which people can learn how to build Hamburg in the second half of the 21st century.”

Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city, located in a metropolitan region of 5 million inhabitants. Job growth per annum is high, and the city has strong media and services sectors, as well as one of the largest civil aviation clusters, which includes Airbus A380 sites.

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This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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