Living in HafenCity: a new kind of urban experience

Intensive forms of inner-city community are emerging in HafenCity: the most varied types of users and uses come together here and together they characterize a part of town that is urban and buzzing with life - but where there is also room for more private spaces

Photo shows the Traditional Ship Harbor by night

Attractive urban spaces lively till late at night have been created on both sides of Sandtorhafen; there is even a pontoon “plaza” floating in the center of the Traditional Ship Harbor (© ELBE&FLUT) Start slideshow

Because of its central location alone, HafenCity represents a historic, unique opportunity: it expands the area of Hamburg’s inner city by 40 per cent. But the new city district is far more than just a spatial extension of the city center.  It is a point of departure for the development of a new kind of urbanity, conceives and realizes new forms of inner city coexistence - and represents a model for the European city of the 21st century.

Once the district is completed, it will be home to 12,000 people who will share HafenCity during the day with 40,000 people coming to work and up to 80,000 visitors. This is not a part of town dedicated purely to residences, shopping, offices or tourists. To underpin the sustainable development of HafenCity, myriad uses are concentrated within a limited space; homes side by side with offices, shops, cafés, restaurants or bars. Different milieus blend into each other, in other words, so that HafenCity will become a place where the most varied lifestyles, leisure and working patterns can be realized.

From singles to young families, retirees to empty nesters, through people with multiple residences (weekend commuters or business people with varying workplaces): whoever they are, they will find housing tailored to their needs in HafenCity, as well as the corresponding infrastructure. The new district brings together people, milieus, lifestyles and interests that might otherwise never come across each other.

This applies to the people who work in HafenCity, as well as to its residents: some work in small and medium sized businesses, others in vast headquarters of global corporations - office space to suit every size of business will be available. The district already boasts a broad cross-section of different sectors. The emphasis is on media, logistics, finance, IT and consultancy, but the construction sector is also represented.

Types of visitors to the area are similarly varied: in addition to visitors making day excursions from other parts of the city and the Hamburg Metropolitan Region, tourists converge from all over Germany and from all over the world - some of them arriving as passengers on cruise ships berthing at Strandkai and Überseequartier.

HafenCity is characterized by fine-grained mixes of the most diverse uses. This mix applies even within the various neighborhoods of HafenCity, or even in individual buildings. Almost all ground floor spaces throughout HafenCity are used by shops, other services, cafés, restaurants or bars which means that, even in neighborhoods which are mainly residential or office space, the atmosphere is alive. At the same time, even in neighborhoods primarily devoted to employment or leisure uses, housing accommodation is always part of the plan.

In addition to publicly accessible ground floor stories, there are other opportunities for social encounters. The public urban spaces with their different characters invite the most varied uses, while public right of access on private ground between buildings is also widespread: pedestrians and cyclists are allowed through them just like public open spaces; private spaces in Überseequartier even allow journalistic reporting, political advertising, demonstrations and begging.

Events attract as mixed a bunch of residents as do cultural offerings in the district, which is partly public and partly private enterprise or sometimes even initiated by residents themselves. Not even Hamburg’s new signature building, the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, will be exclusively devoted to classical music. In addition to jazz and pop concerts, an educational program mainly slanted towards young people is on the cards. High up under the crystalline crown of the concert hall, a public plaza will offer spectacular views of the city, the surrounding district and the port from a height of 37 meters.

HafenCity is also breaking new ground with other - sometimes high-profile - concepts: an ecumenical forum will bring together believers from 18 Christian confessions; Europe’s largest integration project based on a hotel will create jobs and overnight accommodation for people with special needs and other guests; designport hamburg, a themed property with the public design center designport, which pools the creative potential of Hamburg’s design scene. 

Many actors are taking the chance to interact with this new part of town, including institutions such as HafenCity University or corporations such as consumer goods giant Unilever or the Spiegel group. These enterprises and institutions have opened up the ground floor areas of their buildings to the public. Through the medium of exhibitions or lectures, cafés or retail stores, for example, they are in open dialog with their neighborhood.

In addition to the many public places for meeting, residents also have their own retreats: many residential buildings, for instance, have roof terraces or protected courtyards on the waterside. The Katharinenschule building in HafenCity also serves the whole district as a social hub - classrooms and the sports hall can be used by clubs, for example, after school.

HafenCity has also inspired many residents to organize their own pursuits: there are clubs for sport and art; with the help of HafenCity Hamburg GmbH a kids’ playhouse is up and running; they have organized flea markets and neighborhood get-togethers and - last but not least - set up the HafenCity e.V. network. So it is clear that alongside the sometimes heavy beat of urban life, a more private, neighborly community is thriving.