Jan 9, 201410:35 AMPoint of View

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Future Hamburg Now, Part 2: Exploring Sustainable Inner-City Re-Development

Future Hamburg Now, Part 2: Exploring Sustainable Inner-City Re-Development

(page 1 of 2)

The Energy Hill seen from the air. A former waste dump turned into a regional energy production site.

Courtesy IBA Hamburg GmbH / Aufwind Luftbilder

This is the second entry in the Future Hamburg series, which explores the "adventurous risks" the city of Hamburg is making towards a smarter, more sustainable urban future. The first post can be found here.


To understand the scale and scope of Hamburg’s ambitious development energies one must “jump across the River Elbe,” as they say, to the island of Wilhelmsburg. The island is, in fact, Europe’s largest river island and, with a population representing more than thirty nationalities, is the city’s most diverse area.

Historically, the island was home to dockworkers, but most of its territory was given over to a mixture of industry, agriculture, and dumping sites. Though it is in the heart of the city, it is mentally not part of the Hamburg mindset and has only recently begun to be recognized as an up-and-coming area of the city.

It is up and coming largely because for the last seven years it has been the territory of Hamburg’s first International Building Exhibition (IBA), which has sparked more than sixty different building projects related to alternative energy, sustainable development (including economically), and measures to address flooding brought on by climate change.

Smart Material House: WaterHouses.

Courtesy IBA Hamburg GmbH / Johannes Arlt

Think of the IBA as an implementable framework for development or re-development on a large scale. Such “exhibitions” have been used as urban planning tools in Germany for over a century. In Hamburg the current IBA, constituting an investment of more than 1 billion euros (about two-thirds privately financed) over its seven year run, which recently came to a close in November, was used to catalyze infrastructural and architectural change to districts that had been seen as the city’s “backyard” for more than fifty years.

As Uli Hellweg, executive director of the IBA, says, “Hamburg hopes to make the most of the momentum gathered by the exhibition.” The IBA is not an end in itself but rather a catalyst for continued inner city re-development.

IBA DOCK – The world's largest floating office building

Courtesy IBA Hamburg GmbH / Martin Kunze

The three key issues the IBA has been addressing include how to harness the cultural diversity of the Elbe Islands, how to create new spaces within the city, and how to utilize new sources of energy to make the region energy-independent by 2050.

City leaders hope this “Wilhelmsburg model” will inspire other cities with its ambitious scope of repurposing inner-city land and applying new models of energy production. The catch is that this must be done without the negative side-effects of “gentrification” or displacing local businesses and lower-income residents who were some of the first to call this area of the city home. The city wants to keep existing neighborhoods intact and not drive people away. In fact, the local population has been closely involved in the IBA’s planning process.

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