Sustainable urban development
I was in Hamburg recently to present at a two week immersive summer school for an international group of architecture and urban planning post-grad students. The group had been invited to Hamburg’s Elbe island to develop a series of small-scale demonstration projects to support the development of a low carbon urban economy. I was invited to run a Drivers of Change workshop to help the students think about the broader context of their initiatives. I stayed on for a day to attend a critique of their work in progress, and to learn about other regeneration initiatives that are underway on the island.
A regeneration accelerator called the International Building Exhibition (Internationale Bau Ausstellung), has commissioned a series of projects that are together helping regenerate the island, home to a marginalized and largely immigrant population.
The island lies to the south of downtown Hamburg and can be reached within two stops from the city centre on the S Bahn. The river island’s development to date has been largely industrial, encompassing massive port areas and logistics operations located in and around the islands’ western fringes. The eastern part of the island comprises a significant amount of productive agricultural land. The island’s large central swathe is mostly residential. However a network of dykes, rail lines and highways have lacerated the area, creating non-porous borders that have contained and constrained a number of deprived neighborhoods.
The IBA have funded a range of creative projects designed to regenerate the island, engage the community and put Elbe island on a low carbon footing. They include an educational project called the Learning Metropolis, linking together 100 facilities to for neighbourhood clusters to act as community centres offering different educational, sports and social activities. Another is the Energy Bunker, which will repurpose a disused military bunker to house a woodchip burning furnace and solar array. Other projects include a floating youth hostel, a wind farm and a programme that promotes inter-cultural exchange. The local authorities are also working with the IBA on an initiative to tear down the fencing around the island’s dykes, so that the corridors can become public spaces for leisure pursuits like running and biking.
The students seemed very inspired by their immersive experience, working and living in a temporary building inside a park in the Wilhelmsburg district. They were also inspired by the Drivers of Change cards, which have helped them think about the trends and issues shaping the future of the area (community, transport and water were most popular themes identified). One group is working on a food project, to encourage markets and barter trading among food growers and allotment owners. Another is looking at opportunities to infill areas adjacent to transport hubs, where existing infrastructure allow for strategic densification.
There are strong parallels here with East London, a post industrial zone built on a system of waterways and rivers. Similarly, a number of strategic projects are ensuring that the area develops along a low carbon trajectory. The Green Enterprise District, the Sustainable Industries Park and the London Thames Gateway Heat Network are all helping transform the area into a sustainable hub. Time will tell how successful these public private initiatives in both London and Hamburg will be, but for the moment the future is looking green.