Hamburg's New Quarter The Challenge of Making HafenCity Feel Neighborly

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By Cathrin Schaer

Part 2: But What About the Birds?

Most important, though, has been the effort to encourage dialogue between those who have already moved in to HafenCity and the developers themselves. Eventually, the quarter is expected to have around 5,800 residential units with 12,000 residents and between 45,000 and 50,000 workers commuting to the quarter during working hours. For the moment, however, there are just 1,550 residents and 6,000 workers.

To facilitate communication with these forerunners, HafenCity has employed sociologist Marcus Menzl, who acts as a go-between for the residents and HafenCity. "You can't have a totally structured place and then just expect people to fit in," Menzl says. "But nor will it work if everything is totally open to interpretation." The goal, he says, is to find a balance, "between structures and freedoms and opportunities."

Menzl points out an example to illustrate how the right balance can be struck. In 2008, he says, there were 600 inhabitants including 40 children, a number that was surprisingly high given the lack of a kindergarten and playground at that early stage. Indeed, during his regular interviews with the new HafenCity dwellers, Menzl discovered that a playground was high on parents' wish list. So HafenCity decided to go ahead and build a temporary one that could be moved once construction had advanced.

The parents also suggested an indoor recreation area for use during bad weather. "We said we would do this too as long as they took over responsibility for it," Menzl says. HafenCity financed half of it and the parents financed the other half.

Lessons from a Mining Village

This kind of fine-tuning on the fly, says Bruns-Berentelg, will be used as additional issues and needs crop up in the future -- exactly the kind of drug that environmental psychologists might prescribe.

For six years Gerda Speller, an expert in the field from Germany who now lectures at the University of Surrey in Britain, studied the relocation of the hundred-year-old mining village Arkwright Town in Derbyshire, Britain. All the villagers were moved into new housing a short distance away in the mid 1990s due to methane gas emissions from a nearby coal mine.

From her research Speller concluded that a number of conditions must be met for people to form an attachment to a new neighborhood. First and foremost, residents need to have a say in the shaping of their surroundings. "Often," Speller continues, "you will find with developments like this that they are completely finished before people move in. So they lack the chance to make their new environment their own."

Obviously this is not the case with HafenCity where, despite the existence of a "Master Plan," the residents and other stakeholders have an input into the ongoing project. As Bruns-Berentelg points out: "Research has been going on for five years now. It is a learning process with no blueprint."

Security and Autonomy

Additionally, Speller found that security, autonomy and a sense of "place congruence" were vital as were optimal levels of internal and external stimulation. "If those things are in place, then it should work," she says.

Sometimes it can be the little things that count. When the inhabitants of Arkwright Town moved into their new lodgings, everything was more or less finished. But there was no greenery, and therefore, no birds. "People were absolutely distressed," Speller says. "It took about six months for shrubs and trees to provide enough cover for the birds to frequent the new town. The planners of the new town had tried to think of everything and it was fascinating that this lack of external stimulation turned out to be so very important."

Being right by the waterside, this should not be a problem for HafenCity. Furthermore, initial research has shown that those who have moved in already identify strongly with their new surroundings, says Menzl. "That sort of emotional connection usually only comes with time," he says. "But they seem to have identified with HafenCity very quickly and they want to support the philosophy. You cannot build a neighborly feeling," he reasons. "But I think that architecture can help certain processes and hinder others."

That seems exactly what Bruns-Berentelg set out to do. Furthermore, HafenCity has also ensured that residential units are available for a wide range of budgets, an important part of attracting the kind of mixed population the quarter strives for.

"We are doing something very ambitious here," he says. "Yes, we are building buildings. But we are also producing social and cultural environments for the next century. After all, a city is not only a commercial product, but also a public good."


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