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At a recent workshop in Hamburg, members of BLOXHUB and Factory Hammerbrooklyn worked on the case of Grasbrook, a new development project in Hamburg by HafenCity Hamburg GmbH. Social equity was at the top of the agenda, and we have asked HafenCity about their experience with the workshop.

On June 9-10, the second event of the Danish-German Innovation Lab – the Strategic Partnership between BLOXHUB and Factory Hammerbrooklyn – took place in Hamburg. Part of the event was a workshop under the theme Healthy City, which centered on the case of Grasbrook – a new development project in the inner-city port area of Hamburg, managed by HafenCity Hamburg GmbH who presented the case to the participants.

In the development of Grasbrook, HafenCity has put a great emphasis on social equity and mobility, as well as access to nature and healthy buildings. The social equity aspect is especially prevalent in the neighboring area Veddel.

New urban development projects sometimes run the risk of contributing to gentrification or disconnection between the new and the already established neighborhoods. But HafenCity aims at preventing this, so one of the challenges they brought to the workshop participants was this: How can HafenCity use mobility solutions to ensure interaction between the two communities based on the values of social equity, healthy living, and nature?

The Case of Grasbrook and Veddel  

HafenCity Hamburg GmbH is responsible for Europe’s largest urban inner-city development area of HafenCity and three other areas Billebogen, Science City Hamburg Bahrenfeld, and Grasbrook, all in Hamburg. The challenges of developing new areas are therefore not new to them, but they are always looking for new solutions, which is one of the reasons why they opened their process to the participants of the Danish-German Innovation Lab.

Right now, there is not much to see at the Grasbrook site but within the coming years, the area will house approximately 3000 apartments, as well as large green spaces, schools, cultural institutions, and retail options. It is expected that the development project will offer space for 16000 jobs.

The area is situated south of the Elbe, west of the neighborhood Veddel, on the other side of train tracks, and adjacent to the vital port area in the west and south. Veddel is characterized by social housing, people of migrant backgrounds, and smaller and more dense apartments. The meeting of Grasbrook and Veddel thus presents demographic differences, and HafenCity is intent on creating a social infrastructure between the two areas. One of the representatives of HafenCity who presented the case of Grasbrook at the workshop, Dr. Gesa Matthes, Head of Strategic Innovation, remarks upon the question of social equity:

“This question was our concern already very early in the process of urban planning. For example, we involved people and stakeholders from Veddel in our participation process and seek to engage in ongoing discussions on Veddel. This is a special challenge as Veddel itself doesn’t formally belong to the site we are commissioned to develop.”

Asked why the aspect of social equity is important to HafenCity, she explains:

“We want to create a livable city for all. For many years, rising costs for living and housing and other changes have led to economic and social segregation. Because the new area Grasbrook is situated between several existing neighborhoods there is potential to unfold integrating effects, but this potential can only be used if we create an area where everybody likes to be, both the new inhabitants and the neighbors.”

Creating a Common Community for All

During the event, participants of the Danish-German Innovation Lab were introduced to the work of HafenCity in different ways. Representatives presented the case of Grasbrook in detail, participants were introduced to more abstract thoughts and discussions on terms such as “livable” and “equity”, and Factory Hammerbrooklyn guided a tour through some of HafenCity’s existing developments. Participants also got a look at the building site of Grasbrook across from the river Elbe.

One of the groups at the workshop discussing how to create meeting points for the people of Grasbrook and Veddel, using existing mobility solutions.

At the workshop, the participants presented ideas focusing on creating spaces for people from Grasbrook and Veddel to meet and engage, using the planned mobility solutions between the two neighborhoods and the green areas. By making a community feeling between the two different neighborhoods through initiatives like community gardens, marketplaces, and so on, both neighborhoods would get a feeling of responsibility and belonging.

Another solution focused on expenses in the area. One-third of Grasbrooks’ apartments and condominiums will be subsidized public housing but it’s important to also think about living expenses in terms of prices in supermarkets, restaurants, cultural institutions, and so on. The solution from the group was to make use of the ground floor of buildings in Grasbrook, which are planned to be for non-residential uses, creating flexible spaces for retail, social infrastructure, and activities with incentives to keep prices low.

All groups focused on the aspect of creating a shared community and making incentives for mixing the two different neighborhoods, and discussions kept on coming back to the aspect of making people meet and feel equally responsible for and connected to urban life in both areas.

Implementing Ideas and Solutions

Representatives from HafenCity were part of the workshop groups and ideation process as well, so there is ample possibility for the solutions and ideas to make it into the Grasbrook developments, according to Dr. Gesa Matthes:

“The people from HafenCity who coordinate the processes of development were present at the workshop, so the insights and ideas are integrated immediately and directly into our work. To structure this, we have had a reflection session, in which we noted the most important aspects, and we will contact participants or BLOXHUB to continue the discussion,” she says.

HafenCity chose to share their process with the Danish-German Innovation Lab because of different factors, but all in all, they were pleased with the experience:

“On a methodological level we were interested in how you deal with these problems, and we also saw a chance of having an intense interchange with relevant experts in a relatively short amount of time, and a chance to go home with fresh ideas or a more sophisticated view on the issue,” says Dr. Gesa Matthes, and continues:

“In the first place, some of us were rather curious, perhaps a little bit doubtful about the format, but after the workshop, I received only positive reactions. My colleagues valued the interesting views and expertise of the participants, the stimulating conservations, and, of course, the insights, ideas, and assessments regarding the challenges. In all, it was a fruitful day and a benefit for us.”

If you want to know more about the workshop or our Strategic Partnership with Factory Hammerbrooklyn, please reach out to Program Manager Torben Krab or Head of Strategic Partnerships Martine Kildeby, respectively. 

The events of the Danish-German Innovation Lab is supported by our partners Drees & Sommer, PropTech Denmark, ZIA German Property Federation, Hamburg Invest, and Copenhagen Capacity