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Social development 

Urbanity in a social context

In the space of a few years HafenCity has transformed from what used to be a raw port environment to an urban space with diverse social, cultural and political development potential. Every year HafenCity experiences steady growth in the number of people who work and live here. Now around 8,000 people live in 4,000 households in HafenCity. There are 15,000 people working in 930 companies. When the district is complete, approx. 16,000 people will live here and 45,000 will call it their place of work. The high proportion of households with children is remarkable. At 26.3 percent it is well over the Hamburg average of 18 percent. Everyday life in HafenCity is lively and the public areas are characterized by highly varied groups of people and uses at different times of day: In addition to residents, business operators and employees, they are mostly students and visitors from all over the world and every corner of Germany. Many people from Hamburg have also discovered HafenCity and use its attractive cultural and leisure facilities.

To be a functioning urban district it is essential that a coexistence of people from different social and cultural environments develops and that structures that create community are thought through and put in place. Preconditions are differentiated housing provision for different population groups, social infrastructure that does justice to the needs of young and old, and also a participatory process that takes account of the different groups.


For a long time, living in the inner city was not seen to be very attractive. Today, however, it is the inner-city areas where residential rents and asking prices are rising especially strongly. Inner-city living enables sustainable models of living in which residents benefit from short journey to work, school, the shops or leisure areas. This is not only good for the environment but also takes pressure off household expenditure through much lower mobility expenses. For many, this means they can save time and more easily combine family, friends and employment. To enable access to Hamburg’s inner-city housing market for a wide spectrum of population groups for both social and ecological reasons, housing for rental and to buy at a range of price levels is being built in HafenCity by commercial and non-profit developers.

Housing cooperatives and joint building ventures have been contributing to a diversified provision of housing since the start of development and also provide important impetus for neighborly coexistence through a multitude of community facilities. Since 2010 at least 20 per cent of all housing has been publicly subsidized, and in 2011 this share rose to one third. The diversity of housing provision is significantly increase further by the so-called three-way mix. Monthly rents for apartments in housing subsidy schemes 1 and 2 are €7.10/m² and €9.20/m² respectively. As well as price differentiation, however, the choice of developers also contributes to a diversity of housing concepts. In Baakenhafen quarter in eastern HafenCity a particular diversity of concepts is coming into being that will make the neighborhood a place of living and encounter for a wide range of age and social groups. Building projects include multi-generational living for families, students, seniors and people with disabilities. As well as a multitude of private developers, joint building ventures and housing cooperatives, a variety of social organizations are building an extremely diverse and social mixed stock of housing. This is facilitated by the process for site tenders that prioritizes concept (70%) over price (30%).

Multi-generational district

The wide spectrum of living concepts, price levels and architectural styles available attracts a diverse mix of residents. Unlike in many popular inner-city areas, HafenCity is not dominated by one-person households. Instead there is a mix that encourages neighborliness, one in which families and seniors, but also other groups such as students, are particularly important. The proportion of households with children registered in HafenCity continues to grow. It is currently 26.3 percent which means that HafenCity is way ahead of other popular inner-city districts such as Eimsbüttel (13 percent), Eppendorf (14.7), Winterhude (13.5) or Neustadt (11.4), and also well over the Hamburg average of 18 percent. At the same time, HafenCity is the only district in the inner city or close to it where residents predominantly live in multi-person households (66.9 percent compared with 45.6 percent in Hamburg as a whole). The average household in HafenCity comprises 2.1 persons. In Eimsbüttel, St Pauli, Neustadt or St Georg this figure is 1.5. As further special residential concepts are completed in eastern HafenCity, the share of families will make a further leap upwards, but so will that of seniors, other groups dependent on care and nursing, and also students. Many older people have chosen to move to HafenCity after their children have moved out. They have chosen a place to live that offers cultural events, a socially alive environment and proximity to neighbors including young, career-driven couples and single people. Residents are also particularly attracted to HafenCity by its emotionally positive waterfront situation, individual home types, good transport infrastructure and attractive walking and cycling network.

HafenCity also links up the social organizations active in the care and nursing field that are part of the various building projects. The goal is to facilitate cooperation between organizations so as to exploit synergies in care provision and enable residents of the neighborhoods to remain independent into old age. It is not just the residents of individual building complexes who should be able to benefit from this provision; all HafenCity residents should have access to it. To meet the many-faceted requirements of children, young people, adults and seniors, an equally multi-faceted infrastructure is being created. The so-called “hard” infrastructure includes education and sport infrastructure, green spaces and leisure facilities, plus three community houses that are in planning. With an anticipated 12 child daycare centers (currently sic), two primary schools (currently one), the planned secondary school (comprising gymnasium and comprehensive departments), three universities and two university branches, HafenCity can boast outstanding education provision. Sport infrastructure consists of a multitude of multifunctional green spaces, squares and promenades as well as facilities dedicated specifically to sport. Among other things there are currently several street-ball fields, a skatepark and a temporary soccer kickabout area. In Oberhafen there will be a competition-grade soccer field and various athletics facilities. Three big playground areas also attract families from other neighborhoods to HafenCity. The so-called “soft” infrastructure, comprising numerous civil society institutions such as initiatives, associations and the Ecumenical Forum (the ACKH association of 21 churches in Hamburg) fills the hard infrastructure with a wide social program.


Of particular importance are the two play and community houses planned for Grasbrookpark and Baakenpark. They will be hubs for social, non-commercial involvement and space for neighborly cooperation – such as educational, play and creative initiatives, advice and information services, organization of workshops and courses, and as meeting places. About half of the floor area will be available for community uses, with multi-purpose rooms, offices, kitchens and co-working spaces. The other half will be down to a kiosk, public toilets and storage space for equipment for loan. The Netzwerk HafenCity association has been part of drawing up the use concept and the pre-examination of the 2019 architecture competition. Building work began in 2021/22. The opening of the community houses is planned for spring 2024.

The future operational running of the community houses will be organised by the association Quartiersmanagement HafenCity. After its start-up phase, the association is financed entirely by membership fees and does not need public funding. Owners of properties in HafenCity have undertaken to make a financial contribution by purchasing them.

Public spaces also serve to create neighborhood cohesion. Squares, parks and promenades are meeting places whose multifunctional design satisfies the demands of very varied groups. Activating the ground floor areas through public amenity uses – uses drawing small or large visitor numbers – results in an additional improvement in the quality of public space. This promotes chance meetings between population groups who would otherwise have little contact with each other, and thus provides a low-threshold means of increasing interaction within the neighborhoods.


A particular challenge for HafenCity initially was its location on former port and industrial land – and not just concerning infrastructure but also in relation to social development. Unlike other urban development projects, there were almost no residents in the area covered by HafenCity. The neighboring areas in the inner city also contained very little housing. The separation from the rest of the city, lasting almost 125 years due to the former customs border, meant that very few Hamburg residents had any connection to the area that would become HafenCity. It was only when the first residents and business operators moved in that civil society interest in the details of what the development would provide began to grow. The Netzwerk HafenCity association provides a platform for neighborhood interest. This also finds expression in further initiatives and associations such as Störtebeker SV sport club, Spielhaus HafenCity e. V., the Friends of Lohsepark and Schulcampus Lohsepark initiatives and the refugee support association Verein Flüchtlingshilfe HafenCity e. V. HafenCity Hamburg GmbH is in regular contact with them and with other civil society players in the neighborhoods. 

Residents are regularly included in the planning within the HafenCity, whether through their involvement in the architectural competitions or by integrating them in concrete planning processes. An example is the process for planning playgrounds: From the outset, stakeholders from HafenCity were included in the planning.  When Grasbrook park and Lohsepark were laid out, numerous ideas and suggestions from the Katharinenschule student advisory committee were taken into account, while the open space of Baakenhafen quarter would have looked different without the unique ideas of the many pre-school and primary school children who voiced their design wishes during a big participatory camp. Regular information and discussion events are also open to all residents and business operators in HafenCity. 

Good neighbourhoods and a successful community do not develop on their own: they need encounters, exchange, and participation – and they need people who are committed to them. As part of the development of HafenCity, it was recognized early on that active offers for socio-cultural participation are needed to generate community-promoting structures. These structures should emerge from within the district and be supported by the people, businesses and neighbourhood-related institutions in HafenCity. The association "Quartiersmanagement HafenCity" was founded on 12 September 2023 to anchor this guiding principle institutionally. This is currently paving the way for an innovative idea that was born around ten years ago: The vision of HafenCity oriented towards community, common good and social participation is to become reality. The association is open to all people, organisations and institutions that live, work or are active in HafenCity or have a legitimate interest in the social development of HafenCity.

By the end of 2023, HafenCity will have its own neighborhood management, which will act as a social contact point and impulse generator in the district, create low-threshold services, perform networking and activating functions, and strengthen socio-cultural coexistence in the long term.  

The primary goal of the Quartiersmanagement HafenCity association is to advocate for and engage the interests of the various interest groups – owners, tenants, tradespeople, social and district-related institutions and initiatives, as well as cultural and educational institutions – in order to contribute to an neighbourly, inclusive and vibrant HafenCity in the long term together with its future members.

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Participation in HafenCity

Shaping a vibrant district together: the public can actively participate via the Adhocracy+ platform.

Urban development

Urban working

From a raw port to a modern place of work

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