From October 12-16, the Urban and Regional Policy Program hosted a study tour for 18 delegates from six U.S. cities—Flint, Detroit, Cleveland, Youngstown, Pittsburgh, and Seattle—and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on equitable and inclusive urban regeneration strategies in Hamburg, Germany. The study tour was part of the fourth year of the Cities in Transition Initiative, a four-year program designed to foster exchange and networking among policymakers and practitioners in older, industrial cities in the United States and Europe to promote best practices for the regeneration of distressed urban areas.
Due to the city’s unique socio-economic position and deep-seated tradition of an active civic and political culture, Hamburg provided an ideal learning lab for these topics. Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city and the third largest container port in Europe. It is also an extremely diverse city—29% of the population has a migrant background. Until the early 2000s, Hamburg was also a shrinking city. It now experiences modest population growth largely due to immigration.
Hamburg has experienced a long history of tension with urban regeneration efforts. Affordable housing and workspace are difficult to find despite high rates of vacancy in industrial and office space, and redevelopment projects regularly attract protests. These tensions have contributed to an overall malaise that the city is becoming more segregated and gentrified. The prevalence of these issues led the city to take active steps to find better ways of engaging with the community, of better including the community in the urban regeneration process, and developing innovative ways to educate youth and prepare them for workforce opportunities. CIT study tour participants saw firsthand the issues confronting the city and the impact of recently-implemented solutions by exploring three main topics: civic engagement, education, and physical regeneration projects.
Education and Youth Workforce Initiatives
Policymakers and Hamburg are striving to make the local education system more equitable. Whereas students, parents, and teachers previously selected an educational and career path after only a few years of schooling, the city has created more options and more pathways to gaining a degree. Policymakers also work diligently with teachers and other educators to ensure they understand what is expected of them and the suite of options available to students today. One of the most innovative projects that the delegation visited was the Hip Hop Academy at the Kulturpalast in Hamburg, an afterschool program for children ages 13 and older to participate in hip hop and dance as a way to develop self-confidence, to build a sprit of team work, and to break down cultural barriers in the community.
The City of Hamburg has introduced several innovative and institutionalized processes to increase civic engagement. For example, Die Motte, founded by XYZ Nexthamburg in2009, is an innovative citizen participation platform designed to collect ideas from community members and create a vision for the city as a whole. In this model, there are no no’s. The intention is to accept every idea, and although they may not be implemented in its totality, all ideas are valued and used.
Over the past few decades, Hamburg has invested heavily in the physical regeneration of parts of the city. One of these efforts in the Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) project, a large scale redevelopment near the center of the city in the Wilhelmsburg neighborhood.
In addition to a focus on these three topics, study tour participants also had several opportunities to discuss the issue of gentrification in their cities with experts from Hamburg, Leipzig, and Amsterdam. Open and honest discussions highlighted the important need for a balanced and consistent approach in the effort to create more just and equitable cities.
Throughout the study tour, participants engaged in facilitated debriefing sessions to help facilitate the translation and application of lessons learned to their home cities. At the end of the study tour, participants spent half a day developing an action plan that provided clear next steps for taking lessons learned and leveraging them to help overcome obstacles and challenges they are facing in their home cities.