All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

What’s green in Hamburg, Germany?

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Hamburg's green network

Hamburg’s green network

When people think about Hamburg and northern Germany, what usually comes to mind are grimy industrial cities and ports.  This impression, if it was ever true, is at least fifty years out of date, and Hamburg is one of the greenest European cities.

What is usually meant by that is plenty of city parks and trees, and Hamburg has that in spades.  But what I wanrted to look into is the other definition of green city: one that goes easy on the environment.

What that usually means is a city with good walkability and urban transit, as well as examples of energy conservation and renewable energy production.  Hamburg has plenty of that, too; but there are also unique intiatives that made the European Commission bestow the 2011 Green Capital Award, and they are worth describing.

(I should mention that I hope to go back to Hamburg soon, and this is a sort of travel planning on my part; things I’d be loath to miss.)

The energy bunker with ts new solar panels cover

The energy bunker with ts new solar panels cover

Some of the individual buildings are particularly noteworthy.  Among them is the EnergieBunker, an undestructible WW2 bunker (the occupying British tried to demolish the eyesore structure, but gave up) converted into into an energy centre.  Not only is it covered in photovoltaics, but its thermal mass (with two-meter thick concrete walls) is such that it is used as storage for hot water produced by solar energy and biomass.

The BIQ algal house

The BIQ algal house

Then there is the BIQ house, an appartment building that grows an algae culture within its windows and periodically harvests them to produce biofuel, which is used to produce both heat and electricity for the complex.  It’s a clever way to store solar energy, and on bright sunny days, the algae absorb excess solar energy and provide some shading; this is touted as the very first full-scale bioreactive facade.  Or again the woodcube house, an all-wood appartment complex made without any synthetic chemicals.  Environmental creds are so important that there’s a eco-hotel that builds its advertising around its features: solar electricity, cogen heat, rain water flusing system, recycled wood for materials, and of course local food. 

The wood cube

The wood cube

But a few nifty buildings aren’t enough to make a green city; urban planning is needed, and in this respect Hamburg shines, with several large development projects.

The most high-profile initiative is HafenCity, the largest inner-city redevelopment project in Europe (172 ha), with planned housing for over 10,000 people as well as office and commercial space for a whopping 45,000 jobs.  Sustainable architecture is used, with 30% getting a Ecolabel Gold rating (the equivalent of our LEED), and the buildings include functions as diverse as a university campus, the Spiegel publishing headquarters, a commercial centre, and even Greenpeace Deutschland headquarters (which the city brags about – goes to show the distance in environmental politics between Canada and Germany!).

The other major development is on Wilhelmsburg Island, which will see a large urban redevelopment project and in 2013 hosted the International Building Exhibition (as well as the International garden Exhibition, throwing in a few green roofs for good measure).  It will be interesting to follow whether this urban renewal project, set in a former low income industrial area, will age well and provide good low-income housing facilities, or whether it will simply lead to another gentrification problem.

Covering the A7 highway

Covering the A7 highway

The city is also covering a 2.5 kilometer section of highway A7, turning what was until now a noisy highway in a ditch into a linear green park (with a highway tunnel underneath, of course).  This is part of an ambitious plan to create a network of parks and green areas that will cover 40% of the city’s surface area.  One of the objectives of this plan is to absorb rain and provide flood control (the city suffered from a catastrophic flood in 1962, and last year’s flood reminded everyone about the dangers that climate change is bringing, both from sea level rise and increased storm intensity).

The city has also recently unveiled an ambitious plan to become a car-free city by eliminating the need for private car travel through the downtown area within the next twenty years, making pedestrian and cycling paths, along with transit and commercial vehicles, the main modes of transport.   All this is in keeping with Hamburg’s stated goal of reducing carbon emissions by 40% by 2020, and 80% by 2050 (with respect to 1990 levels).  It is boosting wind and solar electricity generation, as well as enforcing high-level energy efficiency standards on its housing.  Industry incentives are also helping reducing energy needs, such as the adoption of a new iron reducing process in Hamburg’s ArcelorMittal steel mill, showing that heavy industry can survive even when energy is expensive (a situation that actually drives innovation).

I wouldn’t want to give the impression that Hamburg is an environmental saint; it is, after all, largely powered by coal, and made headlines with its 2013 announcement of a new coal plant in Moorburg.  But even then, this plant will be a high efficiency one, and along with generating electricity its heat will serve for district heating.   It is also designed with a unique feature: instead of having to remain on all the time, like other coal plants, it can ramp up to meet demand, so that it produces only peak demand (when there is no wind, for instance).

But even with that, we in Vancouver can only envy what’s going on in Hamburg.  And to think we’re Canada’s greenest city!

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Written by enviropaul

February 15, 2014 at 6:46 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] as I was finishing my blog article on Hamburg, last Friday, I got really sad news: Detlev Raasch, Dinah’s uncle, passed away.  Two weeks ago, […]

  2. […] but in more detail, some of the things I already wrote about: the Algae House, Jenfelder Au, and other stuff, as well as a bunch more (the EnergieBerg, the energy bunker, HafenCity) that make (or will make) […]


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