Making of a new downtown: urban place-making in HafenCity, Hamburg, Germany
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This study inspects how an urban place is made in HafenCity, Hamburg, currently one of Europe’s largest urban development projects. This process is illustrated as a co-production of residential initiative and planners' facilitation in developing a nascent urban district into a self-sustained community. The qualitative approach draws on interviews with 55 residents, interviews with planning agents and participant observation. Planners' agendas and policies are set in relation to residents' local activities, to display how physical engineering and social appropriation are moments conjoined in urban place-making. Newly-built riverside developments have commonly been characterised as enclaves of private affluence with weak attachments of their residents to the local area. Middle class professionals enjoy a ready-made lifestyle marked by private consumption and domestic services that enable them to socially disengage from their surrounding neighbourhood. HafenCity bucks this trend in regard to its dynamic neighbourhood life unfolding among its residents. It is argued that the situation of first-time occupation of a neighbourhood spurs the development of residential relationships and their intensification more readily than in established neighbourhoods. An initial merely aesthetic identification of incoming residents with the lures of their chosen destination is a precondition for the generation of farther reaching identifications, epitomised in engagements with place as something valorised in its own right. The facilitation of such associations is grounded in the intersection of two important factors. As a residential site, HafenCity selectively attracts educated middle class cohorts, implying that cultural capital concentrates within a very confined geographical setting that characterised HafenCity at its earliest stage. The personal identification of many incomers with HafenCity as a place of desire and their resulting optimism after arrival translates into a shared positive sense of place among individuals feeling similarly. This 'community in the mind' facilitates familiarisation among residents and the transition of neighbourly interactions into more meaningful voluntary associations serving needs of sociability, cultural indulgence, economic wellbeing, and most prominently, political engagement seeking to make HafenCity's official planning policy more foreseeable and accountable. In essence, the abundance of cultural capital at the neighbourhood scale acts as a favourable condition for its conversion into social capital for the advancement of a new area into a community of strong residential ties marked by attentiveness to one another's needs. The spatial situation of 'under-construction' encourages residents to voluntary engagement in HafenCity’s development policy. While the planning authority itself stimulates such participative mechanisms, they are at the same time concessions made to legitimise and reinforce the power held by this authority. As a consequence, participation in the development process becomes an ambiguous amalgam of volunteering and institutional intervention. While participation facilitates dialogical structures between residents and planners, it does not increase residents’ actual influence in urban policy making. Through their facilitation of residents' place-making, planners can credit themselves with treating the issue of planning in a foresighted way that refutes notions of technocratic blindness to human needs. Such active promotion of residents' attachments to their place however has its limits. While planners have a vested interest in an active residential community they can showcase as a testimonial to the reasonability of their agenda, they are unable to resolve conflicts of interests among residents that thwart the project of joint place-making. The scope of planners in collaborative place-making is circumscribed by the competencies of an authority that de-legitimises the actual engineering of interpersonal relationships at the neighbourhood level.