Friday, October 18, 2002

Hamburg is a striking city

The invention of container shipping is one of the things that has changed the world most in the last 50 years. It did for the moving of physical goods what the invention of packet switching and the internet did for the moving of information. The flow through effect that it had on what our cities look like is reasonably widely understood by people who think about these things, but probably not so much by the general public. Basically, container shipping led to much bigger ships and the requirement that there be large amounts of machinery (generally enormous cranes) next to where the ships docked. This meant that many traditional ports (often a few miles up rivers and close to the middle of cities which had grown around the ports) were utterly useless for loading and unloading containers. This meant that the container ports had to be buit somewhere else, usually a few kilometres closer to the mouth of the same river. This meant that the traditional port areas of the cities became rundown, and in the last ten to twenty years these areas have provided areas for residential and office development near water. Hence we have London's docklands developments, huge areas of Sydney harbour foreshore becoming residential, ships no longer dock up the Avon River gorge in Bristol but instead dock in the Severn Estuary, and waterfront developments have occurred in the space left behind as ships have ceased docking in traditional locations in virtually every traditional port city in the world.

Hamburg is an exception. For reasons of history, Hamburg was built by the side of the mighty Elbe river. Unusually, the city is next to a very deep and wide portion of the river. And, almost uniquely out of all the port cities I have seen, this has allowed the container Port to be built essentially next to the same water used for the traditional port. The container port is on the other side of the river to most of the city of Hamburg, but it is close and visible to the city itself. The port dominates the city.

Due to the non-departure of the port, there has been relatively little space for waterside redevelopment as there has been beside rivers in other ports. Warehouses are still used as warehouses, and so cannot be converted to housing. Some of the old docks can no longer be used as docks and are a little run down, and there are one or two areas which were clearly important in the past but no longer are. The container port appears slightly downstream from where the conventional port was, but only slightly. There has been some development in this area, but this has an interesting character, as it is built close to working port infrastructure. We have a theatre hosting a production of the stage version of The Lion King surrounded by port infrastructure. We have suburbs rather closer to the container port than is the case with container ports in other cities, and other associated infrastructure nearby too. (Most notably, there is a beautiful cable stayed bridge). We have one or two tourist attractions, but no large scale redevelopment. The port is still at the heart of Hamburg, and this is very unusual for a modern city.

No comments:

Blog Archive