Greening Hamburg: A Model for Sustainability

Earth Day 2014 is upon us, and the theme for the year is Green Cities. The theme was selected by the Earth Day Network in recognition of the fact that more people now live in urban than rural areas and that the challenges of achieving a desirable quality of life in the face of growing populations will be compounded by the effects of climate change.

hamburg

Hamburg on the Alster. Image Credit: Brunhilde Reinig.

Earth Day 2014 is upon us, and the theme for the year is Green Cities. The theme was selected by the Earth Day Network in recognition of the fact that more people now live in urban than rural areas and that the challenges of achieving a desirable quality of life in the face of growing populations will be compounded by the effects of climate change.

The theme encourages innovative thought and action to reduce carbon footprints and promote sustainable developments in urban living through policy, technology, education, or infrastructure changes.

One city already on its way toward sustainability is Hamburg, Germany. Hamburg was declared the 2011 European Green Capitol by the European Commission and has spent decades working to improve the quality of life for its residents while shrinking its ecological footprint.

The movement toward being green, the HafenCity Project, centers around two main hubs: inner-city development to encourage shorter commutes and diminish sprawl, and encouraging industry to promote environmental actions beyond those designated in standards and legislation.

Bicycles for rent. Image Credit: Peter Griffin.

Bicycles for rent. Image Credit: Peter Griffin.

Over the last two decades, these changes have been manifested in a variety of ways, including alterations in transportation infrastructure, sustaining green spaces within the city, building codes and innovations for greater efficiency, and promotion of individual behavior changes.

Changes in individual behavior are encouraged in a variety of ways. Disincentives include high taxes on gasoline, while incentives include rentable bikes, installation of charging stations for electric vehicles, and close proximity to buses or subways — 99 percent of the city’s inhabitants live less than a quarter mile from public transportation.

However, Hamburg is not done reimagining itself as a city. As a major industrial center and port, it has to find a balance between business and its ecological goals and has begun by striving to create an ecologically sound foundation from which to build.

In “Clean Break,” Earthzine’s Osha Gray Davidson compares a trip across Hamburg to “visiting the launch pad of Germany’s renewable energy revolution.” The description seems to fit well with the goal of Hamburg’s policymakers and stakeholders — that their innovations will serve as a model for other cities seeking to follow a more sustainable path. With more than 1.8 million residents, Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany, so its stride toward a less carbon-dependent future makes a considerable difference toward the country’s overall goals.

Green Cities 2014 Logo. Image Credit: Earth Day Network.

Green Cities 2014 Logo. Image Credit: Earth Day Network.

April 22 is the official date for Earth Day and a chance to celebrate sustainable cities like Hamburg.  But the Green Cities campaign neither started nor will end with the day. The Earth Day Network first launched the Green Cities campaign in the fall of 2013. The campaign will continue into 2015 and focus on three main sectors: energy, green buildings, and transportation. Cities or individuals looking for inspiration or ways to get involved can find out more on the Earth Day Network website.