Why do people move to a city? What Richard Florida says and whether it applies to Hamburg

My aim when starting this project was to find out why people move to Hamburgand to shed a bit of light on whether conventional wisdom – that cities are in competition with each other and need to do all they can to attract mobile, talented people who can move at the drop of a hat – applies to Hamburg. I’m also interested in what cities have to do to attract people.

This is especially relevant as Germany and other countries increasingly find themselves in need of highly-skilled workers, the so-called Fachkräftemangel.

Richard Florida and the Creative Class

One of the major thinkers and writers on this topic is Richard Florida, author of the 2002 book “The rise of the creative class”. A while ago, I got hold of the Revisited version.

From page 183 onwards, you can read the story of a graduate who was recruited from a Pittsburg university by an Austin company. Florida suggests that the real reasons people choose a city. It’s not about impressive buildings:

The physical attractions that most cities focus on building – sports stadiums, freeways, urban malls, and tourism-and-entertainment districts that resemble theme parks – are irrelevant, insufficient, or actually unattractive to them.

As it happens, I was having a chat to friends the other night about whether Hamburg’s hugely expensive world-class concert hall complex, the Elbphilharmonie, will do anything to make Hamburg more visible internationally. According to Florida, it will not. (For more on this, see below.)

What is it that attracts these people? Florida says its more about other people like them, but not too like them – diversity is very important.

What creatives look for are abundant high-quality amenities and experiences, an openness to diversity of all kinds, and above all else the opportunity to validate their identities as creative people. […]

A big part of [the] success [of places where creatives live] stems from that fact that they are places wher creative people want to live.

Does this tally up with my experience? Yes and no

Firstly, “Why Hamburg?” isn’t just about the creative class that Florida describes, but there is a big overlap.

All in all, I very much agree with Florida in terms of what makes a city attractive to internationals: in simple terms, it’s the people. Spouses, friends, recommendations from friends – usually there is somebody who has given the person a nudge to move to Hamburg. Diversity, too, is often mentioned by participants.

However lots of people come here because of work, which Florida says the creative class aren’t so bothered by.

It’s also slightly different with Hamburg, because although other people generally cause someone to come here, it’s usually individuals giving them that nudge for a wide range of reasons. That’s much different from a community radiating an image about a place that attracts more members.

Most interviewees love Hamburg also because of its amenities like parks, lakes, greenness, public transport, night-life etc., which contradicts what Florida says. But I think the group of friends and acquaintances, even a network of like-minded people to do business with, is the most important factor in making people stay.

So was the Elbphilharmonie a big mistake?

Elbphilharmonie
The Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, pictured in 2011.

I mentioned above that Florida says amenities such as big prestige projects aren’t the way to attract members of the creative class. (At one point he says it can even be a turn-off.)

I’m not an expert on this, but I think the Elbphilharmonie can – possibly – play an important role in attracting tourists and creating a buzz about Hamburg. But I’m sceptical about its power to do so on its own, and also think that for attracting long-term new residents Hamburg needs to have people and processes in place to assist people in setting up in Hamburg. (More on that another time.)

However, don’t forget that the Elbphilharmonie is part of the HafenCity, Europe’s largest urban development in terms of size. The HafenCity will only be completely finished around 2025 – and if they do it right it could combine affordable housing, offices, collaboration spaces and more to foster open innovation in a walkable neighbourhood. Until now, it has had a reputation as an extremely expensive ghost town, but it is gradually coming to life as more people move in and the Hafencity University moved its campus there in 2014. I don’t know enough about it yet, but there is a possibility that by 2025 it will be very different and will be home to a community that will be attractive to talented people from overseas.

Possibly more on this topic in a later post.

Could, and should, Hamburg host the 2024 Olympics?

[UPDATE 2: On 29th November 2015, there will be a referendum to decide whether Hamburg should continue its bid to host the Olympics. Non-Germans aren’t allowed to vote, as explained in my article.]

[UPDATE: On 21st March, the DOSB confirmed Hamburg as the candidate city for Germany.]

Imagine the scene as a flotilla carries olympians and paralympians from all corners of the world along the Elbe to the opening ceremony of the 2024 Hamburg Olympics. The cheers from the crowds of Hamburg residents and their international guests assembled along the Landungsbrücken, the craning of necks to see the athletes from our home countries and – oh my God! – people off the telly. Binoculars at the ready.

Across the world, Hamburg would be the centre of attention with the international press and heads of state here in the city we call home. You probably wouldn’t bump into Barack Obama at Jungfernstieg, but you might catch a glimpse of the odd familiar face off national TV and your sporting heroes from times past and present.

Hamburg has a mountain as large as Olympus itself to climb if it wants to host the Olympics and Paralympics in 2024, but it’s surely achievable. And the view from the top would be supreme.

Timeline: it could be all over by 21st March 2015

[UPDATE] – At the end of February, Forsa took a survey amongst 1,500 residents in Berlin and Hamburg, respectively. The DOSB had said that they would take into the account the results of this survey on whether residents were in favour or against. Hamburg “won” – residents were 64% in favour; in Berlin 55% were in favour.

One thing we know for sure: Germany will almost certainly apply to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic games. Either Berlin or Hamburg will be the proposed host city, and the DOSB (Deutscher Olympischer Sportbund or German Olympic Sports Confederation) will decide on 21st March 2015 which city it will be. Even if Berlin is chosen over Hamburg, there will surely be implications for our city because Berlin is a mere 90-minute train ride away from Hamburg and it would be feasible for major sports teams to have their bases here.

As outlined on the City of Hamburg website, there are many steps to be taken before the final decision. The German city that applies will hopefully be amongst the final candidates, which will be decided in May 2016. After that, the final decision will be taken in autumn 2017.

Could this catapult Hamburg onto the international stage?

On this blog, I have recently been arguing that Hamburg is not one of those “gone viral” cities (in the sense that we say something has “gone viral” on social media), and that it is unlikely to change.

Although I’m by no means certain that it would, the Olympics is one of the few single events that stands a chance of massively increasing Hamburg’s visibility internationally. With seven years’ anticipation (from the time of the selection) and four years’ intense anticipation (following the Olympics in Tokyo), Hamburg would be constantly in the international media. This would be a huge opportunity to build the international brand that Hamburg is, in my opinion, currently lacking.

It would be interesting to see what effect previous Olympic games have had on the image of other international cities, especially ones that weren’t previously well known internationally.

Do we want this? Hamburgians apparently do

There are definitely some people who are against the Olympic games taking place in Hamburg, not least the (n)Olympia group. Some would argue that quality of life suffers when cities become extremely popular because of the “churn” factor I dealt with previously, and the strain on resources. Others fear that it could lead to an acceleration in the gentrification process that is already a very hot topic in Hamburg. And of course there’s the cost of the whole thing, which can potentially run into billions, see below.

I, if I’m honest, have yet to make up my mind. My instinct says “yes” because the city authorities appear to be well aware of the criticisms of previous Olympics – especially where sustainability is concerned. I think it would be good for Germany to host the Olympics following its success with the World Cup in 2006 , and it would say a lot about Germany as a decentralised nation if it were to let it go to Hamburg.

According to a poll reported in the Abendblatt (Hamburg’s local broadsheet), Hamburgians are in favour of hosting the Olympics here: in September, 53% were in favour and 44% were against. Berlin citizens are against hosting it there: 49% were against, 48% were in favour.

On the other hand, Germans as a whole would apparently rather see the Olympics held in Berlin: again reported in the Abendblatt, 40% think that Berlin would have better chances of winning, whereas only 17% think Hamburg has a better chance.

But, as mentioned above, Berliners don’t want it.

Treading carefully following failed Munich referendum

In 2013,  Munich’s bid for the Winter Olympics 2022 fell at the very first hurdle: with a majority 52%, a the proposal was rejected in a referendum. This will no doubt play on the minds of the DOBC and the officials within both cities. Coupled with the aforementioned ongoing debate around gentrification and costs, dissatisfied citizens could cause problems if they feel they are being ignored. I suspect this could play in Hamburg’s favour, because the city is not quite as rebellious as Berlin.

Indeed, following the DOSC’s decision there will be a referendum in Hamburg to allow citizens to decide whether to proceed with the bid.

Sustainability and IOC reform

A big factor in keeping the people on board – whichever city is put forward – will be addressing concerns about the sustainability of the Olympics. We have all seen the listicles with photos of derelict Olympic sites. The logo and campaign CI for the previous Hamburg bid has been rolled out again for this campaign. Whether intentional or not, resources are being reused from the word go.

Sustainability partly means having a lasting effect, and as discussed above, in Hamburg’s case it could be argued that the additional publicity for the city would make a longer lasting change than it would for Berlin.

Where environmental sustainability is concerned, the city claims – probably much like any other city – that it will use existing facilities where feasible, and, where new ones are built, consider the future use of them. Hamburg, and Germany as a whole, are world leaders in sustainability practices so generally I think you can take them at their word.

In recent years, scepticism surrounding large – massive – sporting events like the Olympics and World Cup has grown. Corruption, or alleged corruption, amongst officials is often in the media. Hamburg has made its bid conditional on IOC reform from the word go.

In early December 2014, the Sport Senator (Michael Neumann) made a point of welcoming the IOC’s 40 reforms.

The practicalities

In the pre-application stage, Hamburg had to answer a whole host of questions about plans for the location of the Olympic village, transport arrangements, the Olympic stadium, and of course events such as sailing that cannot be hosted within Hamburg itself.

You can see a map of the plans in this unwieldy PDF. The main area including the Olympic village and Olympic stadium would be on an island in the Elbe between the northern and southern part of Hamburg. As I detailed in my article about Ana, the southern part of Hamburg is often forgotten. Part of the overall strategy with regards to the Olympics is to bridge that gap further.

In terms of transport, it seems that Hamburg considers itself to be up to the challenge without the necessity for any permanent extension to the transport system. We will see Olympic bike lanes, but other than that extra busses and subways will be put on to make up capacity. The StadtRad, a system that enables people to borrow bikes easily for a short time (think of Boris Bikes in London), will be extended, and Hamburg is a green and walkable city.

How much would it cost?

As far as I can see, nobody knows. In an answer to the (n)Olympia group, Sport Senator Michael Neumann said that overall the London Olympics in 2012 made a profit of £30 million. However, the (n)Olympia organisers say the initial projected budget of £3.07bn rose by a factor of almost four. So in terms of costs, we’re looking at possibly upwards of €10bn; but if the Senator is right, then the costs will be at least to some degree offset by income.

For or against?

I’m still not 100% certain whether I’m for the Olympics in Hamburg. My experience in London (where I ended up in the city during the Olympics almost pretty much by accident) biases me a little towards “yes”. Despite scepticism right from the day the logo was announced, people were generally in favour when it actually took place and look back on it, as I do, with fond memories.

Are you for or against? I’d be interested to hear what you think.

A high “churn” rate has its downsides, but Hamburg needn’t worry

I recently spoke at 12min.me about “Why Hamburg?”, and the line I took was that international people generally come here for a specific reason, e.g. love, work, a recommendation from a friend, or some other coincidence. They don’t often come here because Hamburg is their dream destination, but usually love it when they are here.

This means that these people are rooted in, and rooting for, Hamburg.

High churn rate

Cities that have “gone viral”, on the other hand, don’t have this luxury. London, New York, Sydney and recently Berlin have such a strong international image that people just go there because they have heard it’s great and arrange a life around them once they are there: any job, accommodation, etc. The question “Why New York?” might even seem superfluous.

This group of young and internationally mobile people can leave at the drop of a hat, and do, meaning that they don’t necessarily put down roots in the same way that we do in Hamburg. This in turn means that there is a high “churn” rate of people coming and going.

This is the topic of an article by Richard Goodhart for Demos Quarterly, published by the UK thinktank Demos. The article itself is controversial in the way it deals with race issues – in my opinion, the author is too clumsy in his use of terms and statistics relating to the white population without clearly explaining why.

However, it points to some of the problems with being one of those hyper popular cities like London. I don’t want to do London a disservice – I love visiting friends there! – so take this with a pinch of salt, but the author describes a hellish vision of a city where people don’t put down roots, nobody trusts their neighbours, and nothing is sacred.

So what does this mean for Hamburg?

Firstly, this churn phenomenon is partly to do with the UK setup, which is much more polarised between London and not-London than Germany vís à vís Berlin. In fact, Germany has several cities that are richer than the capital and their populations aren’t way behind it. Birmingham, my home city and the second largest in the UK, is merely an eighth of the size of London in population; Hamburg is over half the size of Berlin.

Secondly, I think “churn” is not a problem Hamburg should really worry about. Hamburg could probably do with more internationalisation, even if some of those people come and go within a short space of time. (You can’t force them to stay here!) It’s only when it starts hitting high levels that it becomes a problem. I’d say this is like inflation in that respect. Or another comparison that springs to mind is the default fear that some organisations have when using social media or online forums: they decide not to do it because they worry about their capacity to moderate responses. In reality, their problem is not having enough interaction, rather than too much. The same goes for Hamburg as an international city: it would take a lot of work, and is probably impossible, to attract too many members of this “creative class” because Hamburg won’t go viral.

Thirdly, and on a similar note, I think places like Hamburg need to see the positive in not being a “viral city”.

Another social media analogy: not everyone is Stephen Fry, meaning the lessons we can learn from how he uses social media are limited. I think we can look to similar cities, and think about how we can do more low-level marketing instead of trying to compete with London and New York. This is a rather vague idea at the moment, but think more spear-fishing (addressing smaller groups, and having excellent “customer service” for startups thinking of relocating, the kind of stuff that requires a CRM system), instead of blunderbus-style catch-all marketing.

In all of that, I suggest there is a role for our long-term international people, who are rooted in the city, know it well, and have an interest in promoting it and ensuring that people have a good experience and stay here. After all, who wants to see their group of friends evaporate?