ULI Germany Holds Frankfurt-Offenbach Lab

On 3 March, ULI Germany gathered urban planners, project developers, investors, architects, and public officials to explore the development potential between the cities of Frankfurt and Offenbach. The “FrankfurtOffenbach Lab” brought experts together to sketch possibilities of forward-looking, future oriented and sustainable urban development with Lord Mayor Horst Schneider, City of Offenbach, and Deputy Mayor Olaf Cunitz, City of Frankfurt.  The event was held in Offenbach’s hip “Heyne Fabrik”, a screw factory-turned-office space for creatives.

The focus of the “FrankfurtOffenbach Lab” was on the interface of the two neighbouring cities, especially the Hafen Offenbach (a waterfront development at a former oil harbour site). More than 100 participants identified the strengths and challenges of this dynamic site and formulated recommendations for a common development.

Through site tours, interactive workshops and discussions, the conference guests were able to figure out which concepts could help create a vital, sustainable, healthy and economically attractive place, where people can live and work and be connected with both cities: Frankfurt, the financial capital and its creative sister city, Offenbach.

This topic had already been addressed by an ULI Advisory Services Panel (German: “EIN Stadtraum ohne Grenzen”) in May 2015, when ten ULI experts determined ways for Frankfurt and Offenbach to better collaborate, better connect both economically and physically, and develop commercial and residential properties in ways that benefit both cities. Both cities have recently made a policy decision to implement the suggestions of the ULI report in the near future. The “FrankfurtOffenbach Lab” has now been another concrete step in this mutual cooperation.

Deputy mayor Olaf Cunitz (Frankfurt am Main) highlighted that while Frankfurt and Offenbach have their own identities and their own boundaries, they have an increasing number of joint approaches. The long term goal will be to integrate the entire infrastructure of both municipalities into one city space. As an elementary step towards realizing this vision, Cunitz called for the establishment of a common development corporation Frankfurt-Offenbach to implement joint development projects, beyond administrative boundaries. As a first symbolic act, there will be a common map showing both cities in one document.

Christopher Choa, Principal at AECOM and member of the original Advisory Services Panel, framed the project area in a global context. According to Choa, Frankfurt and Offenbach can prevail as drivers of globalisation, preserve their viability and sustainable growth, and achieve attractiveness for young people only by creating and preserving their own identities. He also pointed out that to attract an innovative, global work force, Offenbach’s connectivity to the airport needs to be improved. A direct connection to either the south of Frankfurt and to the airport is crucial to directly profit from the proximity to the airport.

In two workshops moderated by ULI Germany’s product councils moderators, attendees discussed ideas and initiatives to enliven the project area and involve it in the superordinate urban- and regional planning approaches.

Human capital is crucial for the further urban development of Frankfurt and Offenbach. By focusing on the individual human being in planning concepts, the new area could become a healthy and attractive urban space. The possibility to establish a young image and attract smaller companies is a clear advantage of the location of Offenbach.

Initiating projects, such as hotels, and designing attractive public spaces were identified as key invigorating factors of an emerging city space between Frankfurt and Offenbach. In other development areas such as the Hafen City Hamburg, these types of projects helped to change people’s perception of the site and to enliven the whole neighbourhood.

The concluding panel discussion summarised that individual and small-scale developments are important in creating a healthy urban environment. Offenbach offers those kind of projects in many ways. By helping developers to access and to maintain such customised projects, the City of Offenbach would promote long lasting interest in the new urban quarter “Hafen Offenbach”.

Both panel discussions as well as the workshops came to the conclusion that the sense of identity created by Frankfurt and Offenbach will determine the success of the project. In the event, it became clear that the global city competition forces Frankfurt and Offenbach to combine their respective strengths. But Offenbach needs to establish a unique brand to gain increased recognition: the city must simply make clear what it stands for.

ULI Germany’s local chair of Frankfurt, Sascha Kilb (Drees & Sommer) summed up that both cities should jointly plan and combine their potentials but preserve their identities. Only in this way Frankfurt and Offenbach can grow together as “a city space without borders” and improve their competitiveness in a global scale.

The “FrankfurtOffenbach Lab” created a sense of optimism for future joint developments of both cities and for more unique investments in this area.

This post was written by Peter Koziel, Manager, Events and Programmes, ULI Germany