Active City

What makes a city a Global Active City?

Hamburg is one of six cities world-wide which can boast the title “Global Active City”.

Sport has been highly-valued for many years in the Free and Hansestadt Hamburg. Ever more people come to our city. We need not only dwellings, kindergartens, schools and jobs for these new Hamburg citizens. We also need parks and playgrounds, gymnasiums and sport grounds. After all, one of our most important goals is growth in the quality of life to match the growth of the city, according to the current Hamburger Sports Report (German) by Andy Grote, the Senator for Internal Affairs and Sports. And there is hardly anything that promotes more quality of life than sports and exercise.

Active City

Four years ago, in November 2015, a narrow majority of the citizens of Hamburg voted against holding the Summer Olympics. Since then, the Senate has not abandoned the ideas for expansion and modernization of the (sports) infrastructure of the city which were developed during preparation of the application. To the contrary: a “Masterplan Active City” was resolved, which is intended to implement the 32 projects of the Olympic plans.


So, the Senate is advancing city development and cleverly combining it with topics of exercise, sports, health and quality of life. Similar to many other large cities worldwide, Hamburg is growing. Predictions are for about two million residents by 2035. This growth in the number of people creates a need for growth in the infrastructure – and for urban space for exercise. The coupling of city, sports or exercise and health, as well as quality of life, was not mentioned by Senator Grote by chance. There is considerable scientific evidence that the environment in which a person lives and works, influences health and well-being. This relationship is influenced by many factors, such as nutrition, consumption of nicotine and alcohol, increasing air pollution – and also by a lack of exercise. In fact, diverse studies show that people living in the metropolis are on average less healthy and less physically active (see here and here). Basically, the position taken by studies on the importance to health of sufficient physical activity is clear. As Prof. Hollmann, Sports Physician and Honorary President of the World Sport Medicine League (FIMS) says:  “If there were a pill which would combine the properties of individually-adapted physical training from childhood to old age – such a medicine would be euphorically celebrated!”

Studying the reason why a lack of exercise persists in many residents is a complex task. But access to exercise space doubtlessly plays an essential role.

How, for example, should a child take his bike to school, if there is no bike path? How should a working woman play handball after work, if there is no sport group with a handball team? Certainly both problems can be solved. The child could ride on the street, the woman travel several kilometers to the next handball club – but the assumption is quickly reached that both will decide against sport and exercise under these circumstances. Cities must be planned to provide sufficient space and access routes for exercise and sports, thus enabling health-promoting, active behavior on the part of the residents.

Thus, the goal of the first decade in the current Hamburger Sports Report is called “SPORTmachtSTADT” and is aimed at creating new spaces for exercise and at using the existing spaces as efficiently as possible. The Masterplan for the new Hamburg district Oberbillwerder is exemplary here: “The Masterplan for Oberbillwerder is a quantum leap in city planning with sports and an absolute novelty. For the first time, exercise and health have been taken into account in planning from with word “go”. As a model district “Active City”, sport is a signpost  characteristic which decisively molds the character of this district and will thus contribute to quality of life,” said the Sport Senator about the project (learn more about the Oberbillwerder Masterplan here).

The projects which the Hansestadt has implemented since the application to hold the Olympics in Hamburg failed exceed the mere expansion of the infrastructure. They also include holding large sports events, such as the recent Beach Volleyball World Championship, the triathlon, Hamburg marathon and cycle classic, as well as promotion of popular sports and targeted support of elite sports. Last weekend, the Active City App and the new website went online. The App and the corresponding internet sites are intended to make available sport offers known to all Hamburg residents.

Global Active City

The Senate’s efforts to consider city planning, sports and health together are exemplary and – in light of future demographic challenges – particularly relevant. The “Active Well-being Initiative” sees it this way, too (more information on this here). The non-profit organizations EVALEO and TAFISA, the world league for popular sports founded the initiative in Switzerland in 2017. The goal of the “Active Well-being Initiative” is to support cities in promotion of the health of their residents – particularly by supporting exercise.  They introduced the label “Global Active City”, with a certification process conducted by an independent Swiss organization, which honors cities that show particular engagement and successful promotion of exercise.

Evaluation Commissions visited Hamburg several times during this certification process. The Offices for Economics, Traffic and Innovation, the Chamber of Commerce, The Parksportinsel e.V., the Hafencity GmbH, the IBA, the Hamburger Sportbundes e.V., the Eimsbüttler Turnverband e.V. and the FC St. Pauli e.V. participated in presenting sport-specific and sport-political approaches to the Swiss Commission. In addition to numerous projects from the Masterplan Active City, Hamburg’s specialists also presented the “City District Active City” in Oberbillwerder.

On October 6, 2018, the efforts by the Senate of the Free and Hansestadt Hamburg were finally rewarded.  Hamburg was honored as one of only six cities worldwide – with Buenos Aires (Argentina), Lillehammer (Norway), Liverpool (England), Ljubljana (Slowenia) and Richmond (Canada) - as a “Global Active City”.

Sports, Medicine and Health Summit 2020

During the interdisciplinary summit, a general overview is to be taken, going beyond exercise-therapeutic approaches and sports-medical treatments. The possibilities for a city to promote the health of its residents are to be discussed. Thus, conditions can be created to facilitate health-promoting behavior of individuals and make life in the city particularly worth living. Hamburg, as a certified “Global Active City” is a good example and thus offers a suitable pattern for talking about health-promoting cities, urban space for exercise, city planning and healthy, self-determining citizens – but also about the necessary conditions, chances and hurdles. For this reason, the Mayor, Dr. Peter Tschentscher, is acting as the patron of the Sports, Medicine and Health Summit in October 2020. Andy Grote, Senator for Internal  Affairs and Sports, emphasizes in a current interview in the Hamburger Abendblatt the importance of the scientific congress, in which experts of all disciplines and from all over the world will speak on strategies for promoting exercise.

This article was written by: Laura L. Bischoff

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