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Many metropolitan regions around the world have grown beyond their core city. By growing bigger, they often improve their capacity to attract investment, upgrade their skills base and move up the global value chain. Large metropolitan regions are better equipped than smaller cities to reap “agglomeration economies”, which typically arise when firms and workers in close proximity share knowledge and become more productive together.

Administrative fragmentation can get in the way of agglomeration economies. OECD research shows that the more fragmented a metropolitan region is, the less productive it is. When a metropolitan region encompasses a large number of municipalities and even regions, as in the case of the Hamburg Metropolitan Region that spans more than 1,100 municipalities across four different federal states in Germany, the search for agglomeration economies is all the more complex.

Despite the presence of a dynamic port, a diversified range of economic clusters, top-class research facilities, a wealth of cultural, natural and recreational assets, and a generally high level of quality of life, the Hamburg Metropolitan Region (HMR) is losing ground to other comparable OECD metropolitan regions, including within Germany. Although HMR enjoys a relatively high level of GDP per capita and labour productivity, it falls behind other high-productivity OECD metropolitan regions such as Boston (US), Copenhagen (Denmark), or Gothenburg (Sweden).

The OECD Territorial Review of the Hamburg Metropolitan Region calls for “thinking big” beyond local, state, and even national boundaries to leverage the benefits of more effective regional integration. Joining forces to achieve a critical mass is particularly relevant in view of the construction of the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link, an immersed tunnel that will directly connect Germany and Denmark and open further economic opportunities with Scandinavia. The review offers targeted policy recommendations to strengthen the capacity of the Hamburg Metropolitan Region to innovate, improve transport and housing planning, and develop an attractive branding strategy to maximise benefits for the entire region in the long term.

This review is part of a series of OECD Territorial Reviews created in 2001 to support regional development at the multi-country, country, regional and metropolitan scale through peer-to-peer learning and the dissemination of best practices. The analysis follows a standard methodology. It draws on the responses from the stakeholders of the Hamburg Metropolitan Region to a detailed OECD questionnaire, in-depth desk research, two study missions conducted in September and November 2018, insights from three international peer reviewers (from Chicago (US), Rotterdam-The Hague (The Netherlands), and Västra-Götaland (Sweden), respectively), phone interviews, and detailed consultations with the Hamburg Metropolitan Region. The review was approved by the Working Party on Urban Policy of the Regional Development Policy Committee at its 25th session on 15 May 2019.

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