When the growing size of container ships put Hamburg, Germany’s harbour out of business, it left half a square mile of wasted space near the city centre. Out of those ashes, a vibrant new phoenix of a neighbourhood emerged, designed to be perhaps the most sustainable, diverse and liveable neighbourhood in the world.

Starting in the 1960s, the container ships that served Hamburg's port began to outgrow the space available. The land -- an ugly patch of brown field less than half a mile southeast of the city's town hall -- fell to disuse. In the 1980s, the government bought the land and two decades later, the HafenCity (or HarborCity) Master Plan was created.

The vision was lofty: to develop the land into a mixed-use extension of the city, create a socially and economically diverse neighbourhood, and use sustainable building practices to expand the city centre by 40%. Eight years after construction began, there are 1,700 people living in HafenCity and more than 7,000 employees working at its nearly 300 businesses. By the time the project is completed, sometime between 2025 and 2030, it should house 12,000 people in 5,800 homes and be the site of 45,000 jobs. It will also have a science centre, a maritime museum, the Elbphilharmonie concert hall, five educational institutions, several hotels and hundreds of shops and restaurants. 

But the project is not just about creating a new neighbourhood. It is about creating what may be the community of the future. A remarkable 22% of HafenCity's land is allotted to public space and parks. Private spaces must have a public walkway between them, and every waterfront building is required to have a public promenade at the water's edge. There are no parking garages above ground and car ownership is discouraged with narrow streets, three bike rental stations, a forthcoming car sharing system, a public ferry stop, two subway stops under construction and an extensive network of bike and foot paths. This makes HafenCity one of the most pleasant places for a stroll in all of Hamburg.  

To encourage green construction, developers have created a certification for eco-friendly buildings that accounts for eco-friendly materials, energy-efficiency, public access to private space, use of low-allergen materials, and barrier-free accessibility. At the project's completion, 50% of all residential buildings and 30% of commercial sites are expected to earn this Ecolabel distinction. 

Although the project has ambitious goals and a lofty price tag (about 10.5 billion euros in private investments and 2.6 billion euros in government funding), HafenCity is not reserved for Hamburg's most affluent citizens. Penthouses at some of the most luxurious residences may sell for nearly five million euros, but the project's Master Plan requires that 30% of the housing is available to middle-class budgets. A one-bedroom apartment in these buildings costs about 1,000 euros per month to rent or 300,000 euros to buy. One building gives priorities to families, with a school next door and a courtyard garden with a plot for each resident. 

Though HafenCity is not completed, it is open to visitors and only a 20 minute walk from the centre of Hamburg. People chat in quiet cafes or watch tango dancers at the waterfront amphitheatre. Kids play in the parks, tourists queue for river cruises and the neighbourhood of the future is beginning to take shape. 

Visitors can get more information on the project, sign up for tours and get maps of area attractions at the HafenCity information centre. Within HafenCity, visitors can explore a spice museum, coffee museum, the International Maritimes Museum and the Prototype automotive museum. 

Stoffsüchtig, a boutique that sometimes hosts fashion shows and exhibitions, offers the latest looks from some of Germany's most promising new designers, and the flagship store Gaastra supplies nautical-inspired luxury wear and professional sailing gear to the well-heeled. 

Several cafes in the neighborhood provide light meals like pastries and sandwiches, while restaurants serve everything from traditional German fare to Thai cuisine. With views of the Elbe River and the Elbphilharmonie concert hall, Carls is a popular spot for lunch and dinner. The Bistro section offers small plates, sandwiches and pizzas, and the Brasserie side serves German-French cuisine like mussels with fries or beef bourguignon. There is also a small shop selling a variety of Carls' signature herbs, salts, oils and sauces. 

Twenty Five Hours Hotel offers affordable accommodations in HafenCity’s Überseequarter. The rooms are designed with a playful nod to Hamburg’s shipbuilding traditions, while still providing modern conveniences like iPod docking stations, flat screen TVs, and free wi-fi. A luxury hotel is set to open in the Elbphilharmonie building in 2014.