Connected Cities, economic development, Frankfurt, Offenbach

I recently had the privilege to serve on an Urban Land Institute advisory panel in Germany. We came together to provide strategic advice to the mayors of Frankfurt and Offenbach on how they might realize mutual benefits through collaboration. Like other ULI research and consulting efforts, the work of this panel was intense and influential. In many ways, the experience was similar to a previous panel for Moscow.

In Germany, we had 10 international ULI advisors, drawn from a wide range of professionals in real-estate development, government, academia, and consulting. Over the course of six days, we visited some of the emerging and challenged areas in both Frankfurt and Offenbach. We interviewed over 80 officials and representatives of local businesses and community organizations. And of course we had a lot of late nights comparing notes, deliberating, and preparing our conclusions.

We ultimately presented our findings to the city mayors, stakeholders, and media at a scheduled conference in the Offenbach City Hall.

We noted that Frankfurt’s strength as a global city was not assured, and that it was increasingly challenged in a number of performance rankings, not only due to international competition but also underperformance in workforce diversity. We drew parallels to similar conditions in other metropolitan areas (e.g. Philadelphia and Camden, NJ, Central London and its eastern boroughs, Shanghai and the industrial areas along Suzhou Creek.) We argued that despite their past economic and cultural differences, the identities of both Frankfurt and Offenbach were complementary. In particular, we noted that Offenbach represented a promising opportunity to attract new workforce talent by developing hubs for creative industries and business incubators, and leveraging an extraordinary amount of existing ethnic diversity (over 147 nationalities) and entrepreneurship.

We integrated our proposals into a broad, long-term spatial vision for ‘Mainhohe’ (‘Water Height’) a consolidated, high-density, mixed-use area at the interlocking junction of Frankfurt and Offenbach along the Main River. We also proposed a series of four major catalytic projects. The principal catalytic strategy was the re-purposing of an existing metropolitan rail alignment into S-Bahn service between the Frankfurt International Airport and Offenbach, which not only stitched the two urban areas together more effectively, but also connected the aggregated metropolitan population more effectively to the broader German hinterland via high-speed rail. We also outlined a series of 10 ‘quick wins’, ranging from the production of touristic maps that integrated information of both cities, to the upgrading of public realm in key areas.

The mayors of Frankfurt and Offenbach praised the recommendations, and we received many positive comments from other civic organizations. The ULI will publish the report in Fall 2015.


Karla GowlettChris Choa ( is an urban design principal in AECOM’s London office.

Originally published May 14, 2015

Author: Chris Choa