Tag Archives: sustainability

Vauban

From mobility to housing, Vauban, a district of Freiburg, has created a vibrant, efficient and dense community

On June the 7th, the fourth day of our Summer Burch program, the nearly thirty people that comprises our group cycled about twenty kilometers between Freiburg, Reiselfeld, and Vauban. In the kilometers in between, we witnessed beautiful nature, undisturbed by hordes of suburbs. Thanks to impressive bicycling infrastructure, even in rural areas, the trip was a huge success. Attempting to stay in a single file line on our bikes, we first stopped in Reiselfeld and later stopped in Vauban, both expertly planned districts outside of Freiburg. This blog post will focus primarily on Vauban, from its remarkable mobility to its diversity of housing projects.

In this image, you can see the main road that passes by Vauban – not through it. Even on this main road (this only one near the district), you can see that well-maintained bicycle infrastructure and the pedestrian-friendly features.
Here you can see another view of our bike ride to Vauban. From the beautiful landscape to the well-maintained bicycle infrastructure, this was a very pleasant ride.
In this photograph, we are cycling from one district to the next – from Reiselfeld to Vauban and all the while experiencing the beautiful and well-maintained countryside.

Our group leader, Stefan, who biked with us and helped us understand the area, explained the necessity of both discouraging individual car ownership and giving rewards for using public transit and bicycles. Vauban successfully embraces both of these concepts and thereby reduces car ownership to a fraction of its population. Of that population, many people often use the tram instead of their car because tram stops are more convenient than their car, which cannot be permanently parked in front of their home. Vauban has done several things to ensure that this pro-communal transit concept is successful. Firstly, the trams come about every seven minutes. When tram arrivals are kept under ten minutes, ridership is more likely to be high because the tram becomes more convenient for individual riders than taking their own car. When cars do drive in Vauban, they are generally guests on the road. Everyone else has right of way most of the time – cyclists, children, and pedestrians. This encourages other modes of transit over cars and provides for a safe environment for families. Vauban’s expert planning with a focus on the tram, bikes, and pedestrians, provides a number of lessons for United States suburbs on mobility.

Here is a view of a public space that the citizens of Vauban decided would be a community garden and green space rather than a parking deck. If sentiment changes within a community, this area could become a parking deck.
This is a view of a street in Vauban. Notice that there are no cars – parked along the street or in carports. This allows a safer, more child and bicycle-friendly community.

Vauban’s variety of housing also provides many insights for the United States. Rather than creating a suburb with individual houses, large yards, and a lack of social interaction, Vauban creates high-density housing that encourages social interaction and discourages crime. However, rather than creating identical housing projects that eliminate a sense of identity, Vauban attempts to create a huge range of housing. One of the most interesting buildings we looked at was a mixed-use building. Some of the building was used by people who financed the cost of their apartment entirely on their own, other rooms were social housing, and other rooms were used for people with disabilities and the elderly. This cohabitation helps people realize the importance of relationships with people of different incomes, backgrounds, and experiences, something sorely lacking in the individualistic culture of America. Another interesting housing project was a largely subsidized set of housing in the district, paid for by a group whose mission centers around ensuring housing for everyone. In every housing project in the district, bottom-up decision making plays a key role and citizens are on the front lines, versus the top-down approach considered the default in so many other places.

This is a picture of a building with Pippy Longstocking painted on the side. This art is a symbol to the people of Vauban of their cultural and social identity.
Here is an example of another housing community in Vauban. This project brings together people of all different socioeconomic backgrounds to achieve higher levels of social capital.

Consider rethinking what you view as sustainable development. In your community, are new suburbs encouraging sustainable housing and transit with significant social capital? Or is there something you could do to make your town more like Vauban?

-Joseph Womble

Energy in Schonau

 

The Anti-Nuclear movement has led to renewable growth

For the second half of the day, we visited the EWS (Elektrixitätswerke Schönau) in Schönau, Germany. To get there, we took a bus towards the Black Forest. We walked into a building with solar panels covering the roof, and immediately started a lecture with one of the anti-nuclear activists, who now works at EWS. She presented to us many of the arguments against nuclear power that began the entire Energiewende movement in Germany. It was really interesting to hear about how the Chernobyl disaster affected the Germans, and through that, their energy policy.

The sun shines on Schönau, Germany. We had a walking tour after our discussion, and were shown wind turbines and a small hydroelectric plant, as well as the original offices of EWS.

The clouds from Chernobyl rolled into Germany and across Europe, leaving effects that still hurt people today. Nuclear resistance was reinforced by the Fukishima disaster. Now they are in the process of completely phasing out nuclear plants.

Chernobyle and Fukishima made it clear to many in Germany that nuclear disasters leave a hole on the earth that is basically non-recoverable for many lifetimes, not to mention the impact on human lives. The anti-nuclear movement has more subtle reasoning behind it than just the risks of a nuclear disaster, as well. Nuclear power plant waste can be used to create nuclear bombs, so many believe that one of the reasons governments push for nuclear is so that they can use that funding to go into the military.

We also discussed that there are a lot of public relations efforts vastly impacting how people feel about nuclear energy. With more public relations in the United States, and more money put into lobbying, we are much more open to the idea of nuclear energy than they might be here in Germany. These public relations efforts are also starting to affect Germany, and their energy policies are beginning to shift.

After the lecture, we were shown around a few of the faciliites and the town of Schonau. The EWS has a hydroelectric plant just down the road from their headquarters. There were windmills in the distance that power many homes.

During our tour, we were shown the original building of the EWS. We also discussed and passed some restaurants on the walk that were very supportive of renewables because of the aforementioned opposition to nuclear. We were also told many stories of the original protests to nuclear. One of the founders of the EWS smuggled a piece of paper into the white house to attempt to persuade former President Obama to turn away from nuclear. The EWS and anti-nuclear advocates have gone door to door asking people to vote against nuclear energy and for their own causes.

-Aubrey Patti

An Introduction to Freiburg and Smart Cities

Diving into Freiburg and the sustainable measures the town has adopted

Day one in Freiburg and it is already like entering a different world. There are trams and bike paths that fill the city, solar panels on the roofs and natural green areas everywhere. Nothing like my suburban home in Cary, North Carolina with manicured lawns, multiple cars in every driveway, and hardly a bus let alone a tramline or train in sight.

For our first educational day here, we were introduced to Steffen, our instructor and tour guide for the day. In a classroom we focused on a few main topics: history of sustainability in Freiburg, energy efficiency in old homes and municipal buildings, supply and disposal, and finally mobility. Freiburg, known for ten to fifteen years now as a sustainable city, began its environmental movement in 1975 when students and farmers came together to protest the implementation of a power plant in the town. After the 1986 Chernobyl incident, citizens truly united, energy saving became crucial, and renewables a mainstay in the town.

Our guide Steffan teaching us about the history of Freiburg and showing us around the town. Here he is explaining the history of market surrounding the church – it was first a parking lot, but was transformed into a beautiful market square where vendors come every morning to sell food, flowers, and other goods. This both discourages transportation by car and unites the community.

Throughout the different topics, one theme became clear: the importance of engagement at the local level. Citizens own over 50 percent of renewables in the city. Additionally, a convention was held in 2008 on how to make old houses more energy efficient. Architects, financial managers, designers, and many others came together to teach the people what they can do in their own homes. Lessons on waste separation and recyclables are taught in local elementary schools – kids are provided cost free lunch boxes to encourage use of reusable products, and trips to landfills inspire them to be mindful of their waste. Finally, the construction community allows people the option of multimodal houses and cohousing, which allow the people to design their own home while also being efficient in the use of space and improving social and community life.

Steffan walks us over the parking garage, which is discreetly hidden beneath the houses that were built on top of it to save space and make the town more appealing.

While local engagement was stressed throughout the presentation, a tour of the town had the group admiring Freiburg’s success in transportation and mobility. The ticket to decreasing car use was decreasing parking options. As the church parking lot was changed to a beautiful market square, parking garages placed further from homes, car ownership made more expensive, and efficient tramlines and bike paths installed, the city was transformed. There are only about 35 private cars per 100 residents, many of which are not used on a regular basis, and the centrally located train station provides an easy way to get anywhere in the region without stepping into a car.

One of the most interesting places I felt we visited on the tour was a parking garage. No, a parking garage does not sound exciting, but this one was implemented in an ingenious way. First of all, it was integrated into the surrounding area so that I could not even tell it was a garage when approaching. Second, houses were built on top so that no space was wasted. Finally, it served as a noise barrier between the town and the large road that surrounds it so that inside the town all that can be heard are birds chirping and people talking.

Here is the right side of the parking garage, where the noise from cars and other transportation that surrounds the town is masked by the design of this construction. To the left is the houses seen previously, where no car noise can be heard.

As it is the first day, we were left with many questions to look out for in our next adventures. How do less cars change daily and social life? How does society benefit from more public transportation and how does the district itself change? What kind of society arises from construction communities and cohousing? What are the keys to implementing these systems back home in North Carolina/U.S? Up next are bike tours in Rieselfeld and Vauban where we can evaluate these questions even more and look at examples of these initiatives in different towns.

Approaching one of the train stations of Freiburg, a central hub where people can take buses, trams, trains, and rent out bikes in order to navigate the surrounding area.

-Sarah Wotus