After visiting the Vauban district of Freiburg, Germany with an expert, it has become clear why the area is known for its forward thinking and innovative strategies to making a sustainable and happy community. Known as one of the world’s models for sustainable development, the district gathers a large crowd of active people from all over the world eager to learn more about the success of Vauban so they can bring the same ideas home to their countries. While our guide usually gives tours for official city planners and architects, our group found him to be very communicative to those who may not have a large background in the field.
Originally a military base occupied by the French from the end of World War II until the early 1990’s, hippies inhabited the buildings left behind until a local assembly urged the city to develop the area in a more eco-friendly manner. From here on out, the city and local sustainability groups worked together to make the district what it is today. Instead of allowing large developers to take over the area, individual plots were sold mostly to cooperative housing groups who were mostly made up of young families and older residents. These groups worked together to design their buildings in an energy efficient manner that encouraged sharing responsibilities and appliances. One of the buildings we visited shared laundry facilities and all indoor/outdoor building maintenance. All of the buildings meet “Passivhaus” energy standards which simply put, is a way of building that substantially reduces energy demands from processes like space heating and cooling. This design, along with many energy technologies such as solar and investment in wind farms make a large portion of the housing developments in the district energy independent. In fact, we were told that Vauban is home to the first plus energy housing community in the world. Each residence in this portion of Vauban creates more energy than it consumes and the rest is sold back to the grid profiting the owners. The city also worked hard on developing this area in a way that supports green transportation and less dependence on privately owned vehicles. While there are roads meandering about the district, many are strictly for bikers and pedestrians and very few of them allow cars. The streets that do allow cars often require a speed no higher than walking pace. These streets have no parking spots and are just meant for delivery of goods. There are two parking garages on the outskirts of the district where anyone owning a car is required to buy a spot for around €18,000. I find this fact alone to be a pretty substantial incentive to live without a car. Along with these roads, there is a tramway running through the district center that connects the residents with the Freiburg city center. We were told that almost 75% of Vauban residents do not own a car.
While I have only scratched the surface of the sustainable practices in Vauban, I believe it is pretty clear how much this district has accomplished and why it is known as a perfect example of a sustainable urban development. Every detail of the area is focused on efficiency. For example, even the orientation of the buildings is designed to maximize the wind flow through the city in the hotter summer months. I believe that if I ever work in fields related to city planning or architecture, I will look back on my time in Vauban and use the exemplar’s ideas as inspiration.