Vauban is a neighborhood in Freiburg, Germany, that is often cited as one of the best examples of sustainable urban living in the world.
Vauban was originally developed in the late 1990s, on the site of an abandoned French military base. A number of people had been squatting there for some time; not wanting it to be snatched by developers, they took matters into their own hands and decided to create a “sustainable model district,” designed to serve the needs of both people and the planet.
The first 2,000 residents moved into Vauban in 2001. Today, the neighborhood has 5,000 residents and provides roughly 600 jobs. All of its systems — from transportation and energy to sewage and waste — were carefully designed by architects, biologists, solar experts, and other leaders in the fields of green design and urban planning.
David Thorpe of the Sustainable Cities Project explains, “All buildings must meet minimum low energy-consumption standards … 100 houses adhere to a ‘plus-energy’ standard, producing more energy than they use, with surpluses sold back to the city grid and profits split between each household.” Gray water is recycled and organic household waste is sent to an anaerobic digester.
Perhaps most successful of all is Vauban’s system of green transportation. Thorpe explains: “Pedestrian and bicycle paths form a highly-connected, efficient, green transportation network with every home within walking distance of a tram stop, and all schools, businesses, and shopping centers located within walking distance.” Of the families that owned cars when they moved to Vauban, 57 percent have since let their cars go. All in all, 70 percent of Vauban’s inhabitants live without personal vehicles.
Fortunately, sustainable design can also be beautiful: the houses and streets of Vauban are colorful and green — an inviting place to live. They are an example to the world of the kind of sustainable neighborhood that more city-dwellers may someday be able to call home.
To learn more, read The World’s Most Successful Model for Sustainable Urban Development?