By Detelina Kalfova (Economy.bg)
See how, in the country of automotive giants VW, BMW and Daimler, a neighbourhood banned cars and paved the way for the energy revolution in Germany.
“We make our world the way we like it.” This Pippi Longstocking quote welcomes us to Vauban, a neighbourhood in the German city of Freiburg, near the border with France and Switzerland. People from all over the world come here to see Germany's “green paradise”.
The neighbourhood has become world famous for its eco-friendly way of life, green streets without cars, and the fact that its inhabitants produce their own energy, which they also sell when they have a surplus. We are visiting the neighbourhood as part of a media tour organised by the consultancy firm adelphi on behalf of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Construction and Nuclear Safety.
What immediately impresses visitors is the silence – there is no noise from cars, only the sounds of birds singing, children laughing as they play in the street, and bicycle bells jingling. Cars in Vauban are not completely banned. Instead, people in the neighbourhood are trying to limit their use.
Anyone wanting to drive here has to be willing to pay EUR 18,000 a year for a place in one of the solar garages on the outskirts of the neighbourhood. Also, cars cannot pass through certain residential streets, and where permitted, they have to limit their speed to walking pace. With these restrictions in place, very few people still want to own a four-wheeled vehicle.
The most common substitute is a bicycle. Neighbourhood residents can also rely on a convenient tram system. A good incentive for using public transport is the monthly card, which costs EUR 54 and covers an area of 2,850 km. And when a car journey is necessary, there are also car sharing platforms. “For a fee of EUR 5 per month, you can have a guaranteed car available when you want,” explains Astrid Mayer, a French journalist who has been living in Vauban for eight years. She also notes that there is a store near almost every block of flats, making it easier for people to do their shopping.
Vauban, however, is much more than a car-free neighbourhood with a lot of green space for children to play. Although it was built on the site of a former French barracks, today the area is full of life. Coloured houses with gardens have replaced the military buildings.
Many of them are plus energy houses. In other words, they generate their own electricity plus a surplus that the residents can sell to the electricity companies. Most homes generate their energy from solar panels.
Special wall seals nearly 40 cm thick isolate the apartments so that there is no need for heating during the colder months of the year. Triple glazing also contributes to the excellent thermal insulation. A sophisticated ventilation system ensures that the apartments will always have fresh air at room temperature even when the windows are closed.
“Life here has many advantages,” Meyer explains, who rents a flat in an apartment block in the neighbourhood. “I do not need a car; the neighbourhood is very peaceful, safe and suitable for raising children. It is green and very close to nature.” Among the pros, the French journalist notes that she does not pay for heating. “Compared to my life in Paris eight years ago, the distances I have to travel are shorter, because in the neighbourhood I have everything I need. I do not waste a lot of time traveling. My children are very self-sufficient, they can walk alone anywhere in the neighbourhood because it is safe. And it's much calmer. There is no stress,” she added.
“I have to think a lot to find any negatives,” Meyer points out. “I hope the rents do not go up because that would make it expensive to live here. I hope that the neighbourhood will remain the same – without cars. Because I like it very much that we have so much space.”
But how useful is the Vauban model for other parts of Germany? According to one of our German colleagues, Vauban is still an exception and it will probably be years before Germany is able to call itself a “green paradise” on Earth.