New German Community Models Car-Free Living

by Donna Muhs-McCarten

It's pick-up time at the Vauban kindergarten and there's not a single mini-van in sight. Welcome to Germany's environmentally friendly experiment in green urban living. With 2000 new homes on a former French military base, Vauban's residents have numerous incentives to live car-free. Parking spots go for $23,000 but carpoolers receive yearly tramway passes free. The car ownership rate in Vauban is only 150 cars per 1,000 inhabitants, in contrast to the US average of 640 vehicles per 1000 residents.

In 1998, the city of Freiburg, cradle of Germany's anti-nuclear movement, bought land from the government and with Andreas Delleske, a physics student who led the grassroots initiative, Vauban was designed. The master plan incorporated the ecological, social and economic goals of reducing energy use while creating healthier air and a solid infrastructure for its 4700 residents. Rather than handing the area to a real estate developer, the city let small homeowner cooperatives design and build their homes from scratch. Vauban has become a model of a sustainable district where many of the homes produce more energy than they use. Other buildings are heated by a neighborhood-scale combined heat and power station which burns wood chips.

Rows of individual, brightly painted buildings line the streets designed to be too narrow for cars. A Waldorf school, four kindergartens, and plenty of playgrounds are tailor-made to attract young families. Experts say Vauban is unique in that it is a grassroots initiative pursued by the city council bringing together government and the private sector. As more cities follow Vauban's example, this approach is fast becoming a movement. The idea of saving energy is now a major element of the basic planning procedure in many German cities.

Summarized by Donna Muhs-McCarten, from