Sunday, July 21, 2013

Freiburg im Breisgau GREENCITY

I first learned about Freiburg from Robert Renger, a senior planner in the Burnaby Planning Department, back in 1999 when I started the UniverCity project at SFU. He thought it offered lessons for our then proposed community.

I subsequently saw a display by Freiburg at EXPO2010 in Shanghai where it was branded Europe's GREENCity. Indeed, many people consider it to be not only the greenest city in Europe, but perhaps the the Greenest City in the World, a moniker that Vancouver would like to one day wear.

This was the main reason that I decided we should take the 4 ½ hour journey from Munich to the south-west corner of Germany and make Freiburg our second last stop of the trip. I also wanted to see the Bachle of Freiburg, a unique system of open streams that run through the old town. First built in the 12th C to keep the city clean and help fight fires, today they help keep the city cool in summer and provide a lot of joy for young children. According to local folklore, if you step in one, you will marry a person from Freiburg. I was very careful!
Heidelberg was planned to be our final destination before setting off for Frankfurt Airport. However, as soon as I saw the potted flowers on the railway platforms, a sign given air quality measurements, and lovely patterned stonework sidewalks in the medieval city I was glad we came. 
Then, after the lady in the City Hall Tourist Information Office offered me a GREENCity Freiberg Map, with 22 sights to visit, I knew we’d have to stay an extra night in Freiberg and skip Heidelberg. It turned out to be a wise decision, except for the fact it nearly cost us our flight home!
Freiburg im Breisgau is the largest city in the Black Forest. Sadly, much of the old town was heavily damaged during World War II, but much of it has been restored.The city is a vibrant university town surrounded by mountain peaks and acres of vineyards. It makes for some beautiful views around the city.

When it comes to being a GREENCity, to quote from the material given to me, “Freiburg’s biggest success stories, both economically and environmentally, are connected with the research and use of renewable energies. This is evident in the use of solar panels everywhere and wind turbines on top of the nearby hills.”

The material also describes Cluster Green City “which brings together companies and institutions from all parts of the environmental and solar energy sectors. So far more than 120 members have signed on. Most of these member companies focus on energy efficient design and construction, solar and other renewable energies, environmental technology and sustainable transport.”

This is obviously a model for what Vancouver is seeking to achieve.
While I very much enjoyed my time in the old town, I spent most of my time touring Vauban and the Reiselfeld Urban District, two relatively new model planned communities located at the end of tram lines with lots of green. As one resident described them to me, Reiselfeld is less ideological than Vauban which discourages private automobiles and encourages cooperative living. I must say, as odd as it may sound, Vauban felt like a high density Germanic urban version of Hornby Island. 
Reiselfeld is newer, less overgrown, and appears to include more market housing. Both are developed with predominantly 3 to 6 storey row housing and apartments with retail and community spaces lining the main spines along which the trams run. It’s exactly the vision that  many would like to see proliferated around Vancouver! 

I also journeyed to see first-hand a passive high-rise renovation project, another idea that could have application in Vancouver. 

More about these GREENCity initiatives in future posts.


Irene said...

Interesting facts of Freiburg. I was once there for a day a couple of years ago and I has heard that it was voted as Germany's greenest city but I didn't really know why. Hopefully I'll be able to visit it again soon and I'll pay more attention to its green details.

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