It's pickup time at the Vauban kindergarten here at the edge of
the Black Forest, but there's not a single minivan waiting for the
kids. Instead, a convoy of helmet-donning moms - bicycle trailers in
tow - pedal up to the entrance.
Welcome to Germany's best-known environmentally friendly
neighborhood and a successful experiment in green urban living. The
Vauban development - 2,000 new homes on a former military base 10
minutes by bike from the heart of Freiburg - has put into practice
many ideas that were once dismissed as eco-fantasy but which are now
moving to the center of public policy.
With gas prices well above $6 per gallon across much of the
continent, Vauban is striking a chord in Western Europe as
communities encourage people to be less car-dependent. Just this
week, Paris unveiled a new electric tram in a bid to reduce urban
pollution and traffic congestion.
"Vauban is clearly an offer for families with kids to live
without cars," says Jan Scheurer, an Australian researcher who has
studied the Vauban model extensively. "It was meant to counter urban
sprawl - an offer for families not to move out to the suburbs and
give them the same, if better quality of life. And it is very
There are numerous incentives for Vauban's 4,700 residents to
live car-free: Carpoolers get free yearly tramway passes, while
parking spots - available only in a garage at the neighborhood's
edge - go for 17,500 (US$23,000). Forty percent of residents have
bought spaces, many just for the benefit of their visiting guests.
As a result, the car-ownership rate in Vauban is only 150 per
1,000 inhabitants, compared with 430 per 1,000 inhabitants in
In contrast, the US average is 640 household vehicles per 1,000
residents. But some cities - such as Davis, Calif., where 17 percent
of residents commute by bike - have pioneered a car-free lifestyle
that is similar to Vauban's model.
Vauban, which is located in the southwestern part of the country,
owes its existence, at least in part, to Freiburg - a university
town, like Davis - that has a reputation as Germany's ecological
In the 1970s, the city became the cradle of Germany's powerful
antinuclear movement after local activists killed plans for a
nuclear power station nearby. The battle brought energy-policy
issues closer to the people and increased involvement in local
politics. With a quarter of its people voting for the Green Party,
Freiburg became a political counterweight in the conservative state
At about the same time, Freiburg, a city of 216,000 people,
revolutionized travel behavior. It made its medieval center more
pedestrian-friendly, laid down a lattice of bike paths, and
introduced a flat rate for tramways and buses.
Environmental research also became a backbone of the region's
economy, which boasts Germany's largest solar-research center and an
international center for renewable energy. Services such as
installing solar panels and purifying wastewater account for 3
percent of jobs in the region, according to city figures. …