Environmental concerns are spurring many cities to implement urban plans to make their streets more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. While it is getting increasingly easier to navigate cities without a car, it’s still hard to imagine living in the prototypical suburb without using your vehicle for almost everything. However, in Germany, an experimental suburban model has been created that almost completely eliminates cars from daily life.
Located near the Swiss/German border, outside the city of Freiburg, Vauban is a pedestrian and cycling focused community of over five-thousand people. Originally the site of a military fort, the area was alternately occupied by hippies and radicals until developers began to transform it into a sustainable neighborhood in the mid 1990′s. Car movement is allowed in the district, but only at a crawling pace and with several limitations. One resident described the automobile usage as the three G’s; grandma, groceries, and garbage. This basically means that there is still access for vehicles through the district, on certain days, and for specific tasks like deliveries or refuse removal. Almost all day-to-day movement is done by foot, bicycle, or tram.
How does a suburb operate without cars? Vauban is not structured like an average suburb. While most places attempt to lay out the most efficient roadways, Vauban is organized using the urban planning principal of filtered permeability. The roads, green spaces, and structures are organized so that normal areas of high automobile traffic are siphoned off to the periphery of the site while interior streets are left open to pedestrian and cyclist movement. Car owning residents park in garages at the edge of the neighborhood and over 70% of households opt-out of owning cars all together. Green initiatives like cooperative housing and low energy dwellings also are integrated into the district plan.
While this district is still rather unique, a similar community, aptly named Bicycle City, is in the works outside Columbia, South Carolina. These bicycle-focused neighborhoods may be a rare oddity today, but can the techniques developed at Vauban be used to make all cities and suburbs more pedestrian and cycling friendly?