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Taking influence from one of the oldest eco-districts GWL-Terrien, Vauban District, Freiburg is arguably one of the world’s best examples of sustainable urban living. The fascinating thing is that the district was completed in 2000 – two decades ago! However, we don’t see any districts to this sustainable standard in the UK to this day. The topic of this blog is regarding the lecture from IDPartnership on ‘Placemaking in the Garden Village Tradition’, the lecturer presented us with two questions – How can we make a better future for everyone? How can we build a healthier environment for communities to live in? It seems like Freiburg has done so at the start of this century, has others followed?


Vauban is a car-free, a sustainable district in Freiburg, Germany. The neighborhood is designed to be car-free, pedestrian-friendly where kids still play outside, and people use and rely on public transport. Cars are allowed, but only if they ‘drive’ at the pace of pedestrians – 3mph! People are the priority. No parking spaces needed (Peters, 2019). If residents own cars, they must purchase a space in one of the multi-storey car parks on the periphery, run by a council-owned company. Each space costs up to 17,000 euros (£12,500) plus a monthly fee to cover ongoing costs (Rosenthal, 2009).

Bicycles are the norm in Freiburg (Specht, 2009)

Besides, many families now do not own cars and 57 percent sold a car to move here. Families within the community are keen to take part in car-sharing schemes to travel to shopping districts further away, all other public facilities are within walking distance or there is an accessible mode of transport. Now many cities including Freiburg reward many of its citizens with financial incentives if they follow the car-free rule (Beatley, 2003). The district was completed and opened in 2000, by 2001 it had 2,000 inhabitants and now is said to have around 5,000 inhabitants and over 600 jobs (Thorpe, u.d.).

Ease of Transport

As the district is built around the tram line, it does make it very easy to get into the city centre, also having an extensive pedestrian zone and tram network along with feeder buses. Now, 70% of the population lives within 500 metres of a tram stop, trains are as often as 7.5 minutes during rush hour alongside cheap ticket prices. For trips to stores like IKEA or the ski slopes, families buy cars together or use communal cars rented out by Vauban’s car-sharing club.

Pedestrian Street Market in Vauban (Thorpe, n.d.)
Tramway around Vauban (Thorpe, n.d.)

 Comparison to UK cities?

This is the model cities should follow, relating to the questions at the start. Is this not the way the future should be? Creating healthier environments and communities like this? Taking cities in the UK into consideration, has this though been the case? In my opinion, cities in the UK have fallen short to the sustainable standards that a place such as Freiburg has, this may boil down to the government and the lack of policies put in place, whereas Freiburg has a high concentration of specialist professionals working in sustainability, including the ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), ISES (the International Solar Energy Society) and the City Mayors Foundation (Thorpe, u.d.).

BedZED? Goldsmith Street?

When comparing Vauban to different eco-districts in the UK, there just really isn’t many, to name some would just be Bedzed and Great Bowl Yard. They have been successful in the UK but have we moved on since these developments? Eco-towns should be the next step forward, building on what has been learned. The need for settlements that show what our towns and our daily lives will be like if we live sustainably has never been more urgent. Eco-towns must therefore, demonstrate real and measurable sustainable living. They should encourage and allow people to live within ecological limits whilst enjoying a high quality of life in an attractive environment. Looking at a more recent case study, the RIBA Stirling Prize winner of 2019. Yes, the architects have considered sustainability by moving the car parking spaces to the perimeter, but how does it compare to Vauban? The houses are very authentic and beautifully designed, sustainability is key to this new estate but in 2019 the UK is still not to the sustainable standards of 2000 Freiburg. Changes need to be made on a larger scale in the UK.

BedZED (Bioregional, n.d.)
Goldsmith Street Project (Crocker, 2019)








Beatley, T. (2003). “Planning for Sustainability in European Cities: A Review of Practice in Leading Cities”. In: R. LeGates and F. Stout, ed., The City Reader, 5th ed. New York: Routledge, pp.448 – 457.

Benfield, K. (n.d.). Life without cars in Vauban, Germany. Smart Cities Dive. [online] Available at: [Accessed 31 Dec. 2019].

Bioregional (n.d.). BedZED. [image] Available at: [Accessed 31 Dec. 2019].

Crocker, T. (2019). Goldsmith Street project. [image] Available at: [Accessed 31 Dec. 2019].

Rosenthal, E. (2009). In German Suburb, Life Goes On Without Cars. The New York Times. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Dec. 2019].

Thorpe, D. (n.d.). The World’s Most Successful Model for Sustainable Urban Development?. Smart Cities Dive. [online] Available at: [Accessed 31 Dec. 2019].

Thorpe, D. (n.d.). Vauban Street Market. [image] Available at: [Accessed 31 Dec. 2019].

Thorpe, D. (n.d.). Vauban Tramway. [image] Available at: [Accessed 31 Dec. 2019].

Peters, A. (2019). What can we learn from this thriving, car-free German neighborhood? Get rid of parking spaces. Fast Company. [online] Available at: [Accessed 31 Dec. 2019].

Specht, M. (2009). Biking and walking are the principal means of transport within the suburb of Vauban, Germany.. [image] Available at: [Accessed 31 Dec. 2019].

One response to “No Cars Needed in Freiburg – What about UK cities?”

  1. Hi Andrew, what an interesting and current topic you have touched upon here. Freiburg is a great success story of how a town can be re-designed to sustainable practice. Vauban, as its new sustainable district is an exemplary case of sustainable urban design on a post-war site. Expanding on your point about bringing this strategy to the UK, I love to entertain the notion that British cities could catch up to Germany’s standard. I believe us Brits, however, must change our mindset en-masse before we can begin to implement these practices.
    Casting back to the 90s, when Vauban was under development, much of the western world was following suit – years on from Jacob’s controversial ideas of a return to density, the New Urbanism initiative was finally underway, and town planners were implementing designs promoting walkability, sustainability, density and diversity. The Charter of the New Urbanism[1] and the Urban Task Force[2] defined the era, and hundreds of new sustainable, walkable, liveable cities appeared in the US, Australia, Canada and Europe. The UK specifically had several new sustainable town proposals such as Poundbury in Dorchester[3] (famed for walkability) and the Millennium Villages[4]. So what happened?
    The first issue was a ‘tick-box’ attitude to the movement by our government. Rather than consider proper implementation, they ‘failed to define’[5] their key aims in order to properly design these environments. They were apathetically funded, rated badly in the press, and today most are still in planning or fully scrapped.
    Then, there’s our British stubbornness – what I believe is the true barrier preventing us the sustainability of other cities. As well as Germany’s government prioritising sustainability, 40% of Freiburg’s population supports the Green Party. In contrast, the British have consistently voted for parties which have a “complete lack of a plan” to deliver climate and nature policies over the past 15 years, according to Greenpeace. [6]
    Poundbury, like Freiburg, was built in the 90s as a walkable, public-transport favouring and car-reducing New Urbanist vision – today studies have found car usage and ownership was actually higher[7] than the UK average.
    Does this mean the British just can’t have sustainable cities, then? I surely hope not. In a text by Timothy Beatley, he suggests that as well as great design and policies needed to improve cities, there are “cultural values and differences” which allow the creation of successful European environments. Perhaps first, then, we must address our mindset if we ever want to catch up to our European neighbours.


    [1] Urbanism, Congress for the New, and Emily Talen. Charter of the New Urbanism, 2nd Edition. 2 edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2013

    [2] Rogers, Richard. 1999. Towards an urban renaissance: final report of the Urban Task Force, chaired by Lord Rogers of Riverside. London: E & FN Spon.

    [3] Krier, Leon. The Architecture of Community. Island Press, 2009.

    [4] Rogers, Richard. 1999. Towards an urban renaissance: final report of the Urban Task Force, chaired by Lord Rogers of Riverside. London: E & FN Spon.

    [5] Lees, Loretta. 2007. Gentrification and Social Mixing: Towards an Inclusive Urban Renaissance? Urban Studies

    [6] Greenpeace UK. “Labour’s Plans for Climate and Nature Score Twice as High as the Conservatives, According to Election Manifesto Ranking,” November 28, 2019.

    [7] Watson, G.; Bentley, I.; Roaf, S.; Smith, P. (2004). Learning from Poundbury.

    [8] Beatley, Timothy. 2003. Planning for Sustainability in European Cities: A Review of Practice in Leading Cities. The Sustainable Urban Development Reader

    Also mentioned:

    Chase, John; Crawford, Margaret; John, Kaliski 1999. Everyday Urbanism. New York: Monacal Press.

    Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. 1REV edition. New York: Vintage, 1992.

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