Much has been written in recent weeks about Rieselfeld and Vauban, both extensions of Freiburg in Breisgau in south west Germany. These areas have been under construction since the 1990s but the current interest in them from a UK perspective comes from the Government’s plans to build a number of eco-towns – the so-called Brown Towns – combined with a degree of agonising over the form that these towns should take and indeed if the idea has any merit at all.
The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) has been particularly active in drawing attention to the merits of these Freiburg developments in its excellent revamped journal (only available online to members). Articles by Nicholas Falk on the general lessons of the developments (JTCPA Vol 76 no 10 October 2007) and Steve Melia focusing on mobility (JTCPA Vol 76 no 11 November 2007) provide an excellent overview of the developments.
The list of achievements at Rieselfeld is almost endless and mind-boggling from a UK perspective, it would be remarkable to achieve but a few of these. For example:
- the city council controls the process from the outset rather than responding to private developers
- the community is closely engaged in the development process at every level – there is a definite sense of pride and local distinctiveness
- planners allow individual designs within an overall framework of design codes – generally the design of the buildings is simple, contemporary and refreshingly style-free in comparison to the UK preference for pastiche
- there is a rich and diverse landscape with strong links to an adjacent country park – the overall feel of the development is green and open despite a grid layout and 3-5 storey buildings – and there is an integral SUDS which is an attractive central feature of the development (see top image)
- cyclists and pedestrians have priority throughout and there is a direct 7 minute tram link service to the city centre – in addition to this the speed limit is 18 mph (30 km/h) within the development
- there is a predominance of underground car parking throughout or carports with storage above – even housing blocks at the rural edge of the development have basement parking
- there is a wide range of community facilities include kindergarten, children’s centre, sports area, churches, gymnasium, meeting centres, primary and secondary schools, sports clubs and day nursery – the schools are the hub of the community
- there is a district centre with shops and a church shared by Protestants and Catholics
- there is combined heat and power throughout with connection to a district heating system combined with low energy building and considerable use of solar power
At Rieselfeld, many aspects have combined to create something special. The masterplan and the physical aspects of the development are a major part of this – they are many years ahead of the dumb architect led masterplans so common in the UK. But the crucial elements lie beyond the physical plan. These are:
- a development culture in which the public sector plays a strong central role in contrast to private sector dominance in the UK
- small development parcels commissioned by groups of people who are going to be the occupiers rather than by developers who have no long term interest in the scheme
- the local authority controls the process of site release preferring to release small sites to groups rather than large sites to developers
- a considerable mix of tenures, house types and sizes throughout the development and these are indistinguishable from each other
- a different system for funding infrastructure such as transport facilities, energy and waste systems
Rieselfeld is not the only example of excellence in the development of eco-communities and sustainable extensions – Hammarby Sjöstad, a suburb of Stockholm is currently considered one of the world’s most sustainable communities as reported by the Guardian on 5 December 2007. It is to be expected that many more of these developments will take place in Europe over the next few years. The UK has much catching up to do.