Freiburg in southern Germany rightly calls itself a ‘green city’. It has demonstrated a thirty-year commitment to sustainable urban development. Born out of protests against the building of nuclear power stations and influenced by the catastrophe at Chernobyl, a green activism has led to an impressive urban achievement. This includes:
- a tradition of high-quality urban planning
- competence as a leading centre for solar energy research
- a local economy that regards environmental goals as a constructive challenge
- a citizenry that is committed to protecting the environment
- a city council that is prepared to make path-breaking decisions
(Freiburg Green City, Wolfgang Frey, 2011)
I visited Freiburg on holiday and the images below tell a story of ingenuity, homeliness, respect for children, shared green places, a joy in walking and cycling; and a commitment to the generation of solar energy. Very few of these pictures illustrate radical approaches to architecture as many of the buildings are simple five-storey apartments blocks. Houses are generally terraced but there are no detached garages and very few cars. What connects so many of the apartments are balconies large enough live on; solar panels on most roofs; space to park bikes; narrow streets that give priority to children; green roofs; colourful walls; and places that feel humane and homely. Freiburg has created its own traditions which set standards for sustainability and community.
Freiburg has the benefit of being an affluent city as well as a university research centre. It has had a stable council with the same Green Party mayor and head of planning for the past thirty years. It has also established a cost-effective public transport system which is popular with many of its citizens and it has built tram ways which are green in every sense of the word as the pictures below illustrate.
Why is London (or any part of the UK) apparently incapable of learning any of the lessons of Freiburg? Architects, local authority officials and urbanists have been visiting the city for the past twenty years.
So much housing in the capital is inhumane, grey, glass-covered and thoroughly alienating as well as expensive to buy, to rent and to heat. As the government makes a commitment to building on brownfield sites without planning permission; a serious debate needs to take place on why one of the most affluent and design-conscious cities on earth is failing to offer its citizens something which the residents of a small German city now take for granted.