The "Green City" of Freiburg
As part of my Environmental Management and Sustainability program, our teacher brought us to see what a sustainable city looks like. Now let me start by saying that Freiburg is not 100% sustainable but they are making incredible strides towards achieving this goal. We started our journey to Freiburg on a bus along with the French Masters program that is similar to the program we are in (just that their classes are all in french). It was a whole’s day journey, but we finally made it to Freiburg and we rested and got ready for our first day of exploring. We work up early and headed into Freiburg from our hostel and we noticed right away that this city was different. I saw designated bike lanes through out the city and many pedestrian only areas. We stopped in the middle of the city and met Luciano, our tour guide for the next two days. I am not going to write out every single thing we saw and experience during the trip because I am already doing that for a project for class. Instead, I want to highlight 5 things that inspired me to be more sustainable when I was in Freiburg.
1. They bike everywhere
As I mentioned before they have bikes everywhere, I mean it. They have designated bike lanes and you will see bikes strapped to trees because they don’t have enough spaces to lock their bikes. They have this crazy statistic that by 1999 the breakdown of mobility was 23% walking, 18% by tram, 32% by car and 27% by bike. While you might not be impressed by that, I am! The fact that all alternative means of transportation make up 68% of the mobility in the city is impressive (and these are outdated numbers).
2. Hotel Victoria- the most environmentally friendly 4-star hotel
It was great to see what a big name like Best Western was doing to be more “eco-friendly”. They have many energy saving features, because as Luciano explained to us, their first priority is to reduce their consumption and impact. He then told us how the hotel obtains energy from solar panels on their roof, wind turbines in the black forest, and how they purchase energy from a green provider. Any additional energy comes from cogeneration. And what is cogeneration? That means that you have the machine that gives you energy in the same building so it can also give you heat. They have a lot of other nifty tools they use to make their building more eco-friendly and you should definitely check them out if you are ever in Freiburg.
3. Rieselfeld District
This district is newly built and it shows just how important it was for the city of Freiburg to develop sustainable districts that were both pro-environment but also pro-people. Rieselfeld shows an example of people having to come together to build their houses in cooperatives and keeping in mind to build in a way that allows people to enjoy their open spaces and reduce their commutes to obtain essentials such as food. When Rieselfeld was built, a part of the land was also set aside to be protected. This land cannot be built on any further, which just further shows the commitment of this city and its people to reduce their environmental impact.
4. Vauban District
Another district that leaves you completely speechless. As soon as you step into this district you get the sense of community and belonging. The area used to be the barracks of the French military right after WWII, and it was retrofitted to housing that meets the triple bottom line. As a class, we had the pleasure of meeting one of the individuals who started one of the living groups in Vauban. He explained that as the sense of community grows so does the sense of ownership. This in turns creates more environmental awareness: people would rather walk, bike, or take public transport and choose to do so over owning a car. So maybe we should all start by going back to a strong sense of community? Perhaps. Nevertheless, it was amazing to see this district where everyone was outside on a Wednesday afternoon enjoying the market and chatting along with their neighbors.
5. The Solar Settlements
Now this was by far one of the most impressive initiatives I saw. Admittedly, I don’t know too much about energy, but it was jaw dropping to hear that the residents here instead of using energy, they are putting energy into the system and the government is paying THEM for their services! (Seriously, they are getting a check, every month). Now that is something right there. The Solar Settlements are very quirky looking, they are all different colors and again, no cars! Only pedestrians and bikes are allowed around the small alleys. The Solar Settlement is in the Vauban district but it resounded so profoundly with me that I had to give it it’s own number, all the way at the top of the list!