Do you ever get the feeling that every time you close your eyes, someone in Europe is doing something brilliant for the environment? Well, the residents of Vauban, Germany live in a suburb where most streets are off-limits to cars and the shops are mixed in with housing. The town’s 5,500 people are packed into a square mile, where they walk and cycle their way through day-to-day life.
The New York Times reports that as a result of this planning, children are everywhere. Vauban, on the French-Swiss-German border, enjoys solid links to public transportation. Residents who want to keep their cars buy parking spaces for $40,000 in one of two town lots, but 70 percent of Vaubanites don’t have their own.
Vauban was completed in 2006. In its prior life it was a Nazi army base, with streets running between the barracks that would be too narrow to accommodate private car use. Today, those same streets are lined with energy-efficient apartment buildings, rather than detached single-family homes, which are forbidden. The town is planned in a ribbon shape, at the center of which runs the tram line.
Vuaban also has a car sharing club for families who don’t want to buy a vehicle of their own. Residents tend to make local shopping trips with the use of bike carts that haul their goods behind them. About half of them vote for the Green Party.
The Times reports that this car-less option is being explored in new residential developments in the United States and in Europe. It is certainly a smarter building move than tract housing subdivisions that depend on the automobile.
However, Vauban-style construction may be most appropriate for the developing world, where the countryside has yet to be overbuilt. In more economically advanced countries, including Israel, the best option would be to retrofit existing suburbs – such as Holon, Ramat Gan and Givataim outside of Tel Aviv – to operate without cars. Perhaps these places could start by outlawing cars in a central district, and gradually expand the area off limits to vehicles, while providing bike rentals and reliable public transportation to keep the neighborhood alive economically. This would vastly improve the quality of life for people who choose to live away from the chaos of the cities without eating into the limited stores of open space that remain.
(Photo via myauthorsite)