Things I want to take back with me from Freiburg: Sustainability

So, if you’ve been in the Midwest at all this summer you know it’s been HOT HOT HOT for the last few weeks.  Indeed it has only started to cool off and drop into the 80s the last few days (I was reading the Chicago Tribune’s weather page the other day and it referred to this as a “cold front” so let’s all think about that for a second).

Anyhow, what a lot of commentators have been saying is that this is another example of the extremes this part of the world could face as the consequences of human induced global warming begins to reveal itself.  Hot, dry, heat wave and drought wrought summers and ridiculous hot-cold-hot-cold winters.

So let’s face it: this is not good.  And regardless of what we do right now, we’re in for a few years of this at the very least.  But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something.  We may have to live with the consequences of our past actions for a period of time, but that doesn’t mean we should continue bad habits and perpetuate the onset of global warming further into the future.

So what does this have to do with me studying abroad in Freiburg, Germany?  Well, for me a lot.  I want to be an urban planner someday.  I love cities.  I love to live in them, visit them, study them, and hopefully someday design them.  What I would ultimately like to do too is work in the United States to retrofit the poorly designed cities of the United States’ car-orientated culture to be more sustainable.  Make places where the car was once king and turn them into places where cars compete with options such as walking, biking, and mass-transit.  Freiburg will hopefully be a great model from which I can learn.

There is a lot about Freiburg, Germany that I think will help me and give me ideas that I can bring back and share in the United States.  It certainly helps that Germany is often considered one of the most sustainable countries in the world.  But I think, Germany has even more to teach Midwesterners about living sustainably.

A view of one of Vauban’s streets from the Notice the lack of parking or driving space

Germany is widely considered one of the most sustainable and environmentally minded countries in the world, and Freiburg is often considered a gem amongst cities for its efforts at promoting sustainable living.  In fact, one of the Western world’s newest car-free communities is in Freiburg (Vauban on the cite of the last French military base in Germany sites at the cities southern edge and is home to over 5,500 residents amongst other things and offers only limited vehicle access to drop-off/pick-up people and utility vehicles).

So, with all this said, my thinking begins now.  What is it about the German nation that makes living with solar panels so common in a part of the world that can have as much dreary, cold and cloudy weather as the Midwest.  How is it that a city the size of Freiburg is successfully connected to larger cities and major international destinations like Freiburg am Main and Basel, Switzerland by highly efficient bullet trains while a city like Madison isn’t even connected to Milwaukee, let alone Chicago or Minneapolis/Saint Paul, by a conventional train?

What makes a city like Freiburg, a university town similar in size to Madison, the successful home of dense bus and tram system, which is supplemented by a regional S-Bahn (Stadtbahn or city-train), while across the Atlantic Madison is only modestly served by buses?  Is it politics?  Culture?  The difference of a motivation conscientious population versus one that has a lackluster willingness to do more?

These are questions I want to answer in Freiburg and bring back with me to the States to use in my hopefully success future career in urban planning.

Here is a link to a New York Times article that introduced the concept of a car-free suburb, mentioned above, to the American public in 2009: