Germany's Green City of the Future

German town goes green, encouraging biking, renewable energy and organic food.

August 28, 2009, 9:01 PM

Aug. 29, 2009— -- As a city, Vauban, Germany, has everything -- tree-lined streets, perfect houses -- but it's missing one urban fixture of the last 100 years or so: the car.

And Vauban residents don't mind one bit.

"We lived with a car -- I had a car, my wife had a car -- for 40 years, I think, and I don't like it, I don't miss it at all," said Hartmut Wagner, a Vauban resident.

Vauban doesn't ban cars entirely. Rather, it just tries to reduce the use of cars by creating "parking-free" and "car-free" living.

In Vauban, just outside the city of Freiburg, near the French and Swiss borders, parking spaces are prohibited on private property. Cars can only be parked in public parking lots, so living without a car saves residents the cost of parking in the public lot.

Cars also are prevented from using certain roads and must stick to strict speed limits. With these limitations, fewer than 20 percent of residents own cars.

Without cars, bikes are almost religion in this small town. Kids pick them up even before they can ride one.

"I go to work with my bike, kids go to school with the bike," said resident Gerlinde Schuwald. "It's a good feeling here in these areas. It's peaceful."

Vauban is about much more than just using two wheels instead of four. It's an environmentally-friendly city of the future, with organically grown food, renewable energy, and carbon-neutral homes.

"People make more money by selling electricity to the grid than they pay for heat," said Andreas Delleske, a Vauban resident.

Completed in 2006, Vauban was 20 years in the making, built on the site of a former military barracks that residents and the local government bought and redesigned. And now, with a population of 5,500, it's attracting attention from around the world.

A class of students taking a sustainability course at the University of California, Davis, recently visited Vauban to see if the technologies could be applied in the United States.

"The technologies are all transferable. Solar power. California has a lot of sun," said UC Davis professor Jeff Loux. "What's difficult for us to get a grasp on is the density they can achieve here, the fact that people live in smaller units."

Of course, no one loves cars as much as Americans do. But if this can happen in Germany, home of Mercedes and the high-speed Autobahn, then maybe Americans can do it, too.

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