Vauban

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a place that was designed in recent times for a life without cars? If you went to the German community of Vauban outside of Freiburg you could see one. The New York Times caught my attention with the headline “In German Suburb, Life Goes On Without Cars.” This is misleading to my American sensibilities. When I think of a “suburb” I unfortunately don’t think of a community of 5,500 living two and a half miles from the center of the larger city. Two and half miles is a short distance by American standards. That’s how far Jake and I live from one another. My point is just that the scale is very different and a European suburb is not the same thing as an American suburb, again, unfortunately. I say unfortunately because I think it would be nice to be able to get around town without having to go very far to get anywhere. That tends to make walking and bicycling easier. 

 

Whose cars are those???

Whose cars are those???

Walking and bicycling become a lot easier when on street parking, driveways, and home garages are generally prohibited. When you make those common bits of infrastructure  prohibited and you charge $40,000 for a parking space in a garage on the edge of town, you end up living in a place where seventy percent of the population doesn’t own a car. They also don’t allow free standing homes. Only row-houses. 

 

 Some folks in California are going to give this a shot. They’re trying to set up a development called Quarry Village in Hayward near Oakland is going to try to be car free. But if they fail to get the support to be car free, they have plans on making it a normal car-centric development. I wonder just how much effort they’ll put into getting the support to make it car free. 

 

 Apparently in the US most zoning laws require two parking spaces per residence. Damn, that kind of a statistic makes me want to move straight to Houston where they don’t have any zoning laws, except that it’s Houston and has managed to sprawl across the Southeastern Texas despite its lack of zoning laws to confound planners. I would think that zoning laws like the parking requirement shouldn’t be too tough to wave seeing as there are far from two parking spaces for every residence in my apartment building which was built within the last five years. That said, I know parking has been a contentious issue in downtown Olympia in recent years, but I digress…

 

 To offset the high price of owning a car in Vauban the community has its own car-sharing club, like Zipcar. Another alternative that some residents have chosen is for multiple families to buy a car together. I don’t know how well that would work in Germany, but I imagine that in the United States that would require a pretty fancy contract to legally protect all parties involved. I definitely see a place for car-sharing in Thurston County. Of course, I would rather see it develop as a home-grown endeavor than having the corporate giant of Zipcar take over the community. They’ve ignored us thus far, let’s do it on our own. If the bureaucracy of operating businesses through public colleges and universities wasn’t so overwhelming, I would suggest Evergreen start its own car sharing club for the South Sound. Who knows, maybe someone with tremendous amounts of motivation will read this and become inspired. I’m certain that many college students would not bring their cars to Olympia if they knew they would have access to a vehicle while they lived here. How else could Zipcar become so successful at college campuses across the country? I could also imagine the State having its own fleet to be able to get the government workers from the main Capitol campus to the other offices spread around Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater. 

 

 In Vauban the lack of cars has another benefit: parents feel much better about raising their children in the pedestrian and bicycle friendly environment. The fear of a child running into the street must be almost non-existant. The other advantage Vauban has for the carless crowd is a Freiburg tram line running along the edge of the development. 

 

 I’d like to close with a quote from a Vauban resident named Ms. Walter. “If you have a car, you tend to use it.” To which I will respond, “if you don’t have a car, you won’t drive it.”

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