It's pickup time at the Vauban kindergarten here at the edge of the Black Forest, but there's not a single minivan waiting for the kids. Instead, a convoy of helmet-donning moms - bicycle trailers in tow - pedal up to the entrance.
Welcome to Germany's best-known environmentally friendly neighborhood and a successful experiment in green urban living. The Vauban development - 2,000 new homes on a former military base 10 minutes by bike from the heart of Freiburg - has put into practice many ideas that were once dismissed as eco-fantasy but which are now moving to the center of public policy.
With gas prices well above $6 per gallon across much of the continent, Vauban is striking a chord in Western Europe as communities encourage people to be less car-dependent. Just this week, Paris unveiled a new electric tram in a bid to reduce urban pollution and traffic congestion.
"Vauban is clearly an offer for families with kids to live without cars," says Jan Scheurer, an Australian researcher who has studied the Vauban model extensively. "It was meant to counter urban sprawl - an offer for families not to move out to the suburbs and give them the same, if better quality of life. And it is very successful."
There are numerous incentives for Vauban's 4,700 residents to live car-free: Carpoolers get free yearly tramway passes, while parking spots - available only in a garage at the neighborhood's edge - go for €17,500 (US$23,000). Forty percent of residents have bought spaces, many just for the benefit of their visiting guests.
In contrast, the US average is 640 household vehicles per 1,000 residents. But some cities - such as Davis, Calif., where 17 percent of residents commute by bike - have pioneered a car-free lifestyle that is similar to Vauban's model.
Vauban, which is located in the southwestern part of the country, owes its existence, at least in part, to Freiburg - a university town, like Davis - that has a reputation as Germany's ecological capital.
Environmental research also became a backbone of the region's economy, which boasts Germany's largest solar-research center and an international center for renewable energy. Services such as installing solar panels and purifying wastewater account for 3 percent of jobs in the region, according to city figures.
Burlington: Vermont's 'ecological capital'? After all, we've got UVM's Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources right in our own back yard - offering a curriculum emphasizing the natural and social sciences as they apply to environmental problem-solving.
Continuing the CSM article -
"It would have been much simpler to give a big developer a piece of land and say, 'Come back five years later with a plan,' " says Roland Veith, the Freiburg city official in charge of Vauban.
But the result is a "master plan of an ecological city ... unique in its holistic approach," says Peter Heck, a professor of material-flow management at Germany's University of Trier, pointing out that this was a community-wide effort involving engineers, politicians, city planners, and residents - not just an environmental group's pilot program.
But what makes Vauban unique, say experts, is that "it's as much a grass-roots initiative as it is pursued by the city council," says Mr. Scheurer. "It brings together the community, the government, and the private sector at every state of the game."
As more cities follow Vauban's example, some see its approach taking off. "Before you had pilot projects. Now it's like a movement," says Mr. Heck. "The idea of saving energy for our landscape is getting into the basic planning procedure of German cities."
"Pursued by the city council...", the article says. Do our illustrious Burlington City Councilmembers have the balls? (Just take a look at their vote supporting the wrong-headed, revamped Southern Connector project.)
The Vauban Model