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Cities seeking sustainability: Freiburg im Breisgau

The German city has become a sustainable urban community thanks to the application of cohesive urban politics and transportation policies for the past three decades.

With 36.7 watts per inhabitant, Freiberg is the city that uses more solar energy per inhabitant in the world, despite the latitude of this European country.

Freiburg (Baden-Würtemberg) is a tranquil medium-sized city (215,000 inhabitants) situated in the southwest of Germany, next to the Black Forest nature preserve, one of the most popular recreation spots in the country.

It seems that this peaceful Central European city has been well-served by remaining outside the fashions that have set the agenda of the large capitals and “influential” metropolises for the past decades. Now is when the “influential” metropolises should look more to Freiburg.

Freiburg has been recognized on several occasions as an example of political coherence and ecological sustainability: the city measures to improve traffic and to promote less contaminating public transportation and bicycle use were initiated in 1969.

Since then, Freiburg has achieved remarkable successes in the management of traffic and renewable energies.

Part of the success of Freiburg, a compact city that has avoided the model of the middle class suburbs, so dependent on private transportation, is owed to citizen support for sustainable politics developed over decades.

The city has developed structurally on ideas that in the seventies, eighties and nineties were not so clearly supported by a public opinion that is now increasingly more socially aware. The success of this German city is not electoral superficiality or “sustainability fever”.

In their quest for an equilibrium between progress and success, those of Freiburg im Breisgau point to several measures with which they have had success:

  • The encouragement of bicycle use since the seventies, when it was viewed by the West as a product of the more underdeveloped past of Maoist China than that of German industriousness, that the Federal Republic of Germany popularized with the term “German miracle”. Freiburg opted then for the bicycle and has supported it‘s bet up until now. The consequence? The use of the bike increased from 15% in 1982 to 17% in 1999, thanks to the constant improvement of the 500 kilometers of bike lanes that cross the entire city, whose size has remained constant, and can be crossed easily by bike or even on foot.
  • Once again casting aside the trends of government officials and local town councils in Europe and North America, Freiberg opted to expand their network of trolleys, instead of dismantling them. Countries like Spain, that in the seventies fought for economic and democratic development to bring the country closer to Europe, succumbed to fashion and trolleys were disappearing from the streets of Madrid and Barcelona. From 1985 to 2004, the trolleys of Freiburg almost doubled their number of riders.
  • Despite being a city that has remained small in population and extension, of the 15,300 hectares of Freiburg, 40% continues to be reserved for forest. Freiburg seems to have been spared the suburban sprawl that has effected much of the rest of the continent.
  • To allow for the movement into and out of the city of 80,000 people per day, in the least contaminating way possible, Freiburg has a guarded parking lot for bicycles next to the main train station, with space for about a thousand bicycles.
  • As in other German cities, “car sharing” (carpooling within and into and out of the city) contributes to more money and energy savings.
  • The majority of the buildings of the city rely on solar panels to provide fundamental energy needs. Similarly, in the past decades a focus on thermal insulation has added to the energy savings.

This German city continues working to improve their public transportation networks, their bicycle lanes, the technical advice regarding clean transport for those who request it and other related measures that go beyond style and politics.

Freiburg has become a community of citizen-neighbors, whose carbon footprint is increasingly smaller.

More than 10,000 people work in the sector of services and technologies related to the environment and to solar energy. The latter industry invoices, only in the Freiburg area, around 1 billion euros annually.

  • More information on Freiburg im Breisgau, in Wikipedia.