29 June, 2009

A Town Without Cars

A few weeks ago the New York Times ran an excellent article about Vauben, a German town without cars. I meant to mention it then and was reminded to do so when The Independent ran an similar piece last week.

From the NYT:

Street parking, driveways and home garages are generally forbidden in this experimental new district on the outskirts of Freiburg, near the French and Swiss borders. Vauban’s streets are completely “car-free” — except the main thoroughfare, where the tram to downtown Freiburg runs, and a few streets on one edge of the community. Car ownership is allowed, but there are only two places to park — large garages at the edge of the development, where a car-owner buys a space, for $40,000, along with a home.
Pretty cool! Read the articles for details, but the idea that so many families are attracted to a car free, and bike friendly, place is very encouraging.

Update: In the comments Marc shared this study which I found very interesting.


patates frites said...

Sounds good to me. But try that here and the howls of "weirdo!" and "communist!" would crowd the corporate media seconds after the first announcement.

Cycliste said...

Then we'll get earplugs until they change their mind, which should not take long.

AJH said...

Wow, those people are very fortunate.

Anonymous said...

Sounds great, but I don't like the "no garages" rule. That's the most important part of a house! Where would I keep all my bikes?

Anonymous said...

Now that place sounds almost
perfect - the only other things they need to do are ban cell phones and television.

Woo Hoo-instant paradise !?

Anonymous said...

Patates, it would only crowd FoxNews and the Talk Radio neo-con platforms.

Anonymous said...

The street in the photo looks empty. What to fill and enliven the space?

Anonymous said...

Seriously, ugh. All utopia's freak me the hell out. Don't get me wrong, I like riding my bike, and I plan on building the all time coolest porteur as soon as Chris releases the city bike frame, I'm already collecting parts, but it's for me it's an aesthetic issue not a moral one. I ride because I like it, not to save the earth. AGW is a sham.

z-man said...

Ditto anon 11:58! That place looks like a dump. Bikes are part of the solution, but a very small part. Anywhere there is any kind of weather that doesn't include nice sunny, dry, no snow, rain only at night, there will have to be cars. At least in a country like ours. Would I like to see more bike commuting and infrastructure to support it? Absolutely, but it will never be more than a fringe thing just like riding the bus/train etc.

Marc said...

Sounds great to me! But I would rather see so many people using bikes that people would realize how impractical cars are in the city. Governments mandating behavior always turns me off. Check out this study I ran across while researching a bike lane project:

frankenbiker said...

A little extreme,but a great idea.A bike friendly communnity that could include a LIMITED no. of cars would probably be a better idea.It looks to me that they not only have forgone cars,but also yardwork.Geez!Break out the lawnmower and a pruner once in a while before your utopia is consumed by the earth.

Joel said...

Anon 11:58 an Z-Man - Respectfully, it seems to me you are stuck in the 1980s - present mind set that U.S. housing means living in MacMansions spread along super highways miles from work and services.

If the recent economic downturn has shown anything, it is that a huge percentage of we here in the U.S. cannot afford that lifestyle. With the Chinese looking to lend their money elsewhere, even those of us willing to borrow our way into the lifestyle will shrink.

Two wars, runaway Medicaid and Social Security Spending, and no willingness to increase taxes has the U.S. looking at a deficit that will take generations to pay off. In the meantime the U.S. infrastructure is crumbling. Investments in mass transit and downsizing roads is far less expensive than rebuilding and increasing road capacity. If the U.S. cannot come to terms with the new reality, the future will become increasingly dire.

n.b. to Patates - now that the U.S. auto industry has imploded, and it appears only a matter of time before Chinese companies start selling autos to us, you can quite honestly throw the "communist" chant back at howling monkeys.

Anonymous said...

re: Marc. The link didn't work for me... could you repost? Or give the title and author....


Anonymous said...

Meh. A planned community holds no interest for me, regardless of the principal it's based on. What you always end up with is a population of too-similar people. And, all too often, those too-similar people are nearly all uppity assholes.

No thank you.

Marc said...

Looks like it got cut off!
Try this

Marc said...

Well that didn't work, the article at injuryprevention.bmj.com is
"Safety in numbers"
P.L. Jacobson

I have a full copy of the PDF on file if anybody would like.


Joel said...

Anon 10:08

Think about it.

The concepts this community adopted do not require a planned urban development to work. Rather, plan old changes to the building code and overall changes in the Department of Transportation could have every community built around mass transit supplemented by personal transit.

The U.S. car dominated system did not occur naturally. It is the result of decades of concentrated planning and huge capital outlays. Unfortunately, none of these planners looking at their local community considered the negative impact relying on imported oil, etc. would have on the nation as a whole.

Marc said...

On a more humorous note:
Think of these communities being legislated into existence in the US, and boon effect it would have on the psychiatric community. They would be flooded with seperation anxiety and identity crises when all those americans couldn't sleep next to their cars!

Justin said...

Agreed on the "planned community" note - it ends up just being freaks and weirdos. Children of the Corn style.

I like a diverse transit system - right now what we have is obviously too car-heavy but the solution isn't to throw out the automobile. Maybe just the internal combustion engine.

Anonymous said...

Check out:


The US take on the idea, yet to come to fruition

Anonymous said...

It's like the reverse of 'going Galt' with the best of intentions. We do need private transport on occasion, and someone mentioned above how too-similar folks end up in the same place (and ruin it).

e.g. SeaLand

Anonymous said...

It may be a cool place, but as long as it is peopled only by a self-selecting group of people who basically think the same, it will never be a community. It will be a club. Community exists when you are in a continued dynamic with people you disagree with, people who bug you, people you like, and people who challenge you to consider the other. This looks, to my eye, to be a smug German version of Celebration FLA.
M Burdge

keithwwalker said...

Yeah, wow, what a 'bad' concept, children could actually play in the street...
4 bedroom flat for 250k euro?
I don't see what everyone is whining about. It is actually an evolution of the olde town center in many european cities, most Americans can't conceive of it, so they don't understand it - ignorance.

It also reminds of eastern Germany, where there are many high rise apartment buildings, and lots of green space and public gardens.

What a racical concept, high density green space.

Tom said...


There are plenty of places on earth which have 'extreme' non-good weather conditions and a much higher percentage of bicycle riding: Tokyo; Amsterdam; Copenhagen; Hanoi; Beijing; Sau Paolo; Black Rock City. It's our collective fat, bloated laziness that prevents us from riding a bike 3-4 miles to the post office, not weather.

Pointing fingers at how things were 40-20 years ago and how we can never ever change our collective behavior is selling humanity short. If we are that dumb, then external inputs (government, pestilence, natural disasters) would be the only way to effectively modify our behavior for long term survival.

There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

Anonymous said...

Heard of Auroville?

Marc said...

One thing caught my eye in this community was the idea a "car sharing" as a way to provide transportation outside the city. An American company, Zip Cars, has already made a market out of that concept in most high density cities. They provide late model cars to members on hourly and daily fees. The rental fees cover all licensing, insurance and gasoline. They are finding city dwellers doing away with their cars and relying on walking, biking and public transport for daily use; and using the rentals three or four times a month. For city people, it can be 50-75% cheaper than owning, maintaining, insuring and, of course, paying for parking in the city. Maybe the increasing cost of
automobiles will help develop the concept!

M said...

Vauban is built on an old military base, and probably gets a lot of its compactness from the original barracks layout. Frankly the place looks a little funny, but I'm not opposed to the concept.

Re: weather: In a way biking in the middle of winter in Chicago is easier than in late summer. Out west where humidity isn't quite as much of an issue it would be great to see more planting of shade trees along longer-distance bike routes, a la the french roads (planted to shade marching troops).

Re: rant: It's a shame that Obama has been so adamantly opposed to increasing the gas tax. Pricing is ultimately the driver in people's transportation choices. As long as mileage is cheap, cars will remain a part of everyday living. It's clear that the president means well, and has taken his position out of populist sentiment, but a gas tax increase doesn't have to be regressive; it will go a long way to civilizing the country.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the perfect neighbourhood for the perfect young, happy and healthy family who live happily ever after in fantasy land... until the day the fantasy bursts.

I'm as afraid of bicycle nuts as I am of car nuts. Somewhere, there has got to be a happy medium.

barba said...

Mackinac Island in Michigan has not allowed motorized vehicles (minus a few emergency vehicles) since the late 1800s. I remember think it was coolest place on Earth when I was a kid. You could ride your bike anywhere!

Notlob Dinsdale said...

"high density green spaces" in east germany? A you kidding me? That sort of modernist trash produce a sprawled out population for whom transit, cycling and walking are an inconvenience? The architects and planners responsible for the wohnblocks and plattenbau assumed that everyone would be driving Trabants and Wartburgs. The communist high rise version of Irivne california is what the DDR got. It's a cancer that need to be removed.

This is rather different. It was designed for people not Trabants. It's a small transit centered suburb built on an S-Bahn or tram line in a very small metro region, not an isolated inconvenient distopia as is often the case.
It is still fairly creepy and planned communities built in one go are always architecturally oppressive.

The rest of Freiburg is of far greater interest and more relevant to anyone interested in making fucked up american cities less um fucked up. Not sure why creepy utopian projects get some much attention. Probably because the sort of people who write about these issues don't have the right background and are attracted to things that have greater aesthetic value.

Anonymous said...

It is sometimes hard to translate what works in a holiday spot to 'real life' situations--take, for example, the discrepancy between a holiday place and a working place in t-shirt shops, or those stores that sell signs that say 'your husband called--he said buy anything you want.'
My understanding is that Mackinac Is. is a tourist spot, so as lovely as it may be, offers few lessons on what the residents of, say, Dayton should do about traffic problems.
M Burdge

Anonymous said...

the independent article mentions: "If Vauban's brave new world suffers from anything, it is its own peculiar brand of middle-class monoculturalism. Sitting outside a former Nazi barrack building that now functions as an organic restaurant selling ricotta-filled ravioli and ostrich meat, its is difficult to spot anyone who is non-European, old or poor." Which, when you think of it, is not the sort of celebration of a physical ideal the Germans should be bragging about--especially given its mid 20th century use.
Vauben sounds like a neat idea, but it needs to be recognised that is a place for people more interested in being with others who are like them--romantic and wealthy ex-hippie boomers who can afford to create some imagined paradise where things like squatters (who were driven off the land to build Vauben) and Turks or Roma or the poor do not exist as anyhing other than causes.

z-man said...


Your point is well taken but oddly enough, I made my lifestyle the old-fashioned way-I earned it. It's my choice to live in the way I wish, I didn't borrow anything I couldn't afford, I controlled my own destiny, and when things went sideways from time-to-time I didn't play the victim.
Your comment on the deficit is a bit off-base. It took 240 years +/- to get to our deficit level of a few months ago, and our current guys have doubled that in a few pen strokes. However well intentioned, THAT is what will doom our kids and their kids into a life of servitude to their gov't.
The war, which I am against BTW, was just a drop in the bucket.

z-man said...

Anytime I hear the word (or read it)"collective"....
That's it for me, I'm done. Not everyone will buy into any idea, it's a freedom of choice thing. The gov't needs to butt out on the behavior issues.
BTW your idea on mass transit is a brilliant one that a lot of people share, traffic is nuts most places.

Marc said...

Living in Michigan, I have a lot of experience with Macinac Island. It is charmingly beautiful, historic and a tourist trap. That means there are t-shirt and gyp shops, but also bars, restaurants hotels a golf course, apartments, homes and all the services that a community like that needs. That being said, it's not a cyclists paradise. It's a small island, only 5 miles in circumferance. There is a practical reason to disallow cars. If they allowed the visitors to have cars on the island, not only would it cut the visitor traffic down because of the expense, it would reduce the island to a giant parking lot with a beautiful view.
Kinda like LA.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Z-man, As an amateur economist I have to take issue with your explanation. No one likes deficits, but they are preferable to the alternative which would most likely have been another great depression. And deficits historically have had a way of shrinking due to overall growth and inflation.

Let us not forget that this whole crisis can be laid at the feet of the sort of laissez-faire economic policy promoted by R. Reagan and his successors and followers. To look for answers from those same folks would be the height of ludicrousy. We need to turn to the worlds best economists and follow their advise which is, more or less, what the current administration is doing. And it shows every sign of working.

As for servitude to the government, I wish more Americans would adopt the European attitude that government is simply a tool that we work with, not an adversary. In fact it's a tool that can accomplish an awful lot of good if we use it wisely.

Marc said...

Another word on the recent government spending. I'm the last fan of any politician, but the spending we are seeing is different than previous deficit spending projects. Much of the spending, especially to "bail-out" the banking and auto industies' mistakes have taken the form of loans and equity investment. The major banks have already (less than 12 months later mind you)begun to pay that money back with interest. Hopefully, the government interest in the auto industry will later be divested at a profit as well. The profitability of this spending will, again hopefully, help reduce the long term inflationary impact of that expense. Like Chris said, it's much better than the other options, but there are politicians involved, we will just have to wait and see.

z-man said...

Chris I love you but we'll have to just disagree.
Economists are nothing more than educators who, for the most part, have no real experience in making an economy work or fail.
You have more knowledge than the average economist on what works and doesn't.
BTW, the troubles all started when J Carter started to deregulate business.
As an interested economist, you'll accurately remember than in the final year of the Carter administration, w/ tax rates as high as 70%, the total take in tax revenue was $459 billion (+/-), and when the next administration set rate @18/24%, revenue doubled

M said...

A, Z-Man, one of those rugged individualists who built the roads, schools, and infrastructure with his own two hands, and didn't benefit a bit from society. No siree bob, he's not ever gonna be part of a collective of anything.

Anonymous said...

You pretty much got that right, but lest anyone think I'm a heartless capitalist, please note that my company funds 2 vans to shuttle veterans to the doctors appointments, etc, and we have put 5 NEADS dogs into svc (@ about $10K each) for disabled vets also.
All this has been done anonymously BTW, so we are not looking for a pat on the back.
How did we do this? That dirty word-profit.
So be smug if you want... Z

BG's Blog said...

I dream about such things in bigger-is-better USA. Maybe in my next life.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like easy pickings to me...just live right outside of town, DRIVE IN, steal, loot, whatever, and then DRIVE AWAY.