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The New Green: Take example from green city, Freiburg

By Kelsey Sullivan
On November 8, 2012

For many of us living in the Northeast, last week's storm served as yet another reminder of how utterly unprepared some of our communities are for the threats of climate change. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for creating truly sustainable and resilient neighborhoods, because every community on the planet is completely unique. Solutions must take into account a community's natural condition (its natural ecology, climate and hydrology, landscape, natural resources, etc.) as well as social or "human" factors (demographics, economics, living standards, political concerns, etc.) Still, we can certainly learn a lot from the cities and neighborhoods around the world that are taking the lead in addressing the issues of climate change and sustainability. Freiburg, Germany is just such an example, contending for the title of the world's greenest city.
Freiburg is an exciting city for innovation because it has had the unique opportunity to completely rework its infrastructure, starting from a "clean slate" after the city was leveled by Allied bombing in WWII. The result is an unparalleled transportation system where residents rarely need to use a car. There are hundreds of miles of cycling paths, zoning regulations that create pedestrian areas and "streets for children." Efficient tramways and short distances between urban centers so that residents are always a short walk or bike ride from meeting all of their needs, no matter where they are in the city.
The city is aggressive in pursuing renewable energies (it is world-famous for its implementation of solar panels, which cover more than 50 percent of the roofs in some districts), as well as mitigating waste. Through business incentives and government regulation, Freiburg now recovers an amazing 70 percent of its waste. Germany is particularly progressive in that it places much of the responsibility for recycling on product manufacturers, so that products are designed to be reused or to decompose.
One of the more recent and incredible innovations to be found in Freiburg is its passive houses. In passive housing, comfortable room temperature is achieved by capturing the heat from cooking, lighting and even body heat. One resident estimated that he could heat his entire flat with 30 candles. The system takes advantage of strategic airflow, and though a passive house is usually 10 percent more expensive to build than a conventional one, it results in an unbelievable 90 percent reduction in energy use.
Not all of the solutions that work for Freiburg will work for Manhattan or L.A. or Hartford, but there is no reason that we cannot give some of them a try. Regardless of the actual techniques that we choose to pursue, one way in which we should certainly emulate Freiburg is how seriously the city ranks environmental goals in its official priorities. Clearly, with greatly reduced traffic and energy use and a proliferation of "green jobs," re-designing our cities to benefit the planet would be strongly to our benefit as well.

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