Attacking Suburban Sprawl in Vauban, Germany


I always find it incredibly depressing to drive from Edmonton to Calgary. It’s starting to look like one unending stream of suburbs. While there are still plenty of wide, open spaces, they get smaller every year and the suburbs of both cities just keep on growing. I’m starting to wonder how long it will take before the three-hour drive between the cities evolves into a hellish tour of one giant housing development after another.

It’s shocking what a tremendous amount of space these homes take up. They seem huge, which is of course a large part of their appeal. But at the same time, they are so close together that you can look in your neighbours windows! Even our flat has more privacy than that! You have to wonder why people don’t just give up the pretence and share a wall with their neighbors. But I guess that violates the whole “my McMansion is my castle” mentality.

It’s also pretty hard to imagine the suburbs without cars, but that is just what they have done in Vauban, Germany. Vauban has decided to take a new approach to suburban planning, creating friendly neighborhoods with easy access to public transportation. Parking one’s car on the street is discouraged. And although car ownership is not forbidden, it is a bit of a pain (there are only two places to park in the entire town). As a result, 70 percent of residents have chosen to give up their cars. People either carpool or take public transportation. And because driving isn’t really an option, small stores that cater to the pedestrian population thrive.

In addition, free standing homes are forbidden in Vauban, helping to eliminate a lot of wasted space (honestly, who really hangs out in the two square feet of land that separates houses from each other in these new developments? And why do they even bother putting windows on that side of the house, since the only thing you can look at is your neighbors siding (and maybe your neighbors, if you’re lucky).

I really hope that this idea takes off, though there are some definite drawbacks to car-free living(especially where I live). Cars are lifesavers during the long Edmonton winter. When it’s -30 C (-22 F for the Americans), you don’t really feel like walking much of anywhere. Even if they grocery store is pretty close. So I guess I can see why suburban parking lots are so popular here. Still, I’m sure that things can be done to make developments more pedestrian/public transportation/bike-friendly. Hmm. What would William Morris do?

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.