Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Attacking Suburban Sprawl in Vauban, Germany

suburb

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.

9 comments:

The Clever Pup said...

Hello, so nice to stumble upon a fellow Canadian. I love your blog a lot. I love to talk about art and art history too.

Your a new "favourite"

Margaret said...

Thanks, Clever Pup!

acornmoon said...

There is nothing green growing in the photograph, no trees, no grass, no nothing. It always amazes me to look down at what I consider to be a built up city eg Manchester, from the air, it looks very reassuringly green as does London.I think William Morris would have urged people to plant trees.

Margaret said...

You're absolutely right--where are the trees?

Thorsprincess said...

I was marching up and down the street in a very pretty new development this morning with my coworker Mavy. We have been in a lot of developments in the course of our part-time jobs as Census enumerators. Some are awful. Some are just full of too-big houses, or oversize houses on small lots, or have a dreary sameness. This development was refreshing. The houses looked lived-in, although they were new--even cheerful. The owners seemed friendly and happy. We noticed that the streets were lined with beautiful maple trees that would soon form a canopy and welcome shade in summer. Woods with trails had been developed behind the houses on three sides of the development. The houses actually were built just like the old houses in the Old Capital neighborhood in Olympia--not mansions--just nice-sized two-story family homes with porches of around 2000 sq ft. I think trees and porches make a difference.

Medieval Muse said...

I suppose I thought the MacMansion Syndrome was strictly American consumerism at its ugliest; sorry to hear it has moved north! This seems to be a sad commentary on life in most cities these days - we could certainly learn much from our European friends, not only in housing, but quality of life! I'm all for being pedestrian. Unfortunately, I live in a rural area where one would be lost without a car.

Margaret said...

Oh no, McMansion's are alive and well in Canada, I'm sorry to report. I think they might even be more common per capita here than they are in the states!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I rather think William Morris would move. It does boggle the mind to look at these overlarge houses. So close together. And with the shades always drawn and the shutters always closes. Well, one can understand that I suppose. If I did not feel the freedom to stroll my back garden in my nightgown from time to time, I might just go wacky. I am hopeful that one benefit from our current financial turbulence here in the states will be smaller houses!!

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