In June 2015 I accompanied Richard Essex, Co-ordinator for the excellent Regeneration Skills Collective Wales on a two day study tour to Freiburg in Germany. The motivation for this visit arose following an inspirational address by Professor Wulf Daseking the former Chief Planning Officer for the City of Freiburg, at the RSAW’s Autumn Conference in Cardiff in November 2013.
The Study Tour comprised two days of site visits and a detailed discussion with Professor Daseking. In such a short time impressions gained can only be selective however my key observations about the ‘Freiburg experience’ which is widely regarded as one of Europe’s most sustainable cities are set out below:
- Political and technical officer continuity, with strong leadership, has been vital to both policy and delivery. In Freiburg, the City authority had a Chief Planning Officer for nearly 30 years, with only two Mayors over that timescale.
- A clear and good working relationship has been essential between national, regional (Baden-Württemberg) and local (Freiburg City) levels to enable local policies to work effectively.
- A strong emphasis on managing the delivery of policies and integrated plans, with:
- Inbuilt flexibility to take account of changing circumstances including:
- A continuing commitment to real citizen involvement and community engagement / responsibility in delivery;
- Ensuring short term wins that everyone agrees with, whilst still pursuing the long term vision; and
- The provision of incentives and disincentives to deliver policy objectives.
- The approach taken by the Freiburg City Council has been critical to achieving both short and long term success. In this context, team building is a necessity, drawing together from all sectors and building collaborative capacity; with subtle and flexible methods of working with a variety of investors and communities. Underlying this whole process has been taking actions that are viable; using all planning, financial and legal powers that are available; and working to business planning principles.
- The new communities of Vauban and Rieselfeld are well established and built to very high standards of sustainable development (environmental, economic and social). These two communities, and additional recently developed smaller housing areas, have a combined population of 20,000 out of a city wide population of 230,000.
- The existing, more conventional housing is clearly well served by a sustainable transport and public service infrastructure, but it wasn’t clear as to how this older housing had benefited from renewable energy provision.
- The restoration of the City Centre after almost total destruction during World War II has been to a remarkable high standard. It is clearly a thriving, prosperous and attractive city centre well served by a fully integrated transport system. The integration of all modes of transport throughout the city is to a very high standard and can only remain an aspiration to cities and towns of similar size in the U.K.
- Public sector powers in relation to land ownership, planning control and building regulations appear to have been critical in terms of delivering a transformational policy agenda built upon the highest principles of sustainable development.
- In delivering the levels of sustainable development achieved within Freiburg, there appears to be a very strong link to local deliverers of services and local supply chains. It was not clear as to how the public procurement process in Germany operates in this context. But most certainly the local economy has benefitted enormously. There also appears to be a very strong relationship between Higher Education / Research / “Technical” institutions and the business sector in Freiburg that has assisted the local economy.
- There was a total lack of litter and on street rubbish throughout the areas of Freiburg visited
- It is possible that the Freiburg ‘experience’ could be adopted to Welsh circumstances, however, there are clear differences in culture and regulation particularly in relation to issues such as home ownership, public transportation, car parking and energy generation that would need to be addressed before any serious attempt at replication takes place
We are greatly indebted to the generosity and support of Professor Daseking in assisting us with our visit to Freiburg. Unfortunately on the day we travelled to Germany Professor Daseking suffered a serious illness. Despite this setback Professor Daseking continued to encourage and support us during our stay in his city, even to the extent of giving us both a “master class” in sustainable city planning from his hospital bed!
A more detailed report of the Study Tour can be found on the CREW website at http://regenwales.org/upload/pdf/111015125211Freiburg%20Study%20Tour%20Report.pdf