July 17-18, 2014
Savannah Block, Camille Knable, Danielle Stephens
We left our home in Riva early Thursday morning to spend the last few days in Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland. The St. Josef hotel was a convenient five-minute walk from the train station; by this point, we were accustomed to some of the more sustainable hotel features that many American hotel rooms lack. Electricity is only turned on when your room card is in the designated slot when you’re in the room, and even the toilets have water-saving options when flushing. Compared to our initial travels from Freiburg through Basel, it was notable how comfortable we had become with the variety of transport systems. We quickly moved through the train station and knew to double-check both ways when crossing a trolley line—they don’t stop. After a short break to settle in and rest, we made our way to a presentation on the 2,000-Watt Society initiative at the Zurich Planning Department. The goal of the initiative is to reduce the overall energy usage of society to the global average of 2,000 watts. While individual usage in personal homes is important, the society also focuses on implementing modern technologies into older infrastructure to help save energy. We also saw a breathtaking and impressively large model of the city of Zurich, which city planners and architects use to study the scale of the city when forming a new project. Following the presentation we went on a short walking tour around the city to see how water and the city were comingle and to get our bearings. By this point, seeing extensive bike lanes and trolley lines was completely ordinary and expected. Our day ended with spoiling ourselves with a traditional three-course Swiss meal back at our hotel and then free time to relax for the evening.
Friday morning was the start of a bittersweet day in Zurich. With all of us knowing it was our very last day of the trip, we traveled to the Federal Institute of Aquatic Research and Technology (Eawag) in Dubendorf. This was a great way to integrate our work on water. We first listened to a presentation from two social scientists that work at the research center and learned about the different water management policies within the cantons of Switzerland. We then took a walking tour of the building and saw the green roof with a solar powered water heater, the wind tunnels, and even went into the urine lab (not all of us could stand the smell!) where she described how the toilets separate the solids in the waste, ultimately conserving water. This research center was a perfect way to end our program because it tied all of the material we learned the past three weeks together, especially how sustainable options can affect water management. After the walking tour we stayed and had a delicious buffet lunch at the institute before we took the train back to our hotel, St. Josef. After a 2-hour break, we all congregated in the dining room of the hotel and listened to a local sustainability consultant discuss the implementation of new green urban designs into public building construction. She was even nice enough to take some students for a more hands-on experience to look at exactly how these designs are being applied in a construction project nearby. To end the night we had a fantastic dinner at a wonderful historic Swiss restaurant, Zeughauskeller built in the 15th century. We ate a traditional veal and potato meal with a delicious ice cream dessert.
As is often the case with travel, the period of anticipation preceding the trip is seemingly much longer than the actual time abroad. Once thrown into the frenzy of train connections, walking tours, class meetings, lectures, assignment deadlines, and unforeseen adventures, any expectations we may have previously formed are quickly forgotten. I predicted great food, but never could have imagined the complexity and creativity of Luigi’s three course meals in Riva or a physical inability to turn gelato down for the third time in one day in Florence. I read articles about the ingenious public transit infrastructure in Freiburg, but hearing the almost overwhelming quietness in not only Freiburg, but also in more bustling cities like Basel and Zurich, made these sustainable feats meaningful on an entirely new level. I had heard a couple things about our three professors’ impressive lectures and accomplishments, but it adds a compelling new element when you see the fear in their eyes that a straggler won’t make it across the street (even though the tram is still three blocks away,) when you share three meals worth of conversation with them for three weeks straight, or when they agree to endure the half-hour walk back to the gelato place at 10:30 pm where you left your passport. And finally, I figured I would find some buddies to make the trip enjoyable, but instead, at some point between Freiburg and Zurich, awkward small talk, four- hour hikes, debates on quality of life and the meaning of true freedom, tears of laughter, and a program-culminating 20 person sleepover turned into lifelong relationships. This program is engaging, stimulating, challenging, and easily one of the best experiences of my life!! I would recommend it to anyone, even those not studying urban planning!