Final Blog Post: Summer Course 2014 Ends

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!


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Mixing Up Our Land Use In Italian Switzerland

July 14 & 15

Ben Pickus & Michael Stapor

As we are winding down our time in Riva San Vitale we decided to take a closer look at our home and surroundings.  The bed head haircut I’m sporting and the pajamas I am wearing are a testament of the interesting mixture of uses, in terms of land and building that we have experienced in our town nestled in the Swiss Alps.  I’m speaking directly to our Villa where we sleep, study, eat, and work, all within the same space.  The doors lining our classroom don’t open up to more class space; they mark the entrances to the rooms we live in and the dining hall we eat in.  This not only greatly reduces the amount of time we need to get ready in the morning, but also forces us to take a more encompassing view of our studies and our time here.

By taking away they physical separation between our leisure and our study space, the line between the two is muddled.  We used the same projector to display PowerPoints on the future of our global water supply as we did to watch Germany trounce Brazil 7-1.  This live/study mentality we have established in our Villa has had an interesting effect on how we have learned.  We don’t just see our professors during lecture and work sessions, but we sit across from them in the dining room.  This mixed use means we don’t stop learning when class ends.  We have continued to think about sustainability in a broader sense throughout our time here.  Compared to life back at The University of Virginia and its polytechnic counterpart in Blacksburg, it feels like we spend more time thinking about what we have learned because we never leave the classroom.  It also doesn’t hurt to have the Swiss Alps and Lake Lugano outside our window as well.


Often it seems the “nicest” areas in Virginia are quaint towns or new developments with housing situated near or above stores as if Americans see a certain charm in mixed-use areas. I would personally say this assessment is correct when one walks around the streets we’ve seen in Europe thus far and sees the roads upon roads of houses, stores, and parks all nestled side by side. Here in Riva San Vitale we’ve been fortunate that everything is in walking distance. Our grocery store, pharmacy, and favorite places to hang out are all within less than five minutes away. While it is true this is a smaller town, we’ve been well connected to necessities for our entire trip. Whether in Freiburg, Basel, or Riva everything we need is either a walk, short bike ride, or quick public transit trip away. This is not a coincidence either, it’s in the way they plan these denser mixed use areas to cut down on traffic and commutes and boost quality of life.

Our evening plans today revolve around enjoying the last of our time here. We’ll be walking past the soccer field, grocery store, and town square to a very fortunate asset to the town. The beach is an excellent spot for recreation and our time in and on the lake has been incredible. To think we are doing the things we’d travel miles for in the United States right next to where we live is interesting and another testament to how mixed use planning partners everything for a higher quality of life together.

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Europe’s Water Tower–Switzerland

July 9 & 10, 2014
Emily Blanton and Amanda Burcham

Professor Moomaw, along with Harriett Jameson a landscape and urban planning graduate of UVA, kicked off our third and final module surrounding global water issues with a field trip to a local lake in a suburb of the city of Lugano. The lake is called Lake Muzzano and is threatened by increasing residential development surrounding the lake. Dr. Brack Hale from Franklin University in Lugano was our gracious tour guide. After taking the regional train from Riva San Vitale to the main Lugano train station, the group boarded a local train just a few steps away from our previous stop. I was again impressed by the connectivity of regional transport and the availability of public transport to the even smallest areas of the Swiss country side. Dr. Hale mentioned that if one continued to ride this smaller tram for 20 more minutes, it would whisk you across the border into Italy.
Once we arrived at the lake, Dr. Hale gave us the general layout of the environmental processes and human impacts involved in this particular lake. He explained that increasing development for residential areas and agriculture has led to more intense human impacts. The main issues discussed were higher levels of nutrient runoff from sewage and fertilizers from the surrounding farms and homes. Citizens are more the most part unaware of the damaging effects of their actions such as dead zones created by anthropogenic eutrophication and unchecked invasive species. A non-governmental environmental non-profit Pro Natura was able to purchase the land to better regulate the human impacts on the lake. The organization has day lighted some streams, switched surrounding farmers from synthetic to organic fertilizers, and encouraged the removal of invasive species. We were able to spot a few informational plaques about the current issues while walking around the lake but most were hiding behind tree branches and seemed overgrown and ignored by citizens. While on our way to another viewing point, we saw a citizen breaking the law by letting her dog off the leash while walking down the path.
Overall, the experience at Lake Muzzano was an incredibly educational one that enveloped a lot of the issues that we’ve discussed so far such as cross governmental cooperation, anthropogenic environmental impacts, and the possibilities for future sustainable infrastructure improvements.
After the field trip we arrived back to the Villa just in time for a wonderful lunch prepared by Chef Luigi! Following lunch we watched a short film, Poisoned Waters, which is based on areas in the eastern shore; Chesapeake Bay, Potomac River and the Delmarva Region. The film gave insight to largest estuary in the United States, and how it has become polluted consequently by the same issues in which are causing pollution in the lake we had just visited that day; Lake Muzzano, Switzerland. We ended lecture with a short one-page paper on what we thought to be the largest contributor in water pollution. It was very interesting to see that after viewing the same lake and movie everyone still had very different thoughts to what was the MOST important issue facing water quality today.
Friday morning class began with a little more energy than normal for everyone was excited to begin their weekend travels to Florence, Lake Como, Venice, and Lugano. Lecture began with a continuation to the “Too Much, Too little, Too Bad” lecture. We discussed how you must connect the issues we talked about on Thursday in order to solve our current fresh water crisis. We went over principles of fresh water management and what the threats are to our fresh water supply. Wrapping up lecture Dr. Moomaw and Ms. Jameson left the group with two questions to think about while we traveled to places adjacent to water:

1. What is the significance of these water bodies today?
2. As you are exploring, where do you see opportunities for intervention?

With water fresh in our minds, we all went separate directions and anxiously awaited our train to arrive. Five hours and two trains later my group finally made it to Florence!

Photo Credit: Amanda Burcham

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4th of July Celebrations

Today was the first day of the second module, titled Planning Systems. Dr. Sonia Hirt began the day with an introduction of the program highlighting what to expect for the next couple of days. She then led a lecture regarding land use planning in Europe versus the United States. We learned about the five different European urban planning families; British, Napoleonic, Germanic, Scandinavian and East European. We then discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each and the core differences between these five planning families, and how that compared to Planning in the U.S. We were assigned a short writing assignment exploring one of the planning families, giving our opinion on its advantages, dynamics, and implementation. The readings we looked at were written in the 1990’s so I wrote my paper with an emphasis on how things have changed within my chosen planning family over the past 20 years.
After the lecture ended, we traveled to the nearby city of Lugano for the evening. We explored the city and were impressed by its breathtaking beauty. The city has a plethora of small shops and local restaurants where one can enjoy a taste of local flavor. We eventually made a decision and decided to eat at a small Italian restaurant along a cobblestone street within the city center. After our meal, we traveled to a local viewing party for the Brazil-Columbia world-cup soccer game. The viewing area was packed with passionate fans rooting for both teams. Seeing the sense of community established within Lugano was inspiring, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of camaraderie as we all cheered and enjoyed the game. The city has an amazing blend of many cultures, which is evident in its cuisine and buildings. We were watching a game among Brazilians and Columbians, in a city that speaks Italian in Switzerland, now that is cultural diversity.
Our first week-end in Riva San Vitale was one of adventure, relaxation, exploration and exhaustion! After an exciting night in Lugano watching the World Cup game while celebrating the 4th of July, we felt the need to extend our adventures and go on a long hike the next day. On Saturday, we decided to hike to the top of Monte Saint Giorgio, one of the Swiss Alps, where we had a panoramic view of the Ticino Region in Switzerland. Although it was an exhausting hike, the view was well worth the 2-hour climb to 3,600 feet. Following the hike we all decided to take it easy and enjoy the nice day on the local beach. Sunday was a rest day for most of us; we needed the rest after a day of exploration – and hours of climbing. We went to a local windsurfing club and rented kayaks and paddleboards to go across the lake. Although there was a weak current, it was a rather enjoyable group activity.

View from the top of Monte San Giorgio
Photo Credit: Love Johnson

After enjoying our first weekend in Riva San Vitale, we came back refreshed and ready to take on the second module headfirst. In the second module, we explored the issues of policy and regulation among the different planning families. Each planning family has a regime deeply routed within its historical background. We covered a wide variety of topics including the different governmental influences and its regional vs. local impact, lifestyle choices, differing cultural values and so forth. We have come to the conclusion that sustainability is a very relative phenomenon. We were given the example of the Soviet Bloc, an area that we wouldn’t usually associate with sustainable means of living. Many people live in compact apartment complexes, use mass public transit, have a smaller obesity rate, and produce less pollution because of the predominance of public transit instead of cars. Development has been restricted to the urban ring, leaving room for vast multi-use public spaces and greenbelts. Essentially, everything we look for in a sustainable city. Coming from a market0oriented democratic society, many people would not find it sustainable being forced to live in this condition. Sustainability is relative to location, administrative distribution, history, and various other factors that make it difficult to pin point a system that can apply anywhere.
After the exciting lecture, we all took a nice break to work on our individual papers and preparefor our trip to Milan, Italy the next day!

Mohammad Attar and Harlan Lawson
Friday July 4th and Monday July 7th

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Europe: Sustainability as Second Nature

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Today we attended a lecture at the University of Basel’s Sustainability Department on research topics dealing with unifying sustainability, the use of energy, and the invasive gobies in the Rhine River. One of the lecturers discussed the ways in which the integration of sustainability is used as as a guiding principle in the cantonal administration in Basel (cantons are like counties or regions). This made me think of how much more sustainability in Europe is second nature. When comparing European practice to the United States, Americans have to practically be pushed to develop sustainable lifestyle habits. Another lecturer made an interesting remark stating that if a new sustainable idea is created and then implemented it’s a no brainer that people will do or use it. But this is not true in America, ideas are created and Americans have a very difficult time changing their routine. It seems as though Europeans have a much easier time adapting to change. I’m not sure if it’s Americans or Europeans that are strange about adjusting to change.

After visiting the University, we took the train from Basel to Lugano and finally arrived in Riva San Vitale! The ride through the Swiss Alps was incredible, and the views were jaw dropping. Everyone had their phones pressed against the windows snapping pictures of the mountains, lake, and colorful small houses staked on the vibrant green terraces. I can’t believe that we get to spend three weeks in such a beautiful, small town located next to a lake with 360 degree views.

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The Relaxed Beauty of Old Town, Freiburg, Germany

Most of us began our journey arriving early to Dulles Airport for an afternoon flight to Zurich, Switzerland.  Some arrived an hour or two early while others arrived as early as noon for a 5:45 flight, so many of us were exhausted before the flight even began.  One by one we boarded the plane and it wasn’t before long that we were on our way across the Atlantic cruising at a steady 637 mph.  In-flight movies and dozens of TV options kept us awake throughout most of the tedious 9 hour flight.  A sleepless night would later prove to wreak havoc on our sleep schedules.  We arrive 8:15 in Zurich bright and early but there was no time to relax, our traveling had just begun.  From the gate we relied on symbols and pictures to navigate our way through the German prompts.  We snaked down escalators and staircases deeper into the airport to reach the underground tram car which shuttled us to our luggage.  After everything was collected we walked across the street to the adjoining train station to buy our tickets to Freiberg.  A very punctual German speaking woman, who probably overestimated our traveling experience, insisted on booking us tickets to a train leaving in 8 minutes!  The ticket stubs were in German and the numbering was unclear especially since the woman had decided to give us a double connecting train route.  Without an idea of which platform to get or how to identify which train was which, we frantically ran to every stewardess with an ascot to ask for help.  Although they didn’t speak any English they did their best to push us in the right direction until we finally boarded the right train.  Two more stations and two more hours later we arrived in Freiberg’s central transit station.  Worn out and exhausted from jet lag we managed to push on and take the bus and two trams necessary to reach our final destination; Vauban’s Green City Hotel.  Some students met us traveling from previous travels across Europe and others had yet to arrive because of delayed flights and missed trains but by the end of the day for the first time we were all together.  Our rooms were not yet ready so we left our bags in the conference room and tried our luck with the local cuisine.  A friendly waiter took the time to help us translate the menu and by around 7 we had finished a great meal to begin our study abroad.

Our guide / teacher / chaperone Ralph Buehler told us about all of the inconveniences surrounding Old Town because of the construction going on around the chapel, but we didn’t feel their affects at all. All through traffic of motorized transportation (streetcar, car) is prohibited within the city center (even without the construction), and this simple fact keeps the area decongested and relaxed. The narrow streets are full of pedestrians and bikers, shopping and eating and interacting at a small urban scale. With a small canal weaving its way through the cobblestone streets, Old Town has an old-fashioned character that stays modern through its people. Larger plazas lend themselves to larger gatherings, usually at night, where people of varied ethnicities easily interact. The design of the urban space of Old Town is a huge factor of the high quality of life here, which is very visible. For example, as the group of 20 of us stopped on a narrow street, an old man being pushed in a wheelchair needed to get through. In a place like Boston, that situation might have ended in swear words and high blood pressures, but not in Freiburg. As this man makes his way through our crowd, the cutest and most toothless grin spread across his face, nodding to each and every one of us. If that old gentleman is any indication, Freiburg is doing a lot of things right.

On Sunday morning, we started the day with a quick lecture about sustainability and then broke up into groups to begin our projects about what makes urban transport sustainable.  The goal for this group assignment is to assess the sustainability of the transport system in Freiburg.  We were tasked with developing a measurement tool for a sustainable transport system, and then using this tool to measure the system in Freiburg.  After creating a final group assessment and score, we discussed ways about how to improve the sustainability of transport in Freiburg and our assessment tool.  After lunch in Old Town, we headed to Rieselfeld to take a walking tour of this new development by Katja Speights.  Katja, who is a local teacher, was very friendly and educated about Rieselfeld, a place she calls home. This tour with Katja was very educational and interesting. As we made our way through the streets of this newly development section of Freiburg, we learned about its history and what makes it such a great place to live.  With some subsidized housing, Rieselfeld houses a mix of people that adds to the overall character of the area.  We saw many people biking, kids playing in the streets, and were even given the opportunity to see the inside of Katja’s home, which gave us an insight into how many residents live.  The size and close living quarters of the homes surprised us because it is very different than life in the United States.  We all greatly appreciate Katja and her husband for their hospitality and time, we learned a lot about the sustainable neighborhood of Rieselfeld and the lifestyle of many residents of this part of Freiburg.

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Transport and Sustainability–Germany and Switzerland

June 30-July 1
Anna Friedrich and Will Drews

As the first couple days of our trip progress, we now have the opportunity to compare two of sustainable European cities; Freiburg and Basel. While both cities were beautiful and interesting with efforts to be sustainable, there were definitely obvious differences between the layout, design, and visibility of sustainability. This being said, we attended very different tours in each city and this could have influenced our overall opinion of each individual city.

On Tuesday, in Freiburg, we attended an information session at the transit company known as VAG. Here we learned details about the transportation system in Freiburg including buses and trolleys. We learned that there are many different, affordable ways to access public transit which we really took a lot from because that is a major influence on whether or not citizens use public transit so this is something we can try to take back to the United States. Also, it was interesting that the transit company actually loses money each year, yet the government subsidizes 10% the transportation company’s operating budget which is another reason it is so successful.

After this information session, we went on a walking tour around the town and our sustainability guide took us all around Old Town and Vauban in Freiburg. On Tuesday morning we also went on a bike tour around the city again. On both tours, we saw a plethora of houses and buildings that had visible sustainability efforts. Many buildings had solar panels on the roof and sometimes a green roof or maybe both. There was one house in particular that we saw that produced more energy than it consumed and in this case, it sold its excess energy to the energy company and got money back for it.

Also on the bike tour in Freiburg, we saw first-hand how easy it was for bikes to get around town. There were a lot of streets that only allowed bicycles or there were streets where the bikes could ride right along with cars but the cars had to go walking speed. This is to say that in Freiburg, bicycles were the prominent form of transportation and people really utilize it and support it.

In contrast, Basel was a city that mostly relied on public transit rather than bicycles. We went on a 3 hour walking tour with a former city planner and he pointed out a lot of things that he thought were wrong with the city. His favorite thing to say was that “this is a disaster” referencing city streets that were devoted to vehicle and trolley traffic. Despite the fact that public transit was so prominent in Basel, we noticed that there were not distinct traffic laws and it was more of a free for all at every intersection which made it feel less safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. This being said, there were a lot of parts in the city that were devoted to pedestrians only which was a really lovely aspect. The part we liked most about Basel was the old infrastructure and the Rhine River that passed right through the city. We actually took a quaint ferry from one side of the river to the other which transported us using only two ropes and the current of the river.

All of this being said, we have learned a lot so far but this trip is not just all work! We were able to watch the German soccer team play and win at a student viewing party and unfortunately watch the USA team loose against Belgium. We also ate a traditional 3-course Swiss dinner! There are also some interesting cultural differences that we noticed including the drinking water. Everywhere you go you have a choice of water with or without gas and of course most of us made the initial mistake of ordering with gas. We quickly learned our lesson and now know to order still water. Also, all of the public water fountains in Basel were drinkable water. These water fountains were not typical American water fountains (which are nowhere to be found over here) but they were beautiful fountains that would be off limits to even touch in America. Also, there were these weird things in Basel that we saw that were open, male, port-a-potties! Finally, our bodies are looking great after all the walking we’ve been but it is definitely very exhausting and we are looking forward to some down time in Riva!

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