Second Information Session December 10, 4pm

We will hold our second information session about the ‘Sustainability and Planning Policy In Contemporary Europe’ course on December 10 at 4pm (16:00) in Room AA 200 of the Architecture Annex on the Blacksburg campus. NCR students can attend via polycom from 1021 Prince Street in Old Town Alexandria. All interested students are welcome! You can also find most of the information on this website.

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First Information Session November 5, 5pm

We will hold our first information session about the ‘Sustainability and Planning Policy In Contemporary Europe’ course on November 5 at 5pm (17:00) in Room AA 114 of the Architecture Annex on the Blacksburg campus. NCR students can attend via polycom from 1021 Prince Street in Old Town Alexandria. All interested students are welcome!

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New Course for Summer 2014 “Sustainability and Planning Policy in Contemporary Europe”

We are very excited to provide initial details about the summer course for 2014!

The program is open to both graduate and undergraduate students in all majors.  The course is being offered again in summer 2014 and will be taught by Ralph Buehler associate professor in Urban Affairs and Planning in the National Capital Region, Sonia Hirt, associate professor in Urban Affairs and Planning in Blacksburg, and Suzanne Moomaw, associate professor in Urban and  Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia. The 2014 course is titled “Sustainability and Planning Policy in Contemporary Europe” and will focus on three aspects of planning for sustainability:

Part 1: “Urban Planning in Europe: Diversity and Commonality.”
Part 2: “Integrated Water Resource Management: Fun, Profit, and the Environment”
Part 3: “Making Urban Transport Sustainable: How Do European Cities Promote Walking, Cycling, and Public Transport?”

Click here for more details about the upcoming course. You can also browse this website for more details about last year’s course.

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Goodbye Europe

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Our last day in Freiburg began with an exquisite breakfast. The restaurant provided the most delicious bacon I have ever eaten. After that fine dining, the group rallied for our 3 hour bicycle tour through the city and surrounding localities of Freiburg. A local architect was our guide, and his knowledge of the city encompassing its energy and transportation use was unsurpassable. We stopped at various locations to discuss systems like solar photovoltaics, hydrogen, district energy, as well as Passiv Haus standardized buildings. We also experienced Freiburg from a cyclist’s perception. The city is very bike friendly and nearly all streets either have low speed limits for cars or separate bicycle infrastructure, such as bike lanes. The tour also took us to the outskirts of the city into areas that we could not easily access by public transport. The guide showed us pioneering low energy houses and energy plus houses—the tour even included low energy public housing.

After the tour, we walked through old town to eat at a local beer garden, which is a fantastic place to sit and have lunch during a hot day. Bellies full, a portion of the group decided to ascend Castle Mountain through the black forest to the tower on top. 288 stairs later and profusely sweating, we arrived at the foot of the tower, which in itself had even more stairs assembled in a loosely fit metal spiral staircase. At the top were great skylines and views of the city and the surrounding mountains and forests. The tower however was assembled with large, nay colossal trees and therefore swayed enough to make me absolutely uncomfortable. Despite my fear, the experience was worth the climb.

Finally descending the mountain, it was time for our last group, or what has come to be a family, dinner. We ate at a nice German restaurant with English menus, which were very convenient. I had a steak from cattle herded in the Black forest and it was delicious. Good conversation and camaraderie followed and then our last night out in the city began.

This study abroad trip has created some memorable events, great friends, and lasting lessons; I can’t believe a month has gone by so quickly. I’m ready for home, but I’ll miss Europe. This is Colin Welch, and I’m signing out: Freiburg, Germany. I had a blast.

Guest Contributor:  Colin Welch

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Trial & Error

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In our hotel in Freiburg, the glass door in the shower seemed too short and only protected half of the tub. I thought to myself that it was a silly way to make a shower door because the water would just splash out at the other end. However, when I turned on the shower, the water coming out of the showerhead only reached the front quarter of the tub. There was little to no water splashing out of the tub. These shower doors are different than in the United States where the door would cover most or the entire tub. That’s when it hit me! In Freiburg, they use the theory of trial and error. In the United States, we use the theory of better safe than sorry.

The people of Freiburg also implement the theory of trial and error in their public transport system. After WWII, 80% of the city was destroyed but they decided to rebuild the city center according to the medieval city plan – full of narrow winding roads. By the late 1960s, cars were the symbol of wealth. Streetcar lines were abandoned in favor of cars. However, the cars crowded the narrow streets and left little space for other road users. Because Freiburgers were not afraid to try something new, in 1970 they decided to expand their trolley network and make it the backbone of their motorized transportation system. Moreover, the amount of car parking was limited within the city center and the cost for parking was increased.  Even though some citizens were initially critical, cars are now the inferior transportation mode. Drivers in the city have to yield to streetcars, bikes, and even pedestrians!

Presently, the predominant mode of transportation remains the streetcar but there were many trials and errors before the streetcar gained its rank. Around 1980 streetcars carried 27.3 million passengers per year, but now its ridership has increased to 76 million! The major changes occurred between 1984 and 1991 when a new fee structure was implemented that included a simpler ticket system, reduced monthly ticket pricing, transferable tickets, and regional tickets.  These changes helped raise the number of passengers and the public transport company’s profits. But what really made the big difference was that the streetcar system became fast, cheap, and convenient. In Freiburg streetcars usually do not need to stop at traffic lights, they do not share right of way with cars, they run more frequently, and include low floor cars making them more accessible. A low floor vehicle also reduces the time it takes for people to get on and off the streetcar with a suitcase, because they can just roll their suitcase right onto the platform.  Ticket prices fell and there was an attempt to ensure that the maximum distance one had to travel to reach a streetcar was 500-meters.

The Freiburg transit system incorporates the use of private transit companies and the local government.  There are 19 transit companies that provide service to the city. For the people who live far away from a streetcar station, there is a taxi that takes the people to the bus that will take them to the closest streetcar station. All of the profits are split and distributed to each of the companies.

The biggest change that the city of Freiburg is currently working on is an urban planning scheme that tries to increase mobility and decrease traffic. The city is attempting to bring necessary stores for grocery, clothing, and all the other essentials closer to the residents so that these destinations are within biking or walking distances.

Freiburg is known for being bike, pedestrian and streetcar friendly.  That is why streetcar, bike and pedestrian bridges connecting the two sides of Freiburg are located at the center. It is a symbol that shows the main transportation modes of this city. In the US the main bridge in the city center would be built for cars, the main mode of transport here.

Because the city of Freiburg was willing to try out new modes of transportation and continues to improve upon them, they have one of the most sustainable transport systems in Europe. If the United States is willing to try something new and adjust little by little, we will be able to keep the water from splashing out of the shower with only half of a door – like the one I needed in Freiburg.

Guest Contributor:  Arisa Chentaphun

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Presentation about Planning at Historic City Hall

Freiburg City Hall _ group photo

Sustainable Europe 2013 class in City Hall at Freiburg, Germany

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Arrivederci Riva; Hallo Zurich & Freiburg


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Our short magical stay in Riva San Vitale sadly came to an end today. After three fantastic weeks in the beautiful canton of Ticino, we all bid our final farewell to the Villa Maderni and hopped on a train to Zurich. After traveling to Italy this past weekend, I have gained a new appreciation for the sophistication and promptness of the Swiss train system. The Swiss people truly have a wonderful transit system at their disposal. It is incredibly clean, fast, and easy to ride. If we had a system like this in America, I would probably sell my car and never drive again. Sustainability is the theme for the program, and that is about as sustainable as you can get.

Once we arrived in Zurich, we were treated to a walking tour of the city. Trams, trolleys, bikes, cars, and pedestrians whirled all around us. Everywhere you looked it seemed as if a new form of transportation appeared. Signs showed the exact times that trams would arrive. Bicyclists had their own painted lane sandwiched between cars and tramcars. Cars rushed by, changing lanes trying to pass each other. Pedestrians strode through all of this, trying to reach their destinations safely. We all learned something interesting today. The trams do not stop. Not for anyone, or anything. They have a strict schedule to keep, which means they have the right of way at crosswalks. So bicyclists and walkers beware of the trams. They are big. They are fast. Most importantly, they are on schedule.

After our walking tour of the city, the group traveled to city hall to sneak a quick look at the model of the city. It was simply spectacular to see as evidenced by the oohs and ahhs of the class as it first came into view. It was as if the class was six years old, and we were allowed to play with toys again. The only thing missing from the scene was a tiny toy car to roll down the miniature streets of Zurich.

Following our short four-hour stay in Zurich, we departed for Freiburg, Germany. Freiburg is quite a town. It is an old city, but was entirely rebuilt after World War II due to extensive damage. The interesting part is that the city used all of the old building plans. The new construction was built exactly where the original buildings sat. As a result of this, the city has an old-timey feel mixed with modern energy. The buildings appear modern, but possess a charm that only comes from an earlier century. I cannot wait to explore the city more, and luckily we have a chance to do that on bikes. I do not know if I have ever seen so many bikes in my life. Instead of parking lots, Freiburg has bike lots. Bike after bike is lined up waiting for its owner to return. The bikes in Germany have character. Instead of an American bike geared up for an extensive exercise regimen, German bikes look like they are out for a stroll on the town. Baskets, stickers, lights, and comfy seats are the norm for the bikes here. People ride along leisurely in regular clothes to reach their destinations. I envy the people of Freiburg for that reason.

The people of Freiburg appear so relaxed and cool as they bike alongside the pedestrians. It is something you rarely see in America. If we were back in the good ole USA, most people would be in cars on highways, not a bike on the side of a major road. That is why I am so thankful for this opportunity to study in Europe. It has exposed me to so many things that I never would have experiences if I had not traveled across the Atlantic. I just hope that someday America will learn some of Europe’s transit practices. But for now, I am just happy to be experiencing it at all.

Guest Contributor:  Amy Cooper

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