By Victoria Glasgow
Today we re-located from a “buon giorno” region to a “guten morgen” one! We rode from Riva San Vitale to Zurich on an alpine train through the new Gotthard Base Tunnel. Despite the speed and the tunnel, the views of the mountains were phenomenal and we were able to catch a glimpse of Swiss town and city life. Some towns were clustered on a hillside with farms stretching across the flat plain of a valley. Other places had churches and terraced agriculture on steep slopes with more modern buildings on a flat gridded plan. Each town had visible water nearby, whether it was a waterfall striping a snowy mountainside or a turquoise blue lake.
While most water pollution is not visible, we spotted some questionable situations, even from a fast train. A creek ran by a heavily industrial corner of one town, and the surrounding trees looked comparatively less healthy than those across the train tracks. In another region, cows grazed around a pond that sprouted algae blooms. These cases could be indicative of poor water quality: chemical runoff from manufacturing is likely the cause of sickly plants, and the eutrophication is probably caused by fertilizer from agricultural runoff. We learned about these forms of water pollution in the water module. Seeing such cases in real life felt poignant: the module has just finished, but the problems it covered still exist even in such a picturesque landscape.
We were greeted to Zurich by clean water, however. As soon as we left the train station we crossed a bridge spanning water that was clear, pristine, and immediately swimmable. The bridges offered a glimpse of a gorgeous lake and far-off Alps, along with plenty of church towers clearly visible. After we dropped off our bags at the hotel and covered many cobblestone streets, we were ready to learn more about both old and new city of Zurich.
Silvio Brunner, Project Manager of Sustainable Construction for the City, met with us at City Hall and showed us the model of Zurich. This wood-and-cardboard model almost took up the entire space of the basement and almost made the Architecture students cry when they thought of its construction hours. After we oohed and aahed, Silvio introduced us to the 2000-Watt project: a model for energy policy with the goal to consume only as much energy as worldwide resources permit. Currently, the world sustainable consumption level is 2000W per person, compared to the current Swiss condition of 6000W and the United States consumption of 12000W.
As a bit of background, Silvio showed us that Zurich has a current population of 400,000 residents, while the metropolitan area encompasses 1.7 million. It is projected to grow to 500,000 by 2030. To handle this quick growth, the building department has 120 employees in its arsenal, with six dedicated to sustainably. Their job is to work with over 4000 buildings and 300m CHF (Swiss francs) annual investment. Fortunately, the citizens are on board with their sustainability in goals: in 2008, residents voted to incorporate the 2000W plan into the city’s municipal code. This gives Silvio and his colleagues more freedom to make meaningful changes in building sustainable policy.
On a city level, key policy areas are:
– Energy supply
– Sustainable construction (going beyond the normal requirements)
– Non-profit housing (co-ops; not the store)
– Enforcing state energy legislation
– Distributing information and advice for citizens and private investors.
Overall, Silvio found that labels help control energy consumption by increasing awareness. He encourages biomass, both via distribution and plant construction, as well as geothermal energy, heat pump subsidies, and buying 100% green energy. We learned that car sharing is huge in Zurich and that 45% of households do not own a private car.
Silvio then talked about sustainability on the town district and areas level. He told us about the Green City, a paper-factory-turned-mixed-use-space neighborhood that excludes cars from some areas. There is also a new zoning category where 100% sustainable energy is a classifier. For single buildings, Silvia talked about the Effizienzpfa of Energy, a sheet with rules to obey that address new constructions and refurbishments. When considering the energy consumption of a building, builders and refurbishes must think about the construction energy, the operation energy, and the transportation energy (whether cars are needed or not). The mobility and transportation energy requirement is the same for both new construction and refurbishment. New construction energy is high, which means that it is possible for older buildings to reach the energy usage goals. They only need to be retrofitted with the 7 Mile Step plan, which is the Swiss equivalent of American LEED.
After saying goodbye to Silvio, Professor Moomaw properly introduced us to Zurich with a taste of Sprüngli Luxemburgerli (macaroons) and a city tour. We repeatedly came across open water fountains that doubled as a visual interest point and potable water to drink. There was a sort of Renaissance Faire set up in Munsterhof Square complete with tents and period costumes. We saw churches, swans, plenty of Swiss Flags, and plenty of gorgeous views. It was a great first day in Switzerland’s largest city, and we are all excited to get to know it better!