Day 21: Sustainable Freiburg on two wheels (6/23/2017)

By Kate Green

Our final day was, of course, bittersweet. By this point, I think many of us are very ready to go home and sleep in our own beds and not have to pack and unpack a suitcase every third day. But we have also all made some incredible friends and will be sad to leave them – particularly those at the other school.

The day started relatively leisurely with breakfast on our own at the hotel (but like always, everyone sat together anyways). At 8:45, we walked to the nearby tram stop and took the tram to the main train station (or in German, Hauptbahnhof – a word I think we’ve all memorized by this point). There we met our guide for the morning bike tour of Freiburg. Freiburg Aktiv fitted us to bicycles, handed out helmets, and attached baskets to the bikes of a lucky (or unlucky) few. The baskets were promptly loaded with loose water bottles, cameras, and other miscellaneous items, and like a herd of unbalanced, gangly-legged turtles, we were off. Our line of bikes must have stretched a city block but no one particularly seemed to care – we were just another group of cyclists.

The first stop we made was outside a grouping of apartment buildings along a busy street. Though easy to miss, our guide pointed out details on the building (besides the obvious solar panels that covered the roof and south-facing sides) that allowed less heat to escape and for residents to maximize indoor and outdoor space without compromising passive heating.


Photo-voltaic showcase project from the early 2000s installed vertically on public housing

Next, we rode through the public housing development we visited on Tuesday. Our guide once again highlighted the success of letting residents choose their neighbors and how that translated into the energy-efficient buildings being well taken care of. Following our same path as Tuesday, we next stopped in Rieselfeld. This district used to be a giant sewage treatment plant but with careful yet flexible planning, it has evolved into one of the most popular – and eco-friendly – places to live in Freiburg. Our guide challenged us to find a ‘for sale’ or ‘for rent’ sign – we found none.


In the solar village with energy plus houses in the background

On the bikes, we were able to see much more of this area and got to enjoy the car-free zones that are connected with small paths that open up into hidden gardens or playgrounds. Each open area was designed to meet the needs and desires of the families in the houses that surround it. Without the constant hum of cars and roar of trucks and besides the sounds of kids playing outside, our bike tour through Rieselfeld was peaceful.

Next on our tour, our guide navigated us on a 5km ride through winding bike paths, over bridges, past an awesome looking outdoor adventure park, and along a river until we finally came out in Vauban – the very first neighborhood we had visited in Freiburg and the location of our current hotel. Once again, the bikes gave us greater access to this incredible neighborhood. We saw bigger community gardens than the ones in Rieselfeld and even saw an urban farm with a cow, horse, and various chickens and ducks! Again, I was struck by how silent and peaceful this neighborhood was. A few minutes outside of Vauban, we stopped in a solar neighborhood and business park. Every roof we could see was covered in water heating or photovoltaic solar panels.


Stop in one of Rieselfeld’s many quiet interior courtyards

We ended our tour with a small hill climb to get a gorgeous, sweeping view of Freiburg. The final sight our guide pointed out was a group of eco-houses built for refugees, and then he directed us home. The ride back to the train station was a bit more precarious as we began to integrate back into busy streets with fast moving cars and some oblivious pedestrians – no one can say we took the easy tour. We felt like true city cyclists.

Overall, our tour through Freiburg ended up being a perfect summary of not only our time in Freiburg but also the trip as a whole. We saw social sustainability with the energy-efficient and free-choice public housing and also with the sustainably built houses on the edge of the Black Forest for refugees. We used affordable and environmentally friendlier alternatives to cars to complete our tour. In Rieselfeld and Vauban, we saw not only incredible amounts of green space and car-free zones, we saw environmentally and socially sustainable planning with multifamily houses, community farms and gardens, and water-saving infrastructure along roads and on buildings. To me, this bike tour showed me what could be possible in the U.S. It would be easy enough to turn all of the deserted lots into community gardens. If roads were only slightly widened and trucks and buses designed to be thinner, then it would be possible to have consistent designated bikes lanes. Most of the paths we followed away from the roads were paths shared with pedestrians. If as a society, we can commit to making non-car transportation a priority, I see no impassable obstacles. Imagine New York City with half of the traffic… grass and trees wherever they thrive… bikes taking up one lane of traffic in each direction… It seems like a far-off fantasy world but it is attainable – we just have to want it.

We ended the day with a free afternoon to do some last minute shopping or relaxing and then had a final group dinner at Kartoffelhaus. Like many others, this dinner, of course, took longer than anticipated and there were the typical mix-ups in food orders. Looking back, I think it would have been a shame if our last meal had gone any other way (e.g. as planned). This entire trip has been on the verge of organized chaos with hours and days of incredible learning and awesome experiences tucked in between. We were a large group with many differing opinions, preferences, backgrounds, and ideologies. We had three superb professors, who each brought something different to the table and, together, we made up one absurd and wonderful group.

This has been a trip that none of us will soon forget. We are so grateful for our families, friends, and professors who encouraged us to come and especially for Todd, Suzanne, and Ralph – without whom this trip would not have been possible.


Sun setting over Freiburg on one of the longest days of the year

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Day 20: ‘Multimodal’ Travel in Karlsruhe (6/22/2017)

By Kristen Von Bampus

We started the day with an early morning train from Freiburg, Germany, where our hotel was located, and went out to Karlsruhe, Germany for the day. Our first stop was KIT, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. There Dr. Bastian Chlond talked to us about developing multi-modal transport systems. His presentation started with a brief history of Karlsruhe’s transport history. The city saw a large decrease in bike users in the 60’s and 70’s as the popularity of car use increased. The prevalence of car use also created a division between car owners, who were often rich and lived outside the city center, and the carless, who were often poorer and lived inside city centers.


Lecture by Dr. Chlond at KIT

Chlond’s initial analysis compared private car ownership/use–a “universal mode”–to “specialist modes” which included cycling, public transit, railway, and walking. Each of these “specialists” have specific kinds of trips/distances they are beneficial for, so in order for them to work as a viable alternative to the car, they have to complement each other easily and smoothly. This perfect integration would compensate for each individual mode’s weaknesses. In past years, the number of multi-modal individuals using many of these “specialists” have actually been going up, especially among young adults possibly because of new mobility services that are available, decreases in car usability/availability, cheap “student” tickets, decrease in attractiveness of car ownership, etc. We learned that to continue increasing the number of multi-modals it will be necessary to make sure the use and connections within this complex system become easy to understand.

Karlsruhe has always been known as a car-user friendly city, but oddly enough is also known for its environmentally friendly modes. In the 70’s, unlike other cities, Karlsruhe did not abandon its tramway operation. In the 90’s, the extension of the tramway network took place while there was also the creation of a combined tramway and railway system. This public transit development even led to the the smoothing out of real estate prices inside and outside the city center.

In terms of cycling as a sustainable option, the city only just began to develop it as a system within the last decade. In order for cycling promotion to work, the system had to be a real network not a bunch of isolated paths. This cycling infrastructure required making more space available for bikes on the roads and redistributing signaling times to prioritize bikers. Many benefits come from an increased use of cycling and development of its infrastructure–the cost of construction and maintenance for its infrastructure is relatively cheap compared to that of car infrastructure, more people biking means more space for conservatives who still want to drive cars, and the space needed for roads and parking spots is relatively small.

An overwhelming theme from Karlsruhe’s work towards an integrated sustainable transport system was the balance of “push” and “pull” policies–“push” policies being restrictions or determents such as lowered speed limits or increasing parking fees for cars and “pull” policies being incentives such as user friendliness of public transit or a newly refurbished cycling infrastructure. Karlsruhe’s policies combined with public awareness have shown to work in the past several years as car use and ownership have been decreasing and use of public transit and cycling especially have increased. At the end of the presentation there was mention of future plans which included the current ongoing construction of underground infrastructure for public transit and cars.

Our next stop after lunch was at KASIG, the construction branch of the local government office in Karlsruhe, where we learned about Kombiloesung Karlsruhe, the ongoing project for the construction of the part underground tram tunnel and part underground car tunnel. This project is meant to help redevelop the city center of Karlsruhe by redirecting public transit and cars underground–resulting in a large, new pedestrianized area above ground. After learning about the details of the construction process for the tunnels and underground tram stations, we were able to visit one of the underground construction sites–of course, not before gearing up in hard hats, construction vests, and safety boots! At this point in the trip it came as no surprise that we had to gear up. These would be our fourth and final hard hats of the trip.


On the construction site of Karlsruhe’s multimodal tunnels


Descending into the tunnels


One of the new tunnels

Our journey began with a 30 foot decent down a temporary staircase that had been put in place for the construction process. Eventually we were in a massive underground space with a few large rectangular holes in the ceiling and some exposed wire mesh reinforcement cages along the length of the walls. This underground trip was actually such a relief as we were able to enter a very cool, damp space–a nice retreat from the 95 degree, sunny day. We were able to walk into the large tunnels we had heard so much about. One of the most interesting facts we learned about this project was the length of time it took to complete such short distances of underground tunneling–only about 24 meters of the tunnel could be installed per day. Other issues occurred with this construction as well–such as the need for compressed air within the tunnel because it was located under the ground water table and the requirement for workers to go through a series of air locks to withstand the pressure during the initial construction process.


This day truly provided some insight for what can be done in the U.S. We gained a great example of how policy can work to support the development of a sustainable integrated transit system as well as increase the number of multi-modals in an urban area. Even more importantly, we learned about arguments that can be made to help pass policies that might initially be opposed by a large portion of the public. One last surprising insight I gained was actually that above ground public transit systems like the tram may be preferable. Although I do understand that the underground construction was justified because of the desire for the pedestrianized zone above ground, the underground construction is incredibly costly and is taking longer to complete than expected (an extra 4 years to be exact). Also, for the time and money going into this underground development, it is actually only a very short length of tunneling being constructed.


After this long, hot day, we took a train back to Freiburg where we picked up our luggage from Novotel and hopped on a tram to Vauban, one of Freiburg’s eco-suburbs, to check into Green City Hotel for the last two nights. To complete our final group project of the trip, we gathered that evening in the hotel’s conference room and presented our ideas on what we had learned about sustainable transport in Freiburg–or even more broadly, in Europe. We discussed the differences we noted in pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit users, and we offered up ideas on what concepts U.S. transport engineers and planners could successfully take or adapt from European cities. This final discussion left us all with thoughts to carry home and perhaps, something to apply to our various majors and future careers.


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Day 19: Visiting the European Parliament (6/21/2017)

By Emily Allen

Today, our group took the hour-long trip from Freiburg to Strasbourg, France, to visit the European Parliament and tour the city. Upon our arrival, we unexpectedly learned that we wouldn’t be able to use any public transportation due to a worker’s strike. Not being able to use the transit was a disappointment because we weren’t able to compare France’s transportation system to the systems we’ve previously used in other cities. Despite that setback, we jumped in a couple of taxis and made our way to the parliament building. We were joined by fellow American students studying in California and were given a short tour, seeing the rooms where Parliament members gather and vote on legislation.


Outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France

The European Parliament functions similarly to Congress in the United States. In both systems, elected representatives come together to introduce and vote on legislation. A major difference, however, is the method of representation. The EU has proportional representation, where seats in Parliament are distributed based on the percentage of votes, unlike the winner-take-all system the US uses. Proportional representation allows for a multi-party system, where many ideologies can be accounted for. In the US, only two parties dominate, which often leads to polarization and political gridlock. Another similarity between the US and EU is how legislation is passed. Both systems have committees on various subjects that are composed of field experts that are able to amend proposed legislation before a vote is taken. We learned that the location of the parliament in Strasbourg is symbolic of the intentions of the EU: to maintain peace in Europe. The EU was established after the Second World War, and since its creation, Europe has maintained seventy years of peace. The Strasbourg region has historically been an area of dispute between France and Germany, so having representatives come from all of Europe to Strasbourg to make decisions as a group demonstrates that countries are able to set aside differences and come together to benefit their greater community.


Inside the European Parliament


VT and UVA Students in the European Parliament

After lunch (and a stop for some gelato), we went on a walking tour of Strasbourg, where we walked along the river and saw the Strasbourg Cathedral, which was the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874 at 466 feet tall.

Our guide, Genevieve, talked about the disputes between Germany and France for control of the Strasbourg region because it is situated along the Rhine river. The city used to be a part of Germany and France in the past, but transferred to French control post World War II. She mentioned that the people of Strasbourg really denounced their German background, and embraced the French language and culture. Genevieve also taught us about how the city transitioned to its current urban transportation. Some difficulties came from leaders that were unwilling to actually make the move towards a trolley system and instead made the plans and left the implementation to successors.

The unusual heat for this time of year–we later found out that the heat was record-breaking for the month of June in Freiburg–left many of us tired and quite ready for our tour to conclude back at the train station so we could head back to Germany.

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Day 18: Examining sustainable transport and housing in Freiburg (6/20/2017)

By Hannah Kemp 

The day began with breakfast at Novotel followed by a short walk to the tram to Haus 37 in Vauben. The tram station outside the hotel highlights the multimodal nature of transport in Freiburg, with a network of bike bridges and lanes, tram lines, bus stops, and pedestrian walkways. As we watched out of the tram window, bikes whizzed alongside tram lines, pedestrians filled the streets and commuters young and old alike bustled onto the tram. There is a clear emphasis on public transit as opposed to automobile dependency. Not to say that there were no cars, just fewer and more consciously driving.


Picture 4

Freiburg’s multimodal transportation network


After we arrived at our stop, we walked past the Green City hotel, which is known for its environmentally sustainable design. It was wonderful to see how lush greenery on the outside of the building can be used as a means of improving the buildings energy efficiency.

As we sat in the public square in front of Haus 37 we were appreciative of the public water pumps and the cold breeze coming from the Black Forest, which provides a natural cooling effect for the surrounding areas. However, the highlight of the morning for me was a visit from Tara and Emma the adorable dogs of a kind woman passing by. The group’s encounter highlights the potential for public spaces and traffic-calmed areas to become opportunities for dynamic use and social engagement.

We began our lecture at Haus 37 by reflecting on our best and worst transportation experiences on the trip thus far. Whether it was almost getting closed in the tram doors, leaping over luggage to not miss our stop, struggling from boat to boat, or having a bus break down, our experiences thus far have helped to define what makes sustainable transportation. From the lecture and the discussion of our experiences we determined a that a sustainable transportation system should provide information legibly and in real time, infrastructure should be well maintained, and public transportation should be multimodal and well connected.

Our lecture highlighted examples of sustainable transportation in Germany. The two main lessons that can be derived from the lecture are: 1) that incentivized multimodal policies, as well as measures restricting private automobiles in cities, and policies that deter automobile dependency are crucial for improved sustainable transportation systems; and 2) that to implement effective policy it is necessary to gain support from higher levels of government, implement controversial policies incrementally, have long-term policies to create lasting impact, and integrate land use and transit planning.

Later in the day we met with Astrid Mayer who led a guided tour through Freiburg focusing on new developments in bike infrastructure, traffic claiming, and designated biking and pedestrian lanes. We also visited the University library as well as Riesefeld, a sustainable urban community development.

Picture 6

The implementation of sustainable urban communities was particularly interesting especially in the way it deterred automobile usage through minimal parking and incentivized multimodal transportation by establishing a convenient connection to bike and tram lines. It was also interesting to hear how residents were able to choose their neighbors when starting the community.

A resident of Riesefeld concluded the day’s lectures by giving us more insight on this sustainable living communities. It was interesting to learn how some communities got around minimum parking requirement policies by purchasing equivalently sized green spaces. We also looked at an impressive green roof garden as a possibility for sustainable design. The afternoon tour highlighted the importance of the multiple intersections of sustainability through an environmental, economic and social perspective.

After the tour, the group dispersed and spent the remainder of the evening exploring the many restaurants and shops or taking a short hike to watch the sunset.

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DAY 17: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Research and Technology (6/19/2017)

We awoke early with a long day ahead of us full of traveling.  Complimentary breakfast at the hotel followed by a short walk to the train station.  We traveled from Zurich to Dübendorf to visit the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Research and Technology (EAWAG). EAWAG is a research institute of ETH Zurich.  Our goal for the day was to learn about their larger research agenda in water sustainability.  Dr. Thomas Lichtensteiger, the head of the Ecoteam at EAWAG, spoke to us about their research and gave us a tour of the grounds.  EAWAG is a research institution that researches non-marine water including aquatic ecosystems.  Researchers work on ways to improve water for human welfare, water for ecosystem function, as well as strategize for trade-offs in order to resolve water demands.  They have multiple buildings each with a different function.  One of which is their experimental building where they run tests on wastewater, drinking water, and any other type they wish to experiment on.  EAWAG prides itself on bridging research to practice, and they decided to incorporate this philosophy into their own buildings.  One of the buildings does not have heat nor air conditioning, and is instead heated by the people inside, and cooled by fresh air specially pumped in from outside. The building is surrounded with blue panels that protect the building from the sun and weather.  An expansive atrium allows plenty of natural light into the building, and a green roof littered with solar panels allows the building to use the equivalent of two single family homes worth of electricity annually.  Outside they had a series of infiltration basins and rain gardens to capture stormwater from surrounding areas and their green roof harnesses rainwater to be used in toilet flushing.


A second building we visited uses a new concept of building design which includes a permanent concrete center and flooring for each floor.  Each floor is designed to allow for building pods to be interchangeable every five years.  This building also had a lab in the basement dedicated to urine capture, filtering and concentrating in order to create a fertilizer from the urine captured from the buildings inhabitants. Our speaker for the trip was a Virginia native, B.J. Ward, whose parents live near Richmond. B.J. explained that this research can be done this because of the special no mix toilets that transports fecal matter to the blackwater system and the urine to a distilling tank to start the fertilizer creation process.  They are also researching how to best treat stormwater for reuse, as well as how to remove dissolved medicines from the urine.

After a jam-packed morning filled with learning, we ate lunch at the organic cafeteria on-site, which was delicious. Several of our speakers and other researchers joined us for lunch to answer additional questions. We then headed back by train to Zurich and had two hours of free time before we left for Freiburg.  Some of us completed last minute shopping, while others lounged at the hotel.  We said our goodbyes to Professor Moomaw, and joined up with Professor Buehler to take the train to Freiburg.  After we got the hotel in Freiburg we took a walking tour with Professor Buehler around the city and he showed us the integrated transportation infrastructure system, as well as the architecture of the old buildings untouched by the world wars. This is the beginning of our last week of Sustainable Europe.



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DAYS 15 & 16: Zurich as Home Base But a Weekend Free to Travel and Explore (6/17/2017 & 6/18/2017)

By Courtney Sigloh

This past weekend was our free weekend for the trip. Each student was free to stay in Zurich, take day trips, or travel somewhere else in Europe for the weekend. There were a wide array of adventures; from relaxing on a beach, to spending a day in the town of Lucerne, to road tripping to Lichtenstein, or exploring the cacti museum in Zurich. I spent my free weekend with Josh Gritz, climbing high into the Swiss Alps.

weekend 3

Our adventure began early Saturday morning with a quick and hearty breakfast at the hotel in Zurich. We grabbed some extra snacks to go and headed to the train station to catch an 8:04 train to Engelberg. We didn’t quite know what this small, Swiss village would hold, but our hotel concierge had recommended it for excellent hiking, so we took her at her word. (She ended up being our first hero of the trip.)

The train system in Europe is truly incredible. Even with booking our tickets less than twelve hours before departure, everything went smoothly. We took one train to Lucerne and transferred to a second train to Engelberg arriving right on schedule without any issues. It was relatively quick and easy, and it didn’t hurt that we were riding through the breathtaking Swiss countryside.

Upon arrival in Engelberg, we had to find a hike. We had done some previous searching on the Internet for suggestions, but finding a hike in the Swiss Alps is a lot harder than you think — nothing is explicitly mapped out online, or it isn’t in English. We figured the tourist center was our best bet. There we ran into our second hero for the trip, a young woman from the area, who kindly directed us away from the touristy hikes and towards a six-hour ascent favored by the locals.

Weekend 1

Snacks, water, and map in hand, we took to the mountains. The rest of our hike is going to be hard to articulate… It was absolutely indescribable. Fortunately, we live in an era of handheld technology and cell phones that double as cameras, so Josh and I were able to capture some of the experience for everyone. Two videos are included below: the first is a fast-paced photo recap of the scenery and the second is Josh’s LIVE snapchat story from the day. Please enjoy them both, but I sincerely encourage you to take any opportunity you have to personally experience hiking in the Swiss Alps (especially Engelberg).

Although words and pictures can’t do it justice, I will try and share a few fun stories from our day.

  • We were on the “locals” hike. We were basically all alone on the mountain, except for the cows. We were trekking across different alpine farmers’ properties and fields that were full of cattle. All the cows had cowbells on them, and the ringing carried across the fields.
  • Because we were crossing through farmers’ fields, we had to pass through a series of gates and fences that marked property lines. Each gate was different, and it took us a moment each time to figure out how to operate them.
  • Along with cows, the alpine fields were full of hundreds of wildflowers. They were a variety of bright colors and dotted the hillside with life. All of the colors on the hike were so vivid, from the fresh greens of the grass to the clear blues of the water.
  • We hiked straight up. If it had been any steeper at some points, we would have needed a ladder. When we stopped to rest and take in the view, we’d comment how we couldn’t possibly climb any higher – oh boy, were we wrong. We climbed over 300 flights of stairs according to our smartphones. (For reference, the Empire State Building is close to 85 flights of stairs high.)
  • We got to take a little cable car down the mountain. It was quite an experience. When we arrived at the “station” (basically a hut high in the Swiss Alps) there was no one there. We had to call the farmer woman who runs it to let us down the mountain. She only spoke German and at first Josh and I forgot to get into the cable car, so we had to frantically call again and tell her to wait to let us in. Once we actually got into the cable car, it was quite and exhilarating ride down the mountain.
  • We hiked back towards Engelberg along the river. It was so clear, a sparkling blue. The water was also very clean. The locals just drink the water directly. Josh and I decided to give it a try and it was refreshingly cold and tasted great too! Sustainable Europe Note: we even passed by a reservoir that was connected off the river for fresh waster storage.
  • Our hike lasted six hours and every step was completely worth it. It was incredible to be moving through natural landscapes that were both intimate and majestic at the same time.
  • The post-hike pizza was also worth mentioning…. This is when we encountered our third hero, the waitress that personally made us each a pizza at 4:00 pm when the restaurant wasn’t even open yet!

All in all, it was an incredible adventure…. Here is an ending Haiku from the journey.

Weekend 2




Whether one decided to go shopping, beaching, or hiking, I think I can speak for the entire group in saying it was a wonderfully spent free weekend. I know that I had a once in a lifetime experience!

We have one more day on the water module, a trip to the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Research and Technology, in Dubendorf (a Zurich suburb). The on to our next stop, Freiburg, Germany, to start our transportation module and finish out the trip strong. I can’t believe we are heading into our final week…

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DAY 14: From Riva to Zurich (6/16/2017)

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.

Riva to Zurich Train

Algae blooms

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.

Zurich 1

Der Bahnhof!

Zurich 2

From the park!

Zurich 5

View from one of the bridges: photo of a photoshoot

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.

Zurich 3

City model

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

–         Transit

–         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!

Zurich 4

A taste of Switzerland!





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