The sustainability masterpieces of Vauban and Rieselfeld

A major highlight of the study tour was getting to visit the sustainability masterpieces of Vauban and Rieselfeld. These are both suburban developments (Rieselfeld is 73 hectares and 12,000 people and Vauban 38 hectare and 5500 people) on the outskirts of Freiburg but they look and operate very differently to what is happening on Perth’s suburban fringe. As Freiburg planner Prof Wulf Daseking thoughtfully put it “To see the quality of a city – don’t go to the inner city – go to the suburbs. Do they have a baker, a butcher, a museum and diverse people together?”

Both of these new areas have a few key things in common:

They had a light rail system built to run down a green central spine of the development. Tram line in the green belt also reduces noise by 30-40%. Once again strong government leadership was evident. In Rieselfeld before the first resident moved in the light rail was in place and running. In Freiburg it was planned and sent in before the development of the area was complete.


Car parking provided but not as part of the housing. Instead parking is provided in multi-storey carparks nearby. Having cars predominantly on the outside means streets can be kept low speed shared zone streets (cars can come in to load and unload etc) where pedestrian have priority. It also meant the street scape is not dominated cars and garage doors but is full of green gardens and quiet narrow streets which safely children play in. Prof Wulf Daseking was clear communities and to choose between private car circulation and the quality of street life – you can’t have both.


Design your new communities with a focus on families. In Vaubaun 32% of the population of 5500 is under the age of 17. The development was designed for this. The maximum building height, 12.5 metres, basically accommodates 4-5 storey structures, allowed parents to keep an eye on their children.


Around a third of the development areas as public open space (as compared with new suburban developments in Perth which are lucky to make 10%!)IMG_0707


Both were built to the highest levels of environmental sustainability. Vaubaun is globally famous for not only having the first house that produced more power than ii used but for then building Solar City a clever mixed use, highly sustainable development. In Freiburg it has been found that although better architecture and construction can add 8 to 14% to the cost of new homes, it is more than repaid through energy savings.



Prof Peter Hall wrote a whole chapter on Freiburg and sums up its great characteristics well so I’ll leave it to him:

The planners wanted a variety of apartments, limited areas for parking, a denser city, and a layout that used green wedges to bring people together not separate them. They also wanted to restrict development outside the built up areas to protect agriculture. The vision in price for both Vauban and Rieselfeld was to produce low energy developments. … Inside the new neighbourhoods, the design could not be simpler, a “fishbone: of rectangular grids of streets and green public  places, with the buildings – some town houses, others apartments – either parallel to the main street carrying the tramway or at right angles to it. …There are some small local shops: chain store was kept out of the city center except for one large department store.  Schools and kindergartens are set in the residential areas close to where people live.(253-4)

Prof Hall finished on Freiburg to say that the overall lesson is that new city quarters can be developed in a way that as attractive and valuable as an historic one, provided there is sufficient long term investment up front in the public realm and quality infrastructure. (262).

After seeing the the sustainability masterpieces of Vauban and Rieselfeld, I completely agree.


About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

13 Responses to The sustainability masterpieces of Vauban and Rieselfeld

  1. freoishome says:

    Brad Thanks again for your next instalment. Don’t see much activity in your pictures, hence a dormitory feel? How effective is this town planning and architectural approach to creating an active and lively community? Did you see community in action. Do people know their neighbours better, do they get together? What about the evening and night life? Is this happening very locally or do people travel to their equivalent of Perth’s entertainment precincts, like Freo and Northbridge? What about recreational and sporting facilities and their use?
    Is there plenty of local employment, if not how is that aspect of travel managed?
    I think this activity aspect is critical to Freo. Freo is losing it, as it becomes more and more just a place to eat. As an example, I’m looking forward to the Dockers leaving, so the City can revitalise actually going to see the Bulldogs play at the oval! We have beaches, where things should be happening every weekend. Instead of just of racks of stink boats for sale, essentially long term parking places, most are never used, after the first flush of enthusiasm, is that what Freo needs? We need ‘evening’ life, rather than night life. Are you finding this on your trip? Are there high densities of local people, not just the singles and guests from out of town, out and about of an evening?

    • Paul
      There is and I think that is in part because the focus is on investing realm so people want to spend time in it. There is a community centre a the heart of both developments as well. I like your idea of “evening life” and I agree that is what Freo needs to encourage too. When communities can come together.

      • Mark Taylor says:

        Brad and Paul,
        My experience of the Vauban was that it was a lot quieter than central Freiburg, but still had a more steady hum of activity than, say, White Gum Valley, where I live. There are a bunch of small shops spread around (the big box chains are kept out, as the blog says), and my my favourite memory was watching some kids play on the road while a courier van turned off it’s motor and started trolleying stuff from there, rather then pushing through them to park right in front of the relevant door. It’s a bit over-planned and over-regulated, and not the way to run a whole city, I would think, but zones like this should be part of the mix.

        Ciao for now

      • Mark
        Well said. The more I think about it, the strength of these developments is the offer a new choice for those who do want to live a less car-dependent life. I am not expecting all of Perth should or would do this this but as a start a few developments that use these principles would be good for WA

  2. freoview says:

    I like the philosophy behind this a lot and for me the lesson is that Fremantle could achieve a lot of this if it concentrated more on the outer suburbs and not try to do it in the business and shopping centre of the city.
    There are security issues with not having the car parked at homes that would need to be addresses, so people will embrace the idea, but it makes perfect sense to create more liveable streets where kids can play, pedestrians walk and cyclists leisurely ride.
    30 per cent green space is phenomenal and we should strive for that.
    Is most of the land development done by the government or private developers?

    Roel Loopers

    • Roel
      Interestingly the government plays a bigger role by buying up land and providing the transport and other services before selling it in small lots with crtieria that must be met. Any one developer can only buy a few blocks of units to ensure architectural diversity.

  3. Lionel says:

    Create 30% public open space at the Matilda Bay Brewery site – the community would welcome it.

    • Lionel says:

      The silence is deafening

      • Apologies Lionel. I has assumed your earlier comment was more a rhetorical response. The challenge of Matilda Bay is that is is privately owned – not owned by the council. We could negotiate more open space but to get land owner agreement it would needed to be traded for more height. As you are well aware this has not been supported by many neighbours. I think the lesson of Freiburg is early government involvement and land ownership to get these more sustainable outcomes

      • Lionel says:

        You are already offering them more height; how about getting something in return for that (other than rates)

      • Sorry Lionel. FOund this one in the spam folder! The aim is already to get more that rates for height including street level activation etc.

  4. Mark Taylor says:

    Those trams floating over the grass were almost too poetical for this Perth boy when visiting the Vauban a couple of years back. And then a bracing cultural/practical wake-up when I mentioned how moving I found it and it was pointed out by my host that “Yes, the acoustic and reduced storm water run-off benefits are excellent”.

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