Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Freiburg Charter

Freiburg’s experience of becoming a green, sustainable city owes much to its governance and political continuity.  What is being achieved there has been distilled into 12 principles, developed by the City of Freiburg and the Academy of Urbanism.  Published in 2012, it is known as the Freiburg Charter, and I reproduce it below.

There is much in it that is already practised in Exeter, and more that could be.

 

THE 12 PRINCIPLES

Spatial Principles

I. DIVERSITY, SAFETY & TOLERANCE

Encouragement of a balanced age and social profile within functioning neighbourhoods, with the provision of appropriate workplaces for all sectors of the population and the encouragement of innovative residential models.

The provision of facilities in public and private infrastructure for all generations with the provision of well-managed places balanced with free spaces.

The provision of a full range of facilities, especially for very young and very old citizens.

The integration of all strands of society irrespective of ethnicity, gender or age.

II. CITY OF NEIGHBOURHOODS

Decentralised governance, with a defined degree of empowerment and personal responsibility, is indispensable for cities and should be actively encouraged.

Decentralised governance is of particular importance in: residential living and working, social infrastructure, education and culture, recreation and management of green spaces and networks.

The protection of a city’s identity is a precondition for sustainable urban planning and development.

III. CITY OF SHORT DISTANCES

Existing facilities should be enhanced and new ones introduced in such a way that they are in accordance with the idea of the Compact City.

Accessibility to all infrastructure networks on foot minimises car traffic and leads to an improvement in environmental quality.

The development of public transport and pedestrian and bicycle networks should be given priority over the use of private motor vehicles.

IV. PUBLIC TRANSPORT & DENSITY

Public transport needs to be closely integrated with the urban design vision and, as a general principle, must always be given priority over car traffic. Increased urban density along public transport routes should be brought about in a sensitive and sustainable manner.

Land uses with civic function and high frequency of use should be located in close proximity to public transportation nodes in order to increase urban intensity.

Content Principles

V. EDUCATION, SCIENCE & CULTURE

Schools and universities, research facilities and cultural institutions make a significant impact on the attractiveness and the quality of a city. They have a strong influence on public life and can have a decisive influence on the planning culture of a city.

A city has to create opportunities for personal development and life-long learning.

VI. INDUSTRY & JOBS

The most important task for the future is the conservation of existing employment and the development of groundbreaking and innovative businesses. In order to achieve this, we must fully tap into every opportunity that enables the city to maintain existing jobs on the one hand, and to develop new ones on the other.

The trend to greenfield development and ‘edge city’ has to be counteracted with a concentration on the regeneration of existing urban fabric. The proper application of these principles is indispensable.

VII. NATURE & ENVIRONMENT

The conservation of biological diversity, the wise use of resources for the benefit of future generations and the protection of a healthy and liveable environment are key objectives for urban development.

All areas of planning have to be evaluated for their impact on the environment prior to implementation, in order to safeguard the habitats of animals and plants as well as historically-important cultural landscapes.

VIII. DESIGN

Most planning decisions shape the appearance of the city for generations. These decisions must therefore support and enhance the character of a city by promoting the highest qualities of design.

Public spaces play a key role: together with their neighbouring buildings they form the public face of a city.

Public property rights and the authority for disposal of public space must remain with the body politic in order to mediate between different interests and to counteract undesirable development.

The development of key building projects has to be led by the planning authority from initial concept through to realisation on the ground.

Tools such as architectural design competitions, multiple commissioning and expert panels should be employed as a general principle, in order to find solutions for important buildings and public spaces.

The structure of the plot plan – as a starting point for diversity – plays a very important role.

Processes of urban redevelopment will be of special importance in the future.

Process Principles

IX. LONG-TERM VISION

Consistent urban planning and development needs to follow a unifying vision that refers back to the city’s past and projects forward several decades.

The face of the city must not be submitted to short-lived fashions or political whim. Additions to cities that have evolved over historical timeframes must anticipate the needs of future generations (conserve the old and celebrate the new). Only in this way can the uniqueness and the character of a city be developed, maintained and enhanced.

Continuity, quality and awareness of the intricacies of a location are important attributes for a sustainable, future-oriented city.

X. COMMUNICATION & PARTICIPATION

Communities must work continuously on their collective vision for the city through public discourse that becomes manifest in public spaces and in city culture.

Continuous communication must be supported among the protagonists and stakeholders inside and outside the city administration. The outputs should be fed directly into planning processes to help create transparency and to inform political decisions.

All parts of a city’s population must be invited to participate, co-operate and engage through appropriate modes of communication – in all phases of development from initial visioning through to detailed planning, delivery and management.

A culture of engagement should be established, employing a wide range of techniques available to central, regional and local authorities.

XI. RELIABILITY, OBLIGATION & FAIRNESS

A citywide concept, with principles of consensus, creates the proper environment within which all the participants in urban development can act with equal rights.

In order for the city to become a reliable partner for all citizens and investors, urban policy needs to be founded on basic resolutions that have a binding effect on the city administration.

Basic principles need to govern site development guidelines and standards of sustainable construction. Guidelines such as the City of Short Distances have to be enshrined in subject-specific policies – such as the retail concepts embodied in Freiburg’s marketplaces and sub-centres. These principles should be made legally binding through development masterplans.

A level of trust should be created between the protagonists within the city’s administration and those outside, based on continuity and with sufficient freedom to enable innovation and creativity to flourish.

XII. CO-OPERATION & PARTNERSHIP

Co-operation and participation serve to distribute and share the burden of complexity of urban planning and development with many.

Financial support for projects creates incentives for investors and can also serve to guide them.

Exemplary action by the community with regard to urban design can stimulate private action and also help to initiate self-fulfilling processes.

Agreements and contracts with stakeholders, the support of – as well as the demand for – citizen commitments, all make wide-ranging urban redevelopment processes possible.

Scientific institutions, universities, industry and professional bodies are important players in innovative urban development.

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The Compact City

How Freiburg does it, Part 2

We tend to like compact cities.  Why?  Is it because compact is the antithesis of urban sprawl, which has negative connotations.  So negative in fact that fighting it was one of the original aims of the Council for the Preservation for Rural England [1], formed 90 years ago, subsequently egged on by Clough Williams-Ellis’ polemic against sprawl in his 1928 book England and the Octopus.

Or is it something more instinctive?  We like our community to be identifiable, recognisable as a place, with its own characteristics and shared experiences.  “I live in London” says nothing.  “I live in Muswell Hill” says a great deal, at least to London residents [2].

Or it may be a recognition that a compact place uses less resources.  This might be energy, whether in the physical effort of walking or cycling around or in having to light dispersed streets at night.  It might be the protection of natural resources by not building on greenfield land.

Or, even better, a combination of all three.

In 2012 Exeter City Council adopted its Core Strategy, the basis of planning up to 2026.  The document states that Exeter is a compact city [3].  It recognises that this may not endure, largely due to housing pressures generated by the city’s growth strategy.  Indeed the strategy is brutally clear (para 2.15):  “To meet the demand for housing, whilst protecting Exeter’s character, it has been a priority to maximise the use of previously developed land. However, greenfield development has also been necessary […].  As there are limited development opportunities remaining within the urban area, the development pressures on the city fringes will continue.”

No doubt much of the response to these pressures is being discussed in the Greater Exeter Visioning Board, which is so secret that we are not allowed to know what it discusses [4]

Whether it is necessary to build on greenfield land is a matter of political choice, not – as the Core Strategy suggests – an immutable law of nature.  A document produced by the apparently now-defunct Local Strategic Partnership and published at the same time as the Core Strategy, entitled Exeter City Centre: A city centre vision for a green capital [5], draws attention to Freiburg:  “In a similarly exceptional location to Freiburg in south-west Germany, one of the world leading sustainable cities, Exeter could be in a good position to embrace a future as a genuinely green city – benefiting from the lifestyle changes, business opportunities and environmental benefits this status would bring.”

Now there’s a key difference between what Freiburg has done and what Exeter proposes to do in its Core Strategy.  Freiburg’s environmental policy document [6] states: “It is quite clear: the more residential areas constructed on the outskirts of a city, the greater the negative ecological consequences. The prime directive of the city of Freiburg is therefore to keep the need for new areas to an absolute minimum.”

The Exeter Core Strategy is more equivocal.  Among the key objectives is: “8. Protect and enhance the city’s unique historic character and townscape, its archaeological heritage, its natural setting that is provided by the valley parks and the hills to the north and west, and its biodiversity and geological assets” (page 15).  This is a valuable statement, but it sets less of a clear direction than Freiburg’s.

Part of the Core Strategy is a Green Infrastructure Network, developed in a 2009 report [7], and carried through into the final plans as two green corridors, one down the River Exe to the west of the city centre and one down the River Clyst to the east of the city’s eastern boundary.  Neither of these areas could be described fairly as the sort of undeveloped open space Freiburg wishes to protect.

Compact cities are not just about protecting the natural environment.  They have huge advantages for daily living: you can easily do city centre shopping or meet friends without having to take a whole half-day over it; if you fall down in the street the green-and-yellow taxi [8] has less far to come; cultural facilities are close by; bus and taxi journeys are shorter and so should cost less.  And so on.

There is no right and wrong in the choices made by Exeter and Freiburg, though they are likely to have different outcomes.  In a future post I’ll discuss how Freiburg has attempted to maintain its compactness and design sustainability into recent developments, built within the city boundaries, and draw out options for Exeter.  Meanwhile, we need to recognise – as exemplified by approaches to the “compact city” – that planning choices are essentially political.

 

NOTES:

[1]  Now the Campaign to Protect Rural England, www.cpre.org.uk

[2]  For the uninitiated, Muswell Hill is a fairly fashionable middle-class part of North London.

[3]  The Core Strategy is available at https://exeter.gov.uk/media/1636/adopted-core-strategy.pdf   Paragraph 2.26 refers.

[4]  See https://petercleasby.com/2016/05/16/whose-vision-is-it-anyway-part-1/

[5]  I cannot trace this document on the internet.

[6]  English text available at http://www.greencity-cluster.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Dateien/Downloads/Environmental_policy_Freiburg.pdf.  Page 9 refers.

[7]  Available via http://www.exeterandeastdevon.gov.uk/green-infrastructure/

[8]  An expression,  used by those with a dark sense of humour, for a paramedic ambulance.