The Village Effect

random-house-the-village-effect-small_UKThe latest Listener has an excellent feature on Susan Pinker –

“Life is hard in the small Sardinian village of Villagrande Strisaili. The men, writes Canadian clinical psychologist Susan Pinker, live “hard-scrabble lives” as farmers and labourers, the women cook and look after others right into old age. But life is also long. Men as well as women frequently live past 100, a generation of octogenarians still care for their parents. Why? Pinker points to the strong social networks, the support given to the elderly and the constant companionship they enjoy. “Getting older in central Sardinia is an intensely communal affair.”

Susan Pinker says real world social circles are essential to our wellbeing and health, and as valuable as exercise and good diet. Susan Pinker sits down with Steve Paikin to discuss what it lost when we rely on social media for our human connections.

David Killick – Christchurch needs an eco-neighbourhood like Vauban

Eco-neighbourhood a viable vision for the future

16-Fre-apts-03What a treat it was to have David Killick talking at our last networking meeting about his visit to the Vauban Community in Germany.

Here are his notes from the meeting:

Vauban, in Freiburg, in southwest Germany, is one of the world’s most celebrated residential eco-neighbourhoods. With its solar power, “plus-energy” buildings, and accessible streets, Vauban offers a bold sustainable vision for the future of urban or suburban living. It could even work for Christchurch and Canterbury ­– but only if the authorities and enough people are determined to make it happen.

Vauban actually took shape despite, rather than because of planners

Rather than being a centrally planned model with solutions prescribed and imposed from on high, it has grown far more organically and is the result of entrepreneurial individuals working together: communities doing it for themselves.

14-Fre-Vb-houses-10eCovering a site measuring 41 hectares, Vauban is built on land occupied until 1991 (the year of German reunification) by the French military­. Residents founded the Forum Vauban in 1994, and in 2005 the Vauban District Union (Stadtteilverein Vauban e.V.) was established. “Both associations have been and continue to be influential in shaping the sustainable district,” according to Freiburg’s information service.

24-Fre-Vb-building“Vauban’s planning process, which scrapped design regulations in the land-use plan and provided a wide range of different plot sizes, played a particularly important role in achieving the active neighbourly relations and district we see today. The planning process created a diverse mix of individual building projects, groups of building owners, rented and owner-occupied flats, cooperative models as well as inclusive accommodation projects that promote social integration.”

25-Fre-Vb-01Reaching Vauban couldn’t be easier. A tram ride from the city centre takes us 15 minutes. My first impression is quiet leafy streets and cyclists: young and old, small children being carried on the front of bikes or in bike buggies, and all without helmets. Cycling does not have to be an extreme endurance contest versus cars, as it is in Christchurch; cyclists and pedestrians take priority.

08-Fre-Vb-tram and bike-eMost cars are tucked away in plant-covered carports on the leafy streets; on residential laneways a 30kph speed or walking pace limit applies. Some streets are car-free. Community solar and glass garages are fitted with solar panels.

Streets are named after prominent citizens forced to emigrate in the Nazi era, including architect and founder of the Bauhaus movement Walter Gropius; physicist Lise Meitner; and writer Kurt Tucholsky.

Vauban is more than just housing, however 10 former barrack buildings were converted into affordable housing by the Student Union and the SUSI project (“self-organized, independent neighbourhood initiative”).

06-Fre-Vb-tram and Green Hotel-eThe district also has a community centre, nurseries, a primary school, cafés and restaurants, shops, and innovative businesses. If you like, you can stay at the Green City Hotel, a plant-covered multi-storey timber-clad building. The hotel has a policy of employing people with disabilities.

All buildings aim to be as energy-efficient as possible. A passive (ultra-low energy) house was Germany’s first “passive” apartment block, built in 1999. There are now over 30 passive houses in the neighbourhood. To help meet additional energy requirements, a combined heat and power (CHP) plant uses natural gas and wood to supply district heating and electricity.

One of the most striking buildings is the “Sonnenschiff” (“sun ship”). It is the first “plus energy” building in the world, combining houses, workplaces, and shops. The “Solarsiedlung” (“solar settlement”) consists of 59 plus-energy houses. The Heliotrope is the world’s first plus-energy house. Plus energy? As an example, the Heliotrope produces three times more energy than it consumes. Built in 1994, it rotates to capture sunshine or shade as required.

Visionary architect Rolf Disch, who designed the plus-energy solar buildings, is passionate about their potential, describing the concept as “a quantum leap in architecture”.

Their secrets are super insulation, including triple glazing, heat recovery systems, and photovoltaic (PV) panels.

Disch says 40 per cent of our energy use is spent on the construction and utilization of buildings; hence, there is “gigantic potential” for savings and to make houses highly efficient. “We need plus-energy settlements, plus-energy city areas, and plus-energy regions. Architects, the construction industry, investors and tenants, regulators, and authorities have a great responsibility. And with plus-energy we all have the possibility to break through into the Solar Age.”

David Killick

David Killick

Could any of this happen in New Zealand? A few examples of cohousing and eco-conscious residential subdivisions have been built. In Christchurch, the “Breathe” eco-village completion attracted huge worldwide interest and a winner was announced; however, nothing has happened so far on the compact central city site. The Viva Group is keen to also build an eco-village.

What scope there would have been to build a solar Vauban-like eco-neighbourhood on Christchurch’s East Frame! It would have showcased environmental technology and new approaches in design and construction to the world. Perhaps we still could have such a district – somewhere. It might not appeal to everyone, but it would certainly put us on the map. And be good for the planet, too.

©, June 2015


Here is David’s article in the Christchurch Press about Vauban