英伦广角British Vision(99):生态型城镇

Ecotowns of the world unite

New towns built according to environmental principles sound fine in principle, but what would it actually be like to live in one

Today the government announced a shortlist of 15 locations for so-called eco-towns. That is new towns built according to environmental principles. It sounds fine. But what would it actually be like to live in one? Helene Cacace has been to the town of Freiberg in southern Germany, where some districts are run on strictly eco-town principles.

A picture of tranquility, Vauban, a suburb of Freiberg, is a close-knit community with super-efficient homes, grassy rooftops, solar panels and a multitude of recycling bins. Calm streets with trams and bicycles, the uber end of eco-living in every respect.

Is this the kind of place Gordon Brown envisages, with its energy-efficient homes, its car-free zones, and its environmentally-conscious community? In one of its eco-houses, it only takes the energy of a light bulb to keep warm. The single radiator has never been used. Thick insulation retains heat generated by the bodies of the family, even honey the guinea pig contributes. But is this community living as simple and effective as it seems?

It’s a good decision to bring the people in together that they have to talk to each other and to, um, get this community feeling, that they are more responsible for everything they do. And that’s the way it works here. So it’s positive, but it’s also negative because you have to do it even if you don’t like it. These rules, that’s like it is, you also have to follow them because of people, yeah, they are (Germany) they want that to act like they want.

It’s a self-selecting community of educated middle class people. Eco-houses are expensive and it takes ten years before the energy savings start to pay off. So it's the eloquent toller or social control with rules and discipline keep the community in order with stiff fines for those who disobey.

Discipline stretches beyond recycling. Some schools have a policy for children to play outside for 3 hours a day come rain or shine. Music teacher Almut Schuster is head of the Stadtteilverein, or Residents Association.

In some parts of the neighborhood, it’s certainly there are rules about the traffic and cars that have to be kept. Um, yeah, for example we also have to sign a contract that we don’t use up a car regularly and don’t own a car. We are used to the car-sharing, which is very nice thing. But this we really have to keep.

For those who skirt the rules, beware, the Auto–frei Verein, the car-free society is watching. I mean, I don’t know whether you talk to somebody of that Auto–frei Verein, they have certain ways how they can sue people, or find out, and, you know.

The British government is particularly keen on following the model of traffic restrictions. Here if you want to keep your wheels, it costs 1,500 pounds for the permit. We ask Vauban's chief architect what he thinks of the government’s plans for eco-towns in Britain.

When you just look on these 5 towns, 8 years, maybe 10 years, maybe 12 years, you just look on these 5 little towns and you lose everything else. And the British, I think the British love their, their past. They don’t dare to touch these old houses, these old landscape. All these old things. They love the past and they live in the past.

British ministers hold up the Freiburg template, but really it’s not so much an eco-town as an eco-suburb. And it’s held together by everyone’s agreement to abide by some pretty strict rules. Time will tell exactly how sustainable the eco-towns project will be when it's exported to the anarchic British.

Helene Cacace, More4 News, southwest Germany.

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