Co-creation of a sustainable neighborhood in Freiburg

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This intervention has been translated into a brief governance scenario. Take a look at Collaborating Across Institutional Boundaries: Co-Creating Sustainable Neighborhoods.

You read this description and want to hear more about this case? Get in touch! Contact Philipp Späth for more information.

a) Basic characteristics and ambitions of the intervention

1. What is the name and the urban context (e.g. city/district) of the intervention? Please also indicate the geographical scale of the intervention (e.g. neighborhood, district, small/medium/ capital city, metropolitan area ...). [Example: “Brixton Energy in Brixton, London (neighborhood in capital city)”]

The intervention addresses the eco-district of Vauban in the city of Freiburg, Germany, with a particular focus on its co-housing projects. It has been developed at the scale of a neighborhood or city district within a regional hub (Freibrug has 220.000 inhabitants).

The intervention aimed to co-create and design a sustainable neighborhood, which would provide inclusive and affordable housing that was adapted to the needs and the will of the local population.

2. What sector(s) (alias domain/ policy field) is the intervention primarily implemented in ? [e.g. housing, mobility, energy, water, health, local economy, biodiversity, CC adaptation, etc.]

This intervention is primarily implemented in the sectors of housing and urban development (i.e. building/establishing a new district).

3. What is the intervention (i.e. situated experiment) aiming to achieve in terms of sustainability and justice? [If possible, please copy from a project website and give a reference]

The intervention (co-housing in Vauban and Genova’s case) aimed to establish a sustainable, eco-district while implementing participatory planning and cooperative ownership (TRANSIT_01: 5). Social objectives of inclusiveness and affordable housing, as well as ecological goals such as walkable pathways, car-free zones, green areas, and low-energy buildings are embedded in the project (TRANSIT_01: 6).

“social and ecological goals and standards have been set from the beginning as part of the official guidelines by the City of Freiburg: compulsory low energy standard for new buildings, connection to the tram network until 2006, rain infiltration on the very territory, socially mixed inhabitant structure and a priority of giving away land to private builder-owners and collective building projects (Life-Projekt)" (TRANSIT_16).

4. What is the interventions’ timeframe?

The creation of this new district started after the withdrawal of the French military troops from the Vauban military facilities in 1992. In 1994, the city became the owner of the land and launched the project. At the same time, citizens interested in engaging in the project created organizations such as the Forum Vauban and the Independent Housing Project - SUSI. Housing cooperatives began to form in 1997, namely the Genova housing cooperative. The first tenants moved into Genova I in 1999 and in Genova II in 2001 (Table 5.1. Timeline and development of Vauban_TRANSIT_01: 8). Other projects have since developed. In 2009, the construction phases were completed.

5. By what governance mode is the intervention characterized primarily? (see Appendix 1: Three modes of governance)

The intervention is characterized by a hybrid-governance mode.

6. Why do you consider it worthwhile to study and share experiences made in the context of this governance intervention for sustainable and just cities?[1]

This intervention provides an interesting example of negotiated governance between a grassroots initiatives and the municipality, thereby reaching across institutional boundaries.

7. In which project deliverable(s) or other documents can information be found on this situated (i.e. place specific) governance intervention?

  • TRANSIT_01_cohousing: the eco-district of Vauban and the co-housing project GENOVA (02)
  • TRANSIT_02_Social Innovation Research project:
  • Interview with A., a project proponent (10.07.20)

b) Additional basic characteristics, links to earlier UrbanA work

8. EU Project-context of the intervention:

  • a. Has the intervention been developed or studied in the context of an (EU-funded?) project? (please name the project, its duration and include a link to the project website here).

Yes, the intervention has been studied in the context of the EU-funded project TRANSIT (2014-2017).[2] The project aims to develop a new theory on Transformative Social Innovation (TSI) which refers to “a process of changes in social relations, involving the challenging, altering and/or replacing of dominant institutions and structures”. The project aims to draft a manifesto for TSI that sheds light on initiatives and emerging movements for TSI in hopes of inspiring policy makers, social entrepreneurs, academics, and other stakeholders.

  • b. According to WP3’s database of approaches, which approach(es) does the intervention best fit under? Where applicable, please indicate if the intervention is found in a project that has been explicitly mentioned in the database.

The intervention best fits under the Co-living, co-housing & intentional communities approach. The TRANSIT project is explicitly mentioned in the database. In addition, the intervention addresses the Governance and participation processes approach and the Sharing and cooperatives for urban commons approach.

  • c. Have some project deliverables been coded in the context of UrbanA’s WP4?

Yes, the project has been coded in the framework of WP4 but not the intervention itself.

9. Problematization and priority:

  • a. How exactly has inequality and exclusion been problematized (by whom) in the context of this intervention?

Inequality and exclusion has been problematized both by the (prospective) residents of the district (in the framework of citizens organizations including Forum Vauban, SUSI, other citizen groups or cooperatives...) and by the municipality of Freiburg in view of creating an inclusive and affordable eco-district.

Specifically, to make GENOVA co-housing more inclusive, the cooperative is regulating the pricing structure, reducing house rents for targeted groups i.e. “elderly people and long-term members, as well as persons with the right to social housing, so called Wohnberechtigungsschein” (TRANSIT_01: 36).

  • b. Has the achievement of justice explicitly been named as a major motivation behind the intervention?

The achievement of justice has explicitly been named as a major motivation behind the intervention by focusing on affordable housing and citizens' self-planning and management: “(Vauban) is an ecological, sustainable district which has consciously set itself social objectives such as inclusiveness and affordable housing, as well as short distances” (TRANSIT_01: 6) ; “affordable housing, planned and managed by its residents” (TRANSIT_01: 16) ; “the goal of which was to create ecological living space based on the principles of social justice and self-organization” (TRANSIT_01: 24).

In addition, “The City of Freiburg as the owner of the territory of Vauban is responsible for its planning and opening up for development. In the course of this, social and ecological goals and standards have been set from the beginning as part of the official guidelines by the City of Freiburg: compulsory low energy standard for new buildings, connection to the tram network until 2006, rain infiltration on the very territory, socially mixed inhabitant structure and a priority of giving away land to private builder-owners and collective building projects (Life-Projekt)" (TRANSIT_01: 16).

Drivers of injustices Based on WP4 coding Based on own assessment
1. Exclusive access to the benefits of sustainability infrastructure X
2. Material and livelihood inequalities
3. Racialized or ethnically exclusionary urbanization
4. Uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration X
5. Uneven environmental health and pollution patterns
6. Unfit institutional structures
7. Limited citizen participation in urban planning X
8. Lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities
9. Unquestioned Neoliberal growth and austerity urbanism
10. Weak(ened) civil society

c) Actor constellations

10. Who initiated the intervention?

The intervention was co-initiated by citizens, primarily the citizen-led initiative Forum Vauban and the Independent Housing Projects -SUSI, and the municipality of Freiburg, in order to build a new district:

“After the departure of the military (1992), the Vauban district was designed and rebuilt anew during a unique citizen-involvement process – for which it has been awarded several times – by the City of Freiburg together with the citizen-lead association ‘Forum Vauban’ as a bottom-up actor with a mandate in the Vauban city planning council (TRANSIT_01: 5).

“When the City of Freiburg decided to build the new district in 1993, the citizen-led initiative of Forum Vauban had already been active in setting up their plans and visions about how to build the district in a “green”, sustainable and participatory way” (Transit_01: 24).

11. Who are the envisioned benefiters of the intervention? (both at a local level and higher, if applicable)

The envisioned benefiters of the intervention are the (prospective) residents of Vauban, especially the owners of housing cooperatives (interview with A.), and more broadly, the residents of Freiburg who could potentially move into affordable and ecological housing. The municipality of Freiburg also benefits from the district's widespread reputation, using it as a “green flag” in urban marketing strategies to enhance the attractiveness of the city (TRANSIT_01: 27).

12. Who else is (going to be) involved in the intervention, and what was/is their main role?

Actor types[3] Yes Actor name and role[4]
Academic organizations
Religious organizations
Civil society organizations X
  • Forum Vauban (citizen-led organization)
  • Co-housing cooperatives (e.g. SUSI ; Genova e.g. ; Vaubanaise e.g….).
  • Baugruppen (e.g. Wohnen&Arbeiten ; Woge e.V. etc…) (Table 5.2: co-housing and other important projects in Vauban_TRANSIT_01: 13)
  • Other initiatives, e.g.: Autofreies Wohnen e.V. (organizes car-free mobility in Vauban); Quartierladen e.G. (a cooperative supermarket for local organic food supply); Kinderabenteurh of Freiburg e.V. (an associative kindergarten); Villaban with Restaurant Kantine (a restaurant organizing joint cooking events)
Hybrid/ 3rd sector organizations
Social movements
Political parties
Social entreprises
For profit entreprises
Local/regional government X
  • The municipality of Freiburg
  • The local parliament
  • The “Vauban city planning council (GRAG)” is a consultative committee within the city council (including members of the administration, of the local parliament and of Forum Vauban), which was created to plan the new district of Vauban alongside citizen groups (TRANSIT_01: 33).
Regional organizations
National government
Supranational government
International networks
Other initiatives

13. Which particular interactions among various stakeholders (stakeholder configurations) were crucial in enabling the intervention to emerge successfully? This could include direct or indirect impacts on interventions.

The converging vision of the citizens and the municipality for building a new district was crucial. Whereas the municipality intended to plan a new district to meet the extremely high demand for living space in Freiburg, Forum Vauban had envisaged an ecological, socially just, and self-organized city quarter with lots of green space and affordable housing (TRANSIT_01: 16). Specifically, citizens represented by Forum Vauban benefited from direct access to discussion with parliamentarians and municipal actors in the “Vauban City Policy Council” GRAG (see Q.15). The support from local parliamentarians was therefore critical in enabling the citizens' plans and visions to be implemented (interview with A.).

In addition, the city dedicated additional public money to set-up the project in a participatory way and officially mandated Forum Vauban to mediate the process and provide assistance (e.g. with the distribution of building lots) (TRANSIT_01: 23).

14. To what extent, in what form and at what stages have citizens participated in the shaping of the intervention?

Citizens, especially Forum Vauban, were the drivers of the co-housing projects. Citizens engaged in visioning and planning the distinct as well as in the physical building it (e.g. with the Baugruppen) (TRANSIT_01: 16).

When the project of rebuilding a new district arose (1992-1994), self-organized citizens were invited to share their vision of the district: “The Forum Vauban (working as an open forum) invited, organized, and coordinated professional expertise around planning, ecological housing, funding and forms of ownership brought in by interested citizens” ; “This could be realized because the city of Freiburg agreed and provided a frame and organizational innovations to cooperate with the citizen-lead Forum Vauban. From this platform emerged various building groups, some of which came up with the idea of cooperative building" (TRANSIT_01: 17).

In addition, students of architecture - on a voluntary basis - initiated and facilitated the process of developing utilization plans. (TRANSIT_01: 17).

Finally, “the citizen-initiative was the driving force in establishing participatory planning and “learning while planning” methods” (TRANSIT_01: 18).

15. How are responsibilities and/or decision-making power distributed among actors?

Both civil-society and governmental actors participated in creating the eco-district of Vauban. “On the one hand, it was built in a bottom-up process through self-organized housing initiatives of cooperatives and privately organized building groups (Baugruppen). On the other hand, the overall planning of the infrastructure, the selling of land property, and the ecological building laws were set-up and coordinated by the government of the City of Freiburg including participatory planning processes with the future residents” (TRANSIT_01: 42). Citizens groups provided visions for the district and participated in the planning and building process, while the administration of the City of Freiburg, as the owner of the land, had the responsibility to decide on planning and selling land slots (TRANSIT_01: 33).

In addition, a mix-consultative council called “Vauban City Planning Council (GRAG)” was established, which included seven parliamentarians, twenty members of the municipality administration and one member of Forum Vauban. This council was responsible for “creating the necessary infrastructure, taking over a coordinating role, doing the marketing of the territories” (TRANSIT_01: 33). The GRAG was separated from the usual municipal hierarchies and was instead assigned to the head of the construction department, which opened up possibilities for the representatives of the citizenry to directly contribute to the work of this group (TRANSIT_01: 18). The council was therefore a forum for discussion between different actors and facilitated the bridging of institutional logics.

The municipality also designed and implemented the principle of “Planning that Learns," meaning that pilot initiatives would be experimented before being widely enforced. A prime example of this principle is the mobility concept of Vauban, which was first operated in one third of the district before being implemented in the whole neighborhood (interview with A.).

16. Exclusion:

  • a. Which stakeholders or social groups were excluded (at which stages)?

Direct exclusion of social groups is not reported. However, indirect exclusions have been controversial. First, the car-free mobility concept of the district was found exclusive and dissuasive for car-owners. Second, housing was primarily accessible to home owners rather than to tenants. Indeed, about 76% of the district is dedicated to home owners (including cooperatives). However, becoming an owner is not accessible to everyone because it entails very high entry costs. Additionally, building one's own house takes a lot of time (at least 5 years), which not everybody can afford (interview with A.).

  • b. Is there any indication why this may have happened? With what outcomes? Has anything been done to overcome such exclusions?

There are not reported indications about the triggers of these indirect exclusions. Concerning the car-free mobility concept, a solution was found by creating dedicated parking lots and establishing a system that meets the needs of both car-owners and of those who do not have a car. In regards to the housing system, the primacy given to home owners is a political decision that has not been amended (interview with A.).

d) Enabling conditions for the implementation of the intervention

17. What circumstances or events are reported to have triggered the intervention? (In what ways?)

The circumstances which have reportedly triggered the interventions are :

  • The housing crisis in Freiburg (and co-housing alternative as a response to it).

“Because of its attractiveness (geographical, cultural, economic hub, and university), Freiburg is one of the most expensive cities in Germany in view of the housing price. As a result of the high pressure on the housing market, creative forms of alternative living developed like trailer home communities developed as well as ongoing urban planning activities of the municipality, trying to explore and build new areas and quarters” (TRASIT_01: 7).

  • The ecologically-minded citizens and local policy makers.

This is related to the historical background of the city, including its tradition of critical thinkers at the University (e.g. H. Heidegger, H. Arendt), the social movement against the nuclear power plant of Wyhl, and leftwing policy makers (TRANSIT_01: 7).

  • The opportunity to build a new district from scratch after the departure of the French troops from Vauban in 1992.

“The well-educated, collegiate and ecological milieu of Freiburg was in need of housing. The expected liberation of the French Vauban barracks at a central location in Freiburg generated desires and creative ideas. The time span until the sale to the Federal Republic was settled could be used for establishing a professional forum, the Forum Vauban, from within the citizenry from 1994 on. This forum started to develop serious urban planning concepts.”(TRANSIT_01: 8).

  • The capacities and resources of Forum Vauban to engage in the project.

Forum Vauban included a core group of four people working almost full time on the project (who were being professionalized), along with several working groups. Those working groups were responsible for developing visions and for implementing projects in the sectors of energy, mobility, social cohesion, and social infrastructures (interview with A.).

18. Are particular substantive (multi-level) governmental policies considered to be highly influential in the genesis and shaping of the intervention? (If easily possible, please specify the policy, the policy field and the governance level mainly addressed, and characterize it along Appendix 2: Policy typology)

Regarding the participatory process, the municipality conceptualized a legal framework - namely the “Vauban City Planning Council (GRAG)” and the principle of “Planning that Learns” - which allowed citizens to participate in urban development.

More broadly, cooperative housing in Germany is regulated by the CooperativesAct, first adopted in 1889 and reformed in 2006. It determines the cooperatives’ organizational rules and their business conduct (TRANSIT_01: 6). The Rent Regulation Act outlines the responsibilities of all landlords of rental dwellings, including housing cooperatives, and specifications about rent increases (ICA) (Enkeleda 2011, TRANSIT_01: 6). Cooperatives are framed by regulatory policies from the national level and enforced locally.

19. What constitutional responsibilities and rules does the intervention build upon? In other words, what rights, powers, and/or responsibilities, does the country's constitution (in a broad sense) award municipalities, states, utilities, NGOs, citizens etc. and how does this impact the intervention?

In Germany, the municipality is responsible for urban planning within the lines of the national regulations (i.e. the urban planning laws and codes). The municipality together with the federal state can thus allow citizens to participate in urban planning; in this case, the Baden-Württemberg Development Agency gave Forum Vauban extended governance and financial responsibilities to mediate the participation process. This means that citizen participation in urban planning depends on specific and local regulatory policies.

20. According to project material/and or interviews, in what ways have particularities of (local) political culture influenced the character and success of the intervention? (i.e. trust in political institutions, citizens’ will to interact with policy makers and vice versa, traditions of cooperation etc.)

Freiburg has a culture of ecologically and politically engaged citizens, which has manifested in various protests (i.e. against Wyhl nuclear power plant) and broad participation in national and local political issues. Freiburg was the first city in Germany to vote for a green political majority. Self-organized groups have been recognized since squatters successfully built vivid communities (80s).

Concerning the development of Vauban, there were enough people trusting the eco-left millieu to positively influence the district development, thereby invested money in Baugruppen and proving that their trust was justified.

21. What are financial arrangements that support the intervention?

The intervention was financially supported by two means:

  • Funds raised and gathered by the citizens.

“It consisted first of all in voluntary work for planning the private houses and furthermore working on concepts for the whole district. Furthermore, Forum Vauban could fundraise several projects because of its special model character, sometimes in cooperation with the city or other official institutions” (TRANSIT_01: .40). Between 1996 and 2002, about EUR 200, 000 were received from the German Federal Foundation for the Environment, and from 1997-1999 about EUR 700, 000 from the EU Life Environmental Program. Memberships, donations, and other fees account for the overall budget of Forum Vauban, which was managing a budget of 2 million Euro from 1995-2001 (TRANSIT_01: 40). In addition, “on the level of private housing subsidies, the house builders and cooperatives could make use of the so-called Eigenheimzulage, a state subsidy for builder-owners” (TRANSIT_01: 40).

  • Financial support from the city development budget.

Financial support was provided to for the city administration by the Federal State of Germany or the regular process of building a new district. As an urban development project, the Vauban has a specific status and budget (EUR 85,000,000) according to German building law. The city invested in total 95 million Euros in the district and provided an additional EUR 200, 000 for the participation process (TRANSIT_01: 41).

22. Have any of the above conditions changed within the intervention’s timeframe, which have (significantly) influenced it in a positive or negative way?

Citizen participation was consolidated throughout the project as Forum Vauban earned the trust of institutional actors (interview with A.). The milestones of this progressive recognition are:

  • the invitation for Forum Vauban to join the “Vauban City Planning Council (GRAG)” as well as the financial support of 30, 000 marks per year given by the municipality (spring 1995)
  • the financial support of the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt as well as *the participation of Forum Vauban to the United Nations Organization Habitat Conference in Istanbul (summer 1996)
  • the implementation of the mobility concept according to the principle of “Planning that Learns” (summer 1996).
  • the grant from the Baden-Württemberg Development Agency (Landesentwicklunggesellschaft LEG) to Forum Vauban for participating in the development of the district (1998).

Note: Certain contexts, which provide opportunities to learn from other relevant experiences, may also be a supportive framework condition. Please see section h, questions 26 + 30 on learning context.

e) Obstacles to successful intervention implementation

23. What obstacles to implementing the intervention (both generally, and in this particular context) have been identified, relating to:

  • a. Regulatory framework

Disputes over the destruction of old military barracks occurred between activists/former squatters and the opposing municipality. For instance, a joint initiative of SUSI- and GENOVA-stakeholders - called Drei5Viertel i.G aimed to renovate three additional barrack buildings but failed because of the regulatory framework. The stakeholders failed to meet the (tight) municipal deadline for proposing a financing concept (TRANSIT_01: 14) and the barracks were demolished.

In addition, the timeframe of the project, due to administrative procedures (about 5 years at least to build the first houses), may have discouraged citizens to engage in the project. Besides, the uncertainty about its outcomes, i.e. whether the project would be accepted by the municipality and a grant given, was also an obstacle to implementing the intervention (interview with A.)

  • b. Legitimacy

The collaboration between citizens and the municipality was not always easy because each group had to adapt to the institutional logic of the others. For instance, when the GRAG invited a representative of Forum Vauban to take over a permanent seat in a consulting role, “Forum Vauban welcomed this decision of the city as a step towards them. Nevertheless they were not always satisfied, because the citizens were expected to adapt to the logic of urban planning which already existed in the city bureaucracy” (TRANSIT_01: 25).

From the perspective of many inhabitants of Vauban, an unjust treatment by the City persists throughout the history of the quarter. For instance, the city benefits from tourism in Vauban and from the image of Freiburg being a “Green City," due in large part to Forum Vauban and its civic activities, without the latter being recognized and appreciated sufficiently (TRANSIT_01: 27).

  • c. Public awareness


  • d. Finances

The entry cost to become a housing owner is very high and prevents many people from engaging in such projects (interview with A.). The financial obstacle is a driver of exclusion for working-class people.

  • e. Others (please name)
  • Contrasting visions of the district development between project proponents.

“While some followed a radical path of squatting houses and initially moved their trailer homes illegally onto the free area left behind by the military. –, others wanted to maintain good contacts with the city council” (TRANSIT_01: 16). Specifically, squatters and trailer home owners had some confrontations with Forum Vauban. Whereas squatters already living in the military barracks were reluctant to plans proposed by Forum Vauban, the latter felt that squatters were jeopardizing the project by undermining citizens' actions toward municipal actors (interview with A.)

  • Gradual disengagement of the residents.

“When the majority of the houses were built and residents moved in, as ‘normal’ life started, the engagement for the quarter started to diminish” (TRANSIT_01: 23).

  • The liquidation of Forum Vauban

Forum Vauban became bankrupt in 2004 after a lawsuit from the European Commission. It was replaced by the new ‘Stadtteil Verein Vauban e.V.’ (city district association) based on resident members.

f) (Institutional) Work done to overcome obstacles

24. What has been done by each central actor group to overcome which particular obstacles in the way of successfully implementing the intervention? (this may include institutional Work - maintaining, disrupting, and creating new rules, applying to both formal laws/regulations and informal norms and expectations.)

Name of obstacle What work was/is being done to overcome this obstacle and by what actor groups?
Controversies over the destruction of old military barracks by the municipality by the activists, occupations of the barracks and protests.

by the municipality, continued the demolitions.

Liquidation of Forum Vauban by the residents/activists, establishment of “Stadtteilverein” district association (as follow-up organization of Forum Vauban).
Dissensus among project proponents by the civil society organizations, “The different groups involved in the design and development of Vauban managed to cooperate in a productive way to realize this district project due to a great balancing act between innovative visions and the reality of existing city planning laws. The diversity of the district map (including housing cooperatives, groups of private house builders and construction companies) mirrors the different interests and groups and their ‘areas’”(TRANSIT_01: 16).
Gradual disengagement of residents after the completion of building the district, residents spread out to a large variety of projects both inside the district (including “hosting space” for supporting refugees with rooms for German lessons), and outside of the district with the creation of various interest groups with relevance for the entire city and beyond (TRANSIT_01:24).

g) Reported outcomes

25. What are reported outcomes of the intervention? This may include economic outcomes, political outcomes, ability to reach sustainability and justice targets, etc.

Sustainability challenges addressed in Vauban district include:

  • Car-reduced living (including specific external parking lots managed by a “car-free living association”).
  • Energy-efficient housing and low-carbon buildings. “The municipality of Freiburg introduced a low energy housing standard for all buildings, namely a maximum of 65kWh/a of the primary energy consumption” (TRANSIT_01: 20).
  • Lots of green areas and amenities

Apply to GENOVA cooperative : “One of the accomplishments of GENOVA in view of affordable living space is the fixing of rental prices for 10 apartments supported by GENOVA by means of the social building program for 10 years. However, after some efforts to choose the beneficiaries itself, GENOVA decided that applicants should have an official document proving their eligibility to receive low cost housing issued by city institutions. After 10 years, they can then receive support for paying their rent by a special social fund created by GENOVA” (TRANSIT_01: 28).

h) Learning involved in establishing the intervention

Please fill in any information on social learning that has occured in this intervention (conceptualized here as “Learning context, content, and process” in line with the FOODLINKS project)[5]. Where possible, please differentiate your response into learning done by specific actor groups.

Learning context

(i.e. the configuration and social environment enabling the learning process)

26. According to the TRANSIT project’s four mechanisms for empowerment – i. funding; ii. legitimacy; iii. knowledge sharing, learning, and peer support; or iv. visibility and identity – please briefly describe the following, and indicate where the intervention has been developed or supported as part of which formal collaborations, networks or projects:

  • a. any previous experiences in the same urban context (e.g. city…) that the intervention is (reportedly) building upon? This could include any relevant experiences in the same or another sector.

The intervention is built upon the development of another district in Freiburg called Rieselfeld. Located on a former leach field, the creation of this new district in 1992 is a pioneer in terms of citizens' participation in urban development projects in Freiburg. Specifically, the “City Planning Council” (see Q.15) that includes parliamentarians, municipal actors and citizen organizations was first established for Rieselfeld. Civil society partners actively involved in the urban development project included, among others the Protestant social welfare organization Diakonie, as well as a car-free living organization that conceptualized a new mobility vision for the district (Interview with A.).

  • b. any inter-city partnerships, or transfers from experiences elsewhere that have (reportedly) been important in the emergence of this intervention?

The cooperative movement in Germany has inspired the intervention. The movement is rooted in the 19th-century history and the leading figures of Raiffeisen and Schulze-Delitzsch. Cooperative models developed in different sectors (housing, farming, energy) and spread across Europe and especially in Germany during the late 19th and 20th centuries. These examples of housing cooperatives in Germany (especially in the the German Federal States of Schleswig-Holstein, North Rhine-Westphalia, Hamburg and Lower Saxony) are traditionally large housing cooperatives more strongly integrated into the urban planning process, and have reportedly been inspirational for the instigators of the intervention (TRANSIT_01: 6).

However, the old housing cooperatives had a rather distinct vision of the social organization of housing (e.g. environmental standards or cooperative rules). Vauban proponents moved away from the old cooperative model to experiment with innovative approaches (e.g. carpooling) (interview with A.).

Learning content

27. Has any acquired knowledge (e.g. technical knowledge, awareness of local political procedures etc.) been reported as particularly helpful to this intervention?

  • a. from previous experiences in the same urban context

The experience of Rieselfeld was inspirational for Vauban’s proponents, especially for Forum Vauban, which attempted to develop a more comprehensive approach to citizen participation. Forum Vauban lobbied to have a stronger influence on politicians as well as to directly engage in visioning, planning and especially building the district. Whereas welfare or mobility organizations partnered with the municipality for the development of Rieselfeld, local citizens represented by Forum Vauban were the driving forces of the urban development process.

In addition, the car-free living concept of Vauban is reportedly built upon the vision for Rieselfeld (interview with A.).

  • b. from inter-city partnerships, or transfers from experiences elsewhere

The intervention acquired knowledge from other housing cooperative experiences in Germany. Specifically, according to German regulation, every cooperative has to become a member of a cooperative confederation “in order to be advised, supervised and observed” (TRANSIT_01: 37). GENOVA and Quartiersladen are both members of “Prüfungsverband der kleinen und mittelständischen Genossenschaften e.V.“ (PkmG). This unit audits cooperatives, provides support in matters of economy, law and tax policy, and advises on questions of organization management. This audit was deemed very useful for the creation of GENOVA (interview with A.).

  • c. from other knowledge gathering/research


Learning process

28. In what ways has the intervention been adapted to specific circumstances of the targeted urban context based on the learned content reported in question 27?

On its website, Forum Vauban states: “Learning about participatory planning processes was a key topic in the Vauban process. The principle of “Planning that learns” and the extended citizen participation with Forum Vauban set new standards of communication, interaction and integration” (TRANSIT_01: 37

Through the participatory planning process, the intervention was adapted to manifest houses and infrastructure where some people could spend the rest of their lives. The aspect of community building in the early phase with the future neighbours is seen as centrally important: (TRANSIT_01: 38).

29. Based on your answers to question 24, how has overcoming obstacles (reportedly) contributed to the learning process?

The conflicts that posed the municipality in opposition to the residents/activists (e.g. over the demolition of old barracks or over the modalities of the citizens participation) were overcome and enhanced transparency and mutual trust between both actors, allowing for further cooperation.

“The sense of responsibility of the citizens had been strengthened and the disenchantment with politics reduced. Despite occasional conflicts the City of Freiburg and the citizenry see the participatory and cooperative approach as a great gain of the quality and further development of the city quarter of Vauban” (TRANSIT_01: 25).

30. Please list any tools that enabled the learning process (e.g. various Knowledge Brokerage Activities from pg. 24 of FOODLINK’s Deliverable 7.1 - linked in footnote)[6] and the actors involved in using them.

  • for activists (especially at the beginning of the intervention): face-to-face meetings, location where people met (e.g. the student broad office at the university), a print media for information and exchanges, namely the “Vauban actuel” district magazine
  • for citizens and municipality cooperation, the “Vauban City Planning Council” and the implementation of the participatory principles like “planning that leans". They included workshops *for co-creating the design of streets and open green spaces as well as excursions mediated by Forum Vauban.
  • About 10 events (including district festivals, international conferences “UrbanVisions” as a pre-event of the UN ‘urban 21”) were co-organized with the City of Freiburg, mainly addressing future home owners, architects, craftsmen, the building industry and financial institutes (TRANSIT_01: 37).

i) Learning involved in establishing interventions elsewhere (transferability)

31. Suggestions regarding transferability.

  • a. Have any suggestions been made about a replicability, scaleability or transferability of the intervention? [e.g. in the documentation of the intervention in a project or the press? Links would be perfect]

"Vauban district and the co-housing projects are internationally known and the model “has inspired all over the world in view of sustainable planning especially with regard to citizen involvement” (TRANSIT_01: .6).

“Vauban’s widespread reputation as a model ecodistrict (e.g. through exhibition at World Expo Shanghai) attracts hordes of visitors from all over the world. A number of organizations offer guided tours to Freiburg’s green city with a special part of Vauban. About 25,000 such technical visitors are counted by the municipal Green City Office each year, most of them from South Korea, France and Italy, many of them politicians or (municipal) technical staff, but many also school children" (TRANSIT_01: 38).

“The growing worldwide recognition and dissemination of Vauban as a model-eco district has led to an unexpected phenomenon: more and more interested persons from all over the world have started studying, and visiting Vauban in order to learn more about the details of the district’s development – academia, politicians, technical experts, and even pupils and ordinary persons who just want to add a “green sight” to the standard visiting tour of Freiburg. Admittedly, after digesting first impressions, some of them have also voiced the possibility of “transplanting” the ideas behind the model of Vauban to other places (Interview VB2)" (TRANSIT_01: .30).

The success of the Vauban eco-district offers lessons for urban planners and mayors all over the world to learn from the example of this experimental district (TRANSIT_01: 6).

The experiences made with GENOVA e.G. have inspired the setting up of Vaubanaise e.G., also built in Vauban, and are currently informing the establishment of Esche e.G. (i.Gr.) for building about 70 housing units in another part of Freiburg in the coming years.

  • b. Transferability to what kind of contexts has been suggested?

The intervention can be possibly transferred to other urban contexts. The Vauban model has been looked at and visited by experts from all over the world.

  • c. Who has made the claims?

Activists from Forum Vauban, the municipality which supports the replication of the intervention and promotes it, and researchers from the TRANSIT project.

  • d. What limits to transferability to broader contexts have been discussed?

“The concept of Vauban was never entirely repeated in any other new district of Freiburg except for the low energy standard for housing which has been introduced as obligatory in Freiburg since then. Unfortunately this regulation has influenced a negative effect on affordable housing, because the standard has increased the prices. In this sense, this case reveals a danger of extracting single innovations from the overall concept or case they are embedded in. If the social innovation of citizen-lead planning and ownership – for instance in the form of housing cooperatives – was combined more often with the technical innovations of ecological building laws, affordable housing in low-energy houses could be realized on a broader basis" (TRANSIT_01: 44).

In Freiburg, the mobility concept of Vauban was never replicated because of some shortcomings that have undermined its legitimacy. While the residents of Vauban who own a car have to declare and pay for it, some free-riders did not declare it and parked in the surrounding neighborhoods. The strong criticism that arose resulted in the municipality rejecting to transfer this mobility concept to the new district of Gutleutmatten district. However, the possibility of implementing a car-free living concept in the district of Dietenbach in Freiburg is currently discussed (interview with A.).

32. In what forms has the learning process, including stories of overcoming obstacles, been recorded for, and/or made accessible to city makers also from elsewhere?[7]

The framework of TRANSIT project the learning process related to Vauban’s co-housing project has been record in a reflexive way, giving special attention to the section “5.1.16 Social learning through Vauban” (TRANSIT_01: 37) of a deliverable of the WP4.

There are about 25,000 visits per year in Vauban from people from all over the world, including “academia, politicians, technical experts, pupils and ordinary persons” in order to learn more about the details of the district’s development. This interest was triggered by the exhibition of the Vauban model at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

Facing a growing number of inquiries about the model eco-district, the City’s planning department called for private expert agencies to provide guided tours:, “a network of professional guides hosts tours around the quarter for political and international guests” (TRANSIT_01: 30).

“At the same time, the City of Freiburg intensified its PR work to present Vauban to the interested public: a website with six subpages, online and printed brochures in six different languages, as well as imagery and presentations are available.”

The growing attention to Freiburg as a “Green City” in general and the sustainability awards it has received led the municipality to establish a designated “Green City Office." This is located in the Department of International Relations and coordinates and answers to inquiries. “The office has signed Memorandums of Understanding with four designated “Green City”- agencies to organize study visits and seminars, meeting the visitors’ interests” (TRANSIT_01: 31).

33. Have any signs of collaboration, support, or inspiration already been reported between actors involved in this intervention and others that follow its example? (e.g. in “follower cities”?)

Since its presentation at the HABITAT exhibition in 1996, Vauban has been looked at as an example of urban planning projects involving citizen participation, car-reduction, and sustainable living. Specifically , the creation of living spaces free of cars was inspirational for the development of several laws in Germany. The two options for choosing – either payments for a parking lot or a contribution for the association “Autofreies Wohnen” (car-free living) has “resulted in a legal amendment on the level of the State of Baden-Württemberg allowing more freedom to create diverse forms of parking lots, for instance for bikes instead for cars only” (TRANSIT_01: 29).

“Most of these visitors claim they are taking inspiration from the innovations of Vauban, but there is no monitoring or evaluation and little feedback as to where and how these inspirations have led to real changes in other places. Nevertheless, many examples show the dissemination of Vauban’s experiences. For instance, after several visits and exchanges with Vauban citizens, the nearby rural Municipality of Teningen, with which Vauban has developed a partnership, is now planning to invest in solar installations as well (VB1)” (TRANSIT_01: 39).

In addition, in “December 2015 Vauban started a city partnership with the French town Eybens, which approached Vauban to learn from its experiences as a sustainable city district” (TRANSIT_01: 36).

j) Structural learning

34. Has the intervention influenced higher-level governance arrangements such that sustainability and justice are considered (together) in a more durable, structural way? In other words, are there any observations about more structural, long-term changes as a result of the intervention?

  • For example: new programs run by local councils, new modes of citizen participation, new mediating bodies
  • Is there other evidence that the project has contributed to enhancing sustainable and just governance in cities in a general sense?

In Freiburg, the co-creation process, the application of the principle of “Planning that learns”, as well as the creation of “City Planning Councils” set new standards for citizens participation (TRANSIT_01: 37). Building on the experience of Vauban, the city has developed a planning method able to react to new developments quickly and flexibly, allowing “enlarged” citizen participation that goes far beyond the usual demands of the construction law (TRANSIT_01: 18). For instance, a “City Planning Council” was implemented for the development of the new Dietenbach district in Freiburg. However, unlike in Vauban, the council for Dietenbach included experts (in mobility, housing), members of the municipality administration, and local parliamentarians rather than a citizen forum.

k) Reflections on important governance concepts

35. What other aspects of governance, that were not covered above, are important to highlight, too?


36. From your perspective as a researcher, which word or phrase characterizes this governance intervention most concisely? (Please attach your name to the characterization) In other words, what is the biggest takeaway from this intervention about governance arrangements?

“The main aspect of Vaubans’ innovation is the negotiation process between the urban planning office of the municipality and the strong citizen initiative of Forum Vauban with its diverse aims of a socially just, ecological district” (TRANSIT_01: 42).

Have questions or comments? Contact information regarding this case can be found at the top of this page!

Appendix 1: Three modes of governance

(from NATURVATION project)

NATURVATION's NBS-Atlas distinguishes three categories of governance arrangements (dubbed "management set-ups":

  • Government-led (Gov)
  • Co-governance or hybrid governance (mix of responsibilities between government and non-government actors) (c/h)
  • Led by non-government actors (NGO)

Alternatively or additionally, the following four modes of governing (as distinguished also by Bulkeley/Kern 2006 and Zvolska et al. 2019) could be used as a typology: Castan Broto/ Bulkeley 2013:95

  1. Self-governing, intervening in the management of local authority operations to ‘‘lead by example’’;
  2. Provision, greening infrastructure and consumer services provided by different authorities;
  3. Regulations, enforcing new laws, planning regulations, building codes, etc.; and
  4. Enabling, supporting initiatives led by other actors through information and resource provision and partnerships”

Appendix 2: Policy typology

(from NATURVATION project)

Policy typology Description Examples
Regulatory (administrative, command-and-control) Mandatory fulfillment of certain requirements by targeted actors Legislations, regulations, laws, directives, etc.
Economic (financial, market-based) Financial (dis)incentives to trigger change by providing (new) favourable (or unfavourable) economic conditions for targeted actors Positive incentive include subsidies, soft loans, tax allowance and procurments. Negative incentives are taxes, fees and charges.
Informative (educational) They aim at providing information or knowledge to target actors in order to increase awareness and support informed decision-making accomplish or prevent social change Information and awareness raising campaigns, informative leaflets, advertisements in different media.
Voluntary Commitment and/or actions beyond legal requirements, undertaken by private actors and/or non-governmental organisations. Voluntary actions and agreements.

test tableau

  1. Background to this question: Our four main criteria for selecting particular governance interventions and develop rich descriptions of them were: A) The intervention has been studied in a specific urban context (e.g. city), B) this context is located in Europe (and, preferably, the study was EU-funded), C) the intervention considers to a large extent sustainability AND justice (at least implicitly), and D) it is well-documented, ideally including assumptions or even critical reflections on enablers and barriers to implementation and on transferability (i.e. ‘de-contextualizability’). Additionally, we aimed at a diverse portfolio of domains (see Q2.) and governance modes (see Q5):
  2. TRANSIT website. Last view on 29/06/20: .
  3. Actor types according to TRANSIT’s Critical Turning Point Database,
  4. If easily possible mention sources for your association of roles.
  5. Deliverable 7.1 Synthesis Report on results from Monitoring and Evaluation (p.14) : .
  6. .
  7. Feel free to include learning that has been made available through EU project documentation, intervention initiatives, or other channels. In addition to the forms in which the learning process has been shared with others, please indicate whether the learning process that’s being shared has been recorded in a self-critical/reflexive way.