Housing alternatives


Some clues indicate that our way of living is perhaps to question. The 2008 crisis, caused among else by difficulties for a growing number of Americans to pay their loans back, is the best indicator debated in the media recently.

Does the housing model based on private speculation inherited from the 19th century guarantee living in dignity? Are the rising housing costs offset by rising incomes? Are there socially responsible and environmentally friendly alternatives?

The Vauban district of Freiburg is often mentioned unrivaled as a model to follow. What is it exactly? Here are some pictures taken during a change of train, followed by images taken in my street in Berlin this morning.

There are probably much better documented publications on the subject. During my brief visit to Vauban I noticed that the buildings are aligned in North-South slab typologies. Generous spaces between them, sometimes paved, but most often left to the discretion of nature and residents. Heaps of garbage on open land in a deadlock alongside designer townhouses . The architecture is most standard and unpretentious, exterior insulation is a constant; large openings, corridors, balconies, walkways and exterior stairs are more unusual features. Is the project modesty the secret of its effectiveness?

One crosses young dynamic people leaving work with tired faces, retired people, colorful parents who play with their kids in the mud not far from picks and wheelbarrows for gardening the shared green space. One is struck by the lack of cars and fences. Most seem to know each other, not being afraid of the other. Trailer camps and self-built houses  seem not to bother anyone. An Indian has even swapped his tepee for a flat with large windows over which he hung his kayak.

What differentiates these enlightened anarchists with my neighbors who were forcibly expelled in the biting wind at dawn today (I am astonished to learn that in Germany one can be expelled in the winter)? Legality, of course. The sense of community also, larger to autonomous people even if more visceral. Might these agitators not point a problem that plagues our cities : the deterioration of living conditions. With 2500 police officers for 25 (paying) squatters, it might seem that the most accepted community is the gated-community.

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