Districts are the answer to the question “how can we live in a climate-neutral way?” They are not only carbon neutral but also promote social cohesion. Let us explain how they work.
In 2018, we had the idea of developing a climate-neutral energy supply and now it has become reality.
Katja Liebmann says she is the mayor of an oasis of well-being in a beautiful region. And she is correct – Schlier, in Upper Swabia, lies right in the heart of the countryside. The whitewashed church tower and neighboring farmyard hint that people interact here on a more personal level than in, for example, Berlin, Hamburg or Munich – and they are also sometimes more innovative: Katja Liebmann and her small team at the town hall have planned and developed the first climate-neutral housing estate in Germany. It has been lovingly christened “Am Bergle” (the estate on the little hill). The initial focus was the development concept, whereby the aim was not only to build traditional single-family houses but also so-called garden court houses, all connected via leafy footpaths to create a stronger sense of community.
Katja Liebmann discovered an engineering office in the neighboring village of Weingarten that was very familiar with modern energy concepts. More and more partners followed and added their expertise to the project, including EnBW. The result: Every building is equipped with its own photovoltaic power plant to deliver green electricity. Probes sunk to a depth of 80 meters and heat pumps provide geothermal heating and passive cooling to all households. If desired, residents can also have a charging station for electric vehicles fitted right outside or in the underground garage.
The future residents got involved in the process at an early stage. After the plots had been allocated, there were lots of discussions on-site about the technical details. Communication via letter and e-mail didn’t really work but trust and direct contact proved more conducive. A total of 20 of the 31 single-family homes are currently under construction. The sale of the remaining housing units has also started and the future neighbors had the opportunity to get to know each other at a party organized by iQ-GmbH in September 2021. The atmosphere was good. When asked why a climate-neutral housing estate was the only option for her, Katja Liebmann answers: “Everybody has now recognized the sign of the times. The hot summers have been a much discussed topic here for some time. We have quite literally been experiencing the effects of climate change. Climate protection is also an increasingly important issue in federal and state politics. Local authorities and cities can no longer afford to ignore it. We have to move away from designing off-the-shelf housing estates and industrial parks, as has been the case in the past. I believe that public administrations and politicians must lead the way and say: ‘We are going to do something about it now.’”
Katja Liebmann is delighted with the new housing district: “In 2018, we had the idea of developing a climate-neutral energy supply and now it has become reality. The “Am Bergle” project was a challenge for me and my team at the town hall from a legal and technical perspective. A concept of this magnitude had never been realized before. It was real pioneering work but we succeeded with the help of all those involved in the project. And this is what makes my work so exciting: always being able to tackle something new, not just working through the things that land on my desk. Being able to shape the future of our communities together with citizens has been hugely enjoyable for me.”
Climate protection is not the only challenge facing local authorities: Social integration, education, housing construction, digitalization and business innovation skills are also high on the list of priorities. When a group of people decide to live together in districts based on their common values with respect to the use of resources, these districts unite social and technical aspects with one another. According to a study conducted by Zukunftsinstitut, villages, districts and village-like communities are important foundation stones for a healthy social environment and are crucial for climate protection. These forms of cohabitation are currently making a comeback.
Geothermal heating is charming because there are no more chimneys.
Stefanie von Andrian is Head of Urban Infrastructure at EnBW. She is convinced that new districts are key to the success of the climate transition because they make it possible to plan sustainable energy supply systems right from the very beginning. Mobility concepts can be newly designed or intelligently linked with existing concepts in surrounding areas, such as car sharing. At the beginning of a new project, Stefanie von Andrian and her team piece together the different parts of the puzzle: “We generally use photovoltaics to supply electricity. It is a legal requirement that a certain percentage of the roof surface should be equipped with solar panels. We have a little more flexibility when it comes to heating. Geothermal heating is charming because there are no more chimneys. It produces zero CO₂ emissions when the heat pumps are operated using green electricity. But there are also areas where this can’t work because there is not enough geothermal heat. In these cases, we can utilize the heat in wastewater or maybe hydropower if there is a river nearby. This task always calls for some creativity.”
As soon as the first concept has been developed, EnBW reaches out to the future residents of the district. Stefanie von Andrian explains: “We hold citizens’ workshops and meetings with local councils, because this allows us to find out what the people actually want, and then amend our plans accordingly. People also feel a much stronger connection to their district if they are able to participate in this way.”
It is easier to respond to changing environmental conditions at a local level rather than reprogramming the entire system.
Andreas Hofer is an architect and Artistic Director of the International Building Exhibition 2027 for the Stuttgart city region (IBA’27). He is excited by EnBW’s transformation from a traditional supply company into a designer of urban living spaces: “It is fascinating for me to see how an energy supply company that is currently undergoing an unbelievable period of transformation is now engaging so intensively with its customers and building relationships. EnBW is learning where its products end up in the physical world and now has the opportunity to adapt its range of products and services more precisely to the needs of people.” Andreas Hofer also believes that districts are an important component of the Energiewende: “It is easier to respond to changing environmental conditions at a local level rather than reprogramming the entire system, which is something that is probably impossible to manage.”
The development project for a new district on EnBW’s former “Stöckach” site in the east of Stuttgart is a project for IBA’27. EnBW is not only responsible for the infrastructure at the site but is also the building developer. Around 800 apartments with a total of around 60,000 m² of living space will be constructed in the middle of the city, in combination with opportunities for social interaction, leisure, local supply structures, health and mobility. Andreas Hofer describes it like this: “The location is beautiful, but it has been cordoned off for more than 100 years. It is now being given back to the city, which is a very nice gesture. EnBW got involved at a local level and listened to the voices of the people, incorporating their ideas into the assignment for the architectural competition. The previously inaccessible factory premises are now being transformed into a new heart for this part of the city – with a square in the middle of the new district that is accessible from all sides. The space is opening up again.”