Making Oxford's neighbourhoods fit for the 21st century

Friday, 13 September 2013


How can we make our neighbourhoods fit for 21st century living - and can Oxford learn from Freiburg in Germany on how to grow a world-class city?

Speaking to a packed high-level audience in Oxford Town Hall, these were some of the questions posed by Professor Wulf Daseking who showed how the ancient city of Freiburg has managed to cut car use and carbon emissions, while accommodating a growing population.

Professor Daseking , who has been responsible for Freiburg’s regeneration, growth and elevation to Europe's 'Solar City', said that the key to German success has been the local authority controlling the use and value of land and investing in energy-saving sustainable development and clean and reliable public transport.

The Way We Live Symposium was organised by the Academy of Urbanism, Oxford Brookes University and RSA with help from the Oxford Civic Society.

Comparing Oxford with Freiburg, Prof Daseking commented on how cars here seemed to dominate the roads at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists, commenting: "Your beautiful city is strangled by traffic." He said that central Oxfordshire would need to raise its game to continue to attract global inward investment in research, compete with the likes of Harvard and Yale, and avoid the riots that had afflicted London last year. Could the starting point for Oxford be the station area or Barton?

During the afternoon session, delivered at Oxford Brookes University, a number of short presentations and working group discussions focused on a variety of themes. John Worthington, Director of the Academy of Urbanism, drew on the Dutch experience and suggested that Holland's concept of networked cities had brought great benefits to towns in that area and was very appropriate for central Oxfordshire.

The symposium also heard how Bicester will become more eco-friendly. Gary Young of master-planners Farrells said the ring road is being ‘humanised’ to enable people living in the new suburb to get to the centre easily, and without having to use their car.

The theme of learning about place-making initiatives showing how run-down areas of cities can be retrofitted and improved was taken up by Georgia Butina Watson, Head of the Department of Planning at Oxford Brookes and Dr Nicholas Falk, Director of urban regeneration consultancy Urbanism, Environment and Design. They pointed to the importance of local authorities not only to provide leadership for more affordable housing and better neighbourhoods, but to make the most of the transport upgrades across the region. These issues were explored in a series of thematic workshops.

In the final session at the Town Hall Jon Rowland of John Rowland Urban Design warned how the dominance of a few house-builders needed to be changed if the necessary innovation was to take place. He concluded by saying Oxford needs Bicester, Witney and other towns as much as they need Oxford.