Vauban Meets Snelling

When World War II was over and the Allies were figuring out which country would be responsible for oversight of which sections of post-war Germany, it made perfect sense for the French sections to include the Rhine Valley along the border the two countries shared.

Strategically, the valley had been passed back and forth for generations. Hiking through the foothills of the Black Forest one frequently passes the foundations of cannon batteries as well as the gun turret pillboxes from that last militarized conflict between France and Germany.

As part of the arrangement, the French built out a military complex at the edge of the city of Freiburg after the war.

The complex was named after the French general Vauban and built to house garrisons, complete with a Panzerplatz for tank training exercises.

Ultimately abandoned as the 20th Century was drawing to a close, portions of the Gelände were usurped by squatters and gypsies.

By the time I arrived there for a year of study abroad during college, a number of the old garrison buildings had been retrofitted for university student housing. The renovations were minor in most areas: the parking lot remained unpaved, which meant mud galore after any amount of rain; the flagpole of the parade grounds stayed put, so there was always a central gathering point for the students if needed; and I hung my coat in the old rifle racks, which often helped me put stress from tests and homework into perspective.

The magic of the place was that not all of the buildings were renovated for student housing. A number of the buildings remained “in control” of the gypsies. I never thought of them that way, even though a good percentage of them also lived in these retrofitted jeeps, buses and old army trucks.

For me these people were artists. And the music, talk and “feel” of Vauban carried their energy.

In the years since I left Freiburg, portions of the old Vauban have been renovated yet again. Some of the artists surely remain. But in place of some of the others who have left, the city built something else with energy in mind: a sustainable neighborhood.

The Solarsiedlung is the epitome of ecologically-minded urban planning. From the rooftop solar power, to the rainwater collectors, to the construction materials and even the transportation system.

The vibrancy of Vauban–both what I experienced as well as what the Solarsiedlung represents–is what comes to mind when I think about what Minneapolis might do with the old Fort Snelling property.

According to this”>article in the Star Tribune, there’s talk within local government about what Minneapolis might do with this large piece of underutilized property. Although we didn’t have foreigners occupying our own military grounds at the Fort, the similarities a Minneapolis project would share with Vauban are striking.

  • Both properties were former military sites.
  • Both properties were already seeing their lands used during the interim period between military and city development.
  • Both properties were conveniently located from a transportation standpoint.
  • Both properties had unique landscape features nearby.
  • Both cities have a strong cycling culture.

Could we have a bit of competition at hand?

I would LOVE to see us outdo the Vauban Gelände.


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