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Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

The house at Hoheneichen

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The house at Hoheneichen Station

The house at Hoheneichen Station

Like Vancouver’s skytrain, many of the local lines here are elevated, despite their name (U-bahn stands for “underground railway”). On my way to the Solar Siedlung I saw from the train window a cool house at Hoheneichen station. I stopped on the way back to check it out.

There’s nothing all that special about this house; it’s not in any government brochure or guidebook about new, progressive initiatives. Still, it would stick out like a sore thumb in Vancouver. It is a large house divided in four dwellings (judging by the mailboxes). But it is equipped with solar panels, for one thing, and it’s probably also highly insulated and energy efficient.

It also features something that we love to talk about in Vancouver, but in practice see all too rarely: it handles rainwater in a good, logical fashion: the roof of the garage is planted as a green roof. The parking itself is green, using porous pavers. I couldn’t see the roof but I wouldn’t be surpised to hear that the solar panels sit on a vegetated surface – a green roof.

Why does that matter? Well, of course the solar panels are cool, a sign that modern appartment living does have to consume a huge amount of energy. But I want to focus on the rainwater management features.

The roof solar panels are (barely) visible from the back

The roof solar panels are (barely) visible from the back

It is really cool to see the green roof and porous pavement used in an unheralded house. This is just a house, not some eco-demonstration project. Yet, most of the time when it rains (and does it ever in Hamburg!), this house does not load the storm sewers with runoff. Which means that during really big storms, this house does its part in preventing flooding.

We talk about this in Vancouver, and say it’s important. Yet few concrete measures are in place to encourage such designs. In Hamburg, by contrast, part of the property taxes are based on the amount of impervious surface; green roofs , raingardens, porous pavers, none of these are considered impervious, and so reduce taxes. This is a measure that has been implemented by the city in 2009, in response to a European Union agreement on preventing flooding, the 2000 EG wasserrahmenrichtlinie (details here in this excellent brochure, in German though).

Maybe the reason such measures are implemented is that many people remember the devastating 1962 flood. The flood of 2013 was actually worse, if you use as a measure the height of the river Elbe; but nobody died in that one, compared to 315 people who died in ’62. This is probably why there is popular buy-in in the measures adopted to prevent flooding.

Green roof and porous pavers

Green roof and porous pavers

In Vancouver, we have no such collective memories. Few people know of the Matsqui flood of 1948. For that matter, there is little awareness of our water situation, be it drought or flood risks. You’d think we would heed the lessons of Calgary’s flood in 2013, or Toronto’s in 2014. I’d love to see the adoption of measures that encourage good water management, as in Hamburg – but will it happen?

Meanwhile, this city never ceases to amaze me: even a mundane trip turns into a discovery journey. Yes, I’m lucky to be visiting here.


Written by enviropaul

September 17, 2015 at 11:25 am

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