Pontevedra + Vauban

A few years ago, I visited Pontevedra and Vauban.

Pontevedra is a city in Spain that moved on from cars 25 years ago. Vauban is a neighborhood in Germany that was designed so people wouldn’t need them.

It was so amazing that I cried.

Here’s what I saw.

In 1999, Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores was elected mayor of Pontevedra, a small city on the northwestern coast of Spain. Within a month, he made the entire city center car-free.

Kids play soccer in the street:

Older folks have nice places to hang out:

And anyone can go for a leisurely walk:

The city center was so quiet that I could hear the clanks of coffee cups, the chirps of birds, and—I promise I’m not making this up—the sound of leaves gliding across the street.

I even heard someone getting their teeth cleaned because … the dentist’s window was open.

The air smelled absolutely fantastic. I’ve never put a car’s tailpipe in my mouth and inhaled the fumes, but when I walked from the car-free city center to the cars-everywhere city periphery, that’s what it felt like I was doing.

When I left Pontevedra, I had two thoughts:

  • Why isn’t the whole world like this? It’s better for the environment, yes, but it’s also just … better. The environmentally-friendly place was an upgrade, not a sacrifice.
  • And yet, as amazing as it was, Pontevedra was what I envisioned the bad version to be. The city didn’t plant trees everywhere, put playgrounds in the street, or replace concrete with grass. The mayor simply said “no more cars here” and repaved the streets. But even the bad version was better than every place I’d ever been.


A few months later, I went to Vauban. Vauban was the good version.

Vauban is a car-free neighborhood in Freiburg, Germany that was built in the late 1990s. Instead of building concrete for cars, the city built … lots of grass:

5,000 people live in Vauban. The neighborhood has restaurants, grocery stores, shops, a school, even a hotel.

I visited the neighborhood a few times. It was always alive—people outside, kids playing, parents chatting. But it was never overwhelming. And it smelled like hiking in the mountains.

What if every city looked like Vauban?