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Keeping free spaces free

Jul 24, 2019 / Hannah Richlik
How an association in Vorarlberg, Austria came up with the idea of buying land in order to save it from being built on.
Image caption:
Land is scarce. A club in Vorarlberg "frees" land so that it remains free space.(c) Frank Schultze Zeitenspiegel

“It all began in 2011, paradoxically as an intervention due to the failure of spatial planning in Vorarlberg,” says regional developer Martin Strele. Land is in short supply, especially in Vorarlberg, Austria's westernmost province. Every day, an average of 1,500 m2 of grassland is re-designated as building land or land that is expected to be used by farmers. This is despite the fact that more than a third of the land already dedicated to construction remains undeveloped.

“We have for years now seen the problem of too much land dedicated to building, which is not sold but instead simply retained while prices continue to inflate,” says regional developer Martin Strele. The protection accorded to owners and a very industry-friendly political climate appear more important than the common welfare or long-term precautionary measures, however. The Bodenfreiheit association was created as a response. “It all began in 2011, paradoxically as an intervention due to the failure of spatial planning in Vorarlberg,” explains Strele, chairman of the association, which is now clearly signposting a different way of dealing with land.

“We want to use crowdfunding to keep strategically important areas permanently free and accessible by purchasing them or acquiring rights to them,” he says. The association has successfully bought its first plots of land and acquired walking rights, while public pressure has prevented the planned expansion of settlements. In addition the handling of property in Vorarlberg has become an important topic. Previously-hidden decisions to allow unlimited development of building land, loosen restrictions on the regional green belt or permit further urban sprawl are now consistently being made public and discussed. “There are numerous current initiatives countering this trend,” Strele is pleased to report.


What: Secure open spaces permanently

Who: Land preservation association

Where: Vorarlberg, Austria

When: Since 2011

How: Besides the actual purchase of strategically important open spaces via membership fees, the Bodenfreiheit association also wishes to show that many people in Vorarlberg are thinking about the economic uses of land. It thus also supports political decisions that take more account of the economic use of existing land.

Transferability: The initiative can be taken anywhere where a different approach to valuable land and soil is necessary. The statutes of the association may serve as a model.