In 2030, 60% of the global population will live in cities. Mass migration is resulting in the growth of new settlements, the existing ones are spreading out, and this further contributes to the shrinkage of uninhabited countryside. But people in cities don't want only a concrete, sterile environment. The desire and the need for natural environment in a city Econceived a new branch of ecology – urban ecology.

Ecosystem based planning will help create a more healthy life in a community – the use of alternative, nature-friendly materials and alternative sources of energy (solar energy, for example), creation of eco-buildings with lower energy consumption, roadside tree planting, expansion of parks and green surfaces, traditional gardens changing into vertical gardens, e-mobility reduces noise in cities, the buzzing of bees became stronger because they started nesting in the roofs of buildings. People pay attention to quality of living, they educate themselves, raise awareness of other people, and the cities, with their numerous green projects, are turning into an urban ecosystem, which leads to improved quality of life.

The French botanist Patrik Blanc, a master of green vertical gardens, persuaded us a while ago with his numerous projects, so we decided it’s a must to stop in front of Museé du Quai Branly, which is located just behind the Eiffel Tower. Blanc cladded the work of the renowned architect Jean Nouvel into a stunning 650-metres long green wall, which serves as a natural insulation and also improves the quality of air, while the entrance into the museum is surrounded by high grasses and secret paths among the tress.

vertical gardens - Patrik Blanc vertical gardens - Patrik Blanc vertical gardens - Patrik Blanc

Of course, this doesn’t mean cities cannot host environmentally friendly sporting events. It’s not only about enabling spectators to arrive to the venue by means of an organized, clean public transport – but it’s also about making sure that sports as such become more environmentally friendly. An excellent example of this is Formula E. Car racing, which does not move away from the urban space, but lives in symbiosis with it, as opposed to the majority of races in this sport. There were 3 Formula races in Europe this year, and two of those, in Paris and Berlin, were held in the very center of the city. Only in London the race is held closer to one of the semi-suburban parks (Battersea Park), but this is supposed to change as early as next year. For this reason we chose Paris and Berlin to be the stops on our way. The choice of cars is duly suited to these two cities: cars that enable comfortable and carefree (even in places where the electric charging infrastructure has not yet been developed) long-distance travels and also a clean city ride. This, of course, suggests plug-in hybrids.

Only a few days after the race, Paris streets were rain soaked. There was no sign of concrete walls, grandstands, and kilometers of cables that accompany such races – workers put away everything very quickly. The race track that was winding through the center of Paris, around Musee de’l Armee, the Napoleon’s tomb and Hotel des Invalides, transformed back into ordinary, carcrammed Paris streets. If Formula E race cars were speeding down those streets at over 200 kilometers per hour, our BMW 225xe was moving much slower because of the jam, but powered by electricity. With its electric range of up to 41 kilometers, it is ideal for day-time rides in the city such as Paris, although the city doesn’t actually provide electric car users with many charging options other than those offered by the electric car-sharing service Autolib, but you need a special connecting cable and service subscription. Well, this is an acceptable solution to a user who is in Paris every day, since there is a large number of such stations and the cable is also not expensive (around €200) – the only thing is, it doesn’t enable quick charging.

But since our BMW 225xe is a plug-in hybrid, we didn’t have to worry about this. Hotel garages have electrical connections and the car was charged overnight, and the battery easily lasted for a few tens of kilometers in the Paris city jams.

BMW 225xe iPerformance
Plug-in Hybrid version of 2 Series Active Tourer is powered by a duo of 1.5-litre twin-turbo three-cylinder petrol engine with 100kW peak power and 220Nm of torque (driving the front wheels), and a 65kW electric motor driving the rear wheels. A generator on the front axle can also briefly boost output by 15kW or help charge the rear-mounted battery.

From the former Formula E race track we headed towards Champs-Élysées, which is less than two kilometers away (but around a half-an-hour’s drive in the morning traffic) and to Escale Numérique, which translates as “digital break”. It is a digital Wi-Fi station, an awarded work of the famous French designer Mathieu Lehanneur. The station, which won the street furniture competition, serves as a charging station for electronic devices and enables free internet connection – meanwhile, Paris has a poor Wi-Fi coverage or none at all. Information boards deliver interesting historical facts about Paris and useful city information for those, who don’t have cell phones or laptop computers. It features concrete swivel seats with mini tables perfect for your laptop, all of it topped off with a green plant roof, supported by huge logs. “The idea was for the station to look like a garden, which is actually best seen from the surrounding balconies. I wanted a place that would connect people, and when you put a similar structure in the city, which is already full of some other structures, it takes time for people to accept it and to get used to it,” said Lehanneur in his studio in central Paris. “For the first few days, I was hiding behind a tree watching the reactions of people. Some sat down and just read a newspaper, others made a phone call, and then they slowly, step by step, started discovering that the station offers much more,” said the designer, who used natural elements to make the high-tech structure appear less futuristic.

Wi-Fi station triggers a lot of interest even outside the French borders, but they are currently developing a business model, which would convince the cities to bring such a station to the people living there and, of course, to tourists. “We live in a world, where, if you want to attract tourist, you have to give them a free internet connection. And cities can do that in a quite innovative way.” By the way: imagine how much more interesting charging stations for electric cars would be, if they had been designed by Lehanneur?

Smart and ecological street furniture is not the only thing contemporary ecodesigners in Paris can boast with. There are vertical gardens, and wooden buildings are also the thing of the moment. Not small prefabricated houses, but actual city buildings, multi-story buildings, which, thanks to the use of wood, enable quick construction, which is less disturbing to the surroundings.

Heading towards our next station, one of big wooden buildings in Paris, we drove past the Quai Branly museum, just along the Eiffel Tower, which does not only pride itself on cultural collections, but also on a vertical garden, exterior walls merged with the park. Only a few kilometers away, but practically on the other end of Paris, in the middle of the international student campus in Paris (Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris), in front of the Indian student dorm, the so-called Maison de l'Inde, we were welcomed by the architect Florence Lipsky.

An increased number of young researchers and students from India studying in France was the reason they wanted to use the land next to the existing building to build another, a seven-story block. Lipsky won the competition that required for a new building to be conceived with respect to sustainability and environment, and to integrated into the existing natural scenery in an unobtrusive manner. “I opted for a wooden structure, but because wood changes color and turns grey as it ages and under the influence of weather, I decided to “dress” the entire building in metal, leaving the exterior of windows and balconies in wood,” explained the French architect, who joined forces with the renowned Indian architect Balakrishna Doshi for this project. “One of the reasons for having almost completely concealed the wooden exterior is also that to Indians wood represents poverty and they wanted to conceal it. Rooms in the residential section have custom-made furniture; I paid respect to all needs of the students. The rooms include a big balcony with three built-in pots for plants or herbs, and on each floor there is also a common kitchen, because food and cooking are very important to Indians. I want the students to feel at home in a foreign country.” In the upper floor there are suites for couples or guests, and the entire buildings is designed to consume low energy.

I decided to use wooden construction, but as the wood gets grey as it ages and as I wanted to protect it from the elements, I covered it with metal. The outside of window frames and balconies has the wood visible, though. Florence Lipsky

Of course, we would love to linger longer in Paris and explore all ecological urban projects it has to offer, but we had another date – in Berlin, at the venue of the next Formula E race. So we replaced the BMW 225xe with a bigger brother, BMW X5 eDrive40e iPerformance, and headed down French and German motorways towards Berlin. While speed limits in France are strict and so are the police officers, our plug-in hybrid X5 finally had the chance to seriously stretch legs on German speed-limit-free motorway sections – with the consumption still about as low as it would have been with any of apparently highly-economical diesels. But, like in Paris, we explored the Berlin streets powered only by electricity.

The Berlin ePrix has switched venues for season two. Instead of a track at the Tempelhof Airport, a new track has been created in the Mitte district of the German capital. The 2-kilometre track, which has historic Alexanderplatz and the TV tower as a stunning backdrop features 11 turns and winds its way around Strausberger Platz and towards Alexanderplatz with the pit-lane on Karl-Marx-Allee. Formula E CEO, Alejandro Agag confessed that there were natural “challenges to relocate the race after the successful Berlin ePrix in 2015, but that the new venue had to be in another iconic setting, with historic buildings and the TV tower in the background”.

BMW X5 xDrive40e iPerformance Plug-in Hybrid version of the BMW X5, the xDrive40e, has an 83 kW electric motor in addition to its four cylinder, two liter, petrol engine with TwinPower Turbo technology, giving it a system output of 230 kW and an average consumption of 3.4 liters of fuel, and 15.4 kWh of electricity.

And if you thought that the building of the track in the very center of Berlin would paralyze the traffic in this part of the city, you thought wrong. The workers started preparing the track already in the middle of the week, but traffic on the streets where the race took place on Saturday, was running smoothly almost until Friday afternoon. To put up concrete barriers the organizers closed only one or two lanes, while the others were still open to everyday traffic.

And as the racetrack was gaining shape, we embarked on a hunt for Berlin ecoprojects. Urban gardening, beehives on city roof terraces, huge green parks, a bunch of “upcycling” stores and markets with eco-grown local vegetables are a proof that Berlin people like to live and move green (which is why grandstands on the Saturday race were also packed), and, considering heaps of green projects, which will make the city even more environmentally friendly, their future will be green as well. And wooden buildings (like in Paris) fit right into this picture.

concrete barriers To set up the concrete barriers lining the street racetrack the crews only shut down one or two lanes at the time, leaving the rest open to traffic.

5 floors, 13 suites and a large green roof surface - the 3xgrün project (3xgreen: front and back part of the courtyard with a children’s playground + terrace) is the first sustainably-built project of the Institute for Urban Wood Construction IfuH, the prototype of the wooden prefabricated structure in the urban environment. The building seals gaps between two residential buildings in the Berlin’s Pankow, the plans for which were designed in cooperation with the users, i.e. residents, who share the garden and the roof terrace, while all levels are easily accessible. All of them share the view of the street and the garden and can actually reside all over the building. The “façade” is isolated, with triple glazing, and a heating system by use of wood pellet boilers. Horizontally exposed metal bands on the façade represent balconies, only two staircases and interior walls are made of concrete,” said the architect, Christoph Roedig from the roedig.schop studio. “The greatest advantage of the project is that there are 13 fully individual apartments combined under a single roof.”

There is a rising popularity of cases, also in Berlin, where future apartment owners join in some type of cooperative prior to the construction rather than everyone separately buying already built apartments at commercial prices. This may significantly reduce costs and the building is tailored to the needs of the future owners. Of course, future owners must reach at least a basic consensus on what features a building should have, and this is where architects often come to the rescue. One of them is Tom Kaden, who designed the building named c13. It is situated in the Berlin quarter Prenzlauer Berg, with a multifunctional complex, the work of the Kaden + Lager architectural bureau, stretching on 2,350 m². The residential building, completed in 2013, also includes offices, restaurants, a kindergarten, a health care center, etc. The complex is essentially two buildings, the front one with seven floors, and the back one with five floors. This is a clear case of good practice, of how to connect a new wooden building with older surrounding structures.

3xgrün 3xgrün (Berlin Pankow): the architect Christoph Roedig has managed to fit 13 completely individual apartments under the wooden roof.

“For fire-safety reasons (the entire bearing construction is based on wood), the entrance and the elevator are outside the building, along exterior concrete stairs, and attached to neighboring older buildings; the walls and bearing pillars are cladded with two 18-milimeter thick plasterboards,” said the architects Tom Kaden and Markus Lager. The floors between individual levels are a hybrid of wood, iron and concrete to guarantee sufficient load capacity. “In addition to the wooden, steel-reinforced construction, there is also a concrete slab in the floor with heating pipes for floor heating – this way we took care of efficient heating,” said Markus Lager during the tour of the building. The inside courtyard on the first level naturally illuminates all spaces, with warmth and coziness of wood dominating the scene. “Construction at the location was very fast and quiet,” further adds Markus, “bigger wooden elements are produced on another, industrial location, and then assembled here. In comparison to a classic construction, wooden construction is less annoying to neighbors.”

The distances between such projects in Berlin were much greater than between the same in Paris, but even the BMW X5 eDrive40e iPerformance has enough electrical range to allow us to drive from one project to another solely powered by electricity. Further, there are many more public charging stations in Berlin, and the BMW i ChargeNow service enables us to use most of them – there are around eighty such stations in Berlin. And because we fully charged our X5 every night anyway, we had no problems with that – even in the Alexanderplatz parking garage, where our X5 was plugged in to the charging station (there are three) while we were dealing with the white X5 Plug-in Hybrid in the Formula E pits. The Rescue Car sign on it clearly indicated what it is intended for. “Our duty is to assist in every accident where a driver needs to be pulled from a car,” explains Peter Schroeder, the head of the team. “We have our X5 at every race, and it is equipped with the needed rescue equipment.” One immediately notices rescue sticks with hooks, which are used to retrieve a rescuer or a worker who received an electrical shock from the racecar battery. A large part of the car trunk is occupied by precisely tailored rubber rugs, which are used to cover race cars before rescue attempts to prevent contact with possible live parts, and there is also a fire extinguisher suitabled for putting out lithium-ion racing car battery fire, and there are also classic pieces of rescue equipment, which is used in other racing series – only, they are properly isolated here.

Peter Schroeder (2nd from right) and his MDD Rescue Team. They use a BMW X5 xDrive40e iPerformance carrying all their equipment and 3 members of the team to the site of the accident on the track.

There are three members of the rescue team in the car throughout the race and a large X5 Plug-in Hybrid battery means that the car can be ready without the gasoline engine running all the time, with the inside of the car still pleasantly air-conditioned. If required, the BMW X5 starts from the pit to the track only a second or two after the BMW i3, occupied by the medical team, which is assisted by X5 rescuers (and another accompanying van with rescuers from local racetracks). So far, they did not have any major issues in the two Formula E seasons, even though they assist in every accident with suspected damage to the high-voltage installation of a racing car or a battery (although we’ve seen many spectacular accidents where racing cars flew up in the air), said Schroeder, and before every race they have a very serious drill, where the safe car driver, Bruno Correiro, who plays an injured racer for that occasion, is “rescued” from the Formula E racecar. And yes, the drill seems very realistic from up close and it is carried out professionally, as though this were an actual rescue, even though the team hangs out with Bruno in the same garage during every Formula E race.

Peter Schroeder

“After the end of the Saturday race, by that evening, we partly put away our gear, then we put everything in boxes on Sunday, when everything is packed and ready for the next race,” explained Schroeder only a few minutes after the race. And yes, there was no sign of them as soon as the following day, and there wasn’t much left from the track and the pits either – like in Paris, the race track in Berlin transformed into city streets practically overnight.

The BMW X5 Plug-in Hybrid is spacious enough to carry a lot of equipment, from fire extinguisher suitable for fighting a lithium battery fire to their personal equipment, insulating mats and various rescue gear and tools. The team spends the race in the X5 with Peter Schroeder at the wheel, with ignition turned on and waiting to follow the medical car (a BMW i3) to the site of the crash.
The BMW X5 Plug-in Hybrid
The BMW X5 Plug-in Hybrid

BMWi8 Safety Car

The FIA Formula E BMW Qualcomm i8 Safety Car has a full roll cage, racing buckets with 6-point harnesses, special communications systems and on-board fire extinguishers. The i8, as well as the BMWi i3 Race Control Car and Medical Car that make up the series’ support fleet can be charged wirelessly using the Qualcomm Halo wireless charging system. However, considering that all the single seaters are fully electric it makes perfect sense to have a fully electric sports car as Formula E Safety car in the mid-term future. BMW will not admit it on the record, but we know the project is under way and that it should happen before 2020.


This i8 is slightly more powerful, lighter and stiffer than the standard car. New battery technology has given this BMW i8 s bit more range and even more power. It makes a combined 380 HP and has an overall range of 600 kilometres. It got some chassis revisions, namely new upper wishbones, new Bilstein suspension and a 15 mm lower ride height. There’s also been some tweaked aerodynamics, new AP Racing brakes (six piston callipers up front with four pistons at the rear), 20” ATS Racing wheels and increased ventilation. These changes were important to allow the i8 Safety Car to be prepared to accelerate in front of the Formula E pack at high speed while being able to regenerate as much energy as possible during hard braking. Bruno Correia, the experienced Portuguese driver of the Safety Car (both here and for the whole World Touring Car Championship season) highlights one of the changes: “the standard brakes from the series car have been replaced by motorsports brakes after two days testing in the German track of Oschersleben”. Now, with this equipment, the BMW i8 is able to perform 4 seconds of energy recuperation at the end of several straights. Correia, the youngest ever Formula Ford Champion in Portugal (at the age of 16) and a former Spanish Formula Renault Champion has been regularly working as Safety Car driver since 2008 and his work is highly appreciated by FIA, who use him fpr 22 weekends a year, divided in the WTCC and the Formual E events. FIA decided to hire a professional driver after a crash between an unexperienced Safety Car driver and a racing driver at the 2009 WTCC Race in France (Pau) and Correia has been the man in charge in these two disciplines.

Meanwhile, we rushed our X5 towards Leipzig, first to the German Solar Valley, where you can find quite a few companies involved in researches and production of solar cells or their components. Do you need glass to install them under? No problem. Do you want to know what will be the next generation of solar cells? Right in the Solar Valley, near the town of Wolfen, only a few kilometers from the BMW Group’s factory in Leipzig where the BMW 225xe iPerformance is also made, you'll find the center of German solar-cell industry. And, of course, there are large solar cell arrays there, big enough so that each one generates electricity for towns with over 6 thousand people. Not really surprising,as in fact Germany generates well over a quarter of the electricity from renewable sources.

Solar Valley Solar Valley, near city of Wolfen, only about 50 kilometers from BMW plant in Leipzig, is home of one of Germany's biggest solar fields and half a dozen of companies, involved in solar cell development. The BMW Group's Leipzig plant, where 225xe is produced, uses 4 wind turbines to generate all necessary power for production of BMW i3 and i8 models.

Similar applies to the BMW Group’s factory in Leipzig, which is about 50 kilometers away, where our plug-in hybrid road trip also ended. The electricity required to make BMW i3 and i8 models, which are also produced there, is generated by four wind turbines installed on the factory ground. The power of each turbine is as much as 2.5MW and they annually produce around 23 megawatt hours of electricity. Yes – plug-in cars can be made in a very ecological manner.

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