Stockholm, the national capital and largest city of Sweden, is composed of 14 islands surrounded by archipelagos on the Lake Mälaren on Sweden’s eastern coast. Beginning as a small medieval trading town and its name was first recorded in the 13th century.
My experience there was great. I was on my own in this city, so I did a lot of walking around and exploring. It is a city that is dense yet very spread out at the same time, as it spans many islands. The islands are connected by bridges and there are many ways to get from one island to another (driving, bus, metro, cycling, walking).
Stockholm’s long history still affects the identity of the city today. The people of Stockholm are proud of their small medieval city, which they call their “brick village.” While it continues to develop around its historical buildings, Stockholm’s cultural inheritance can sometimes hinder dynamic development. The difference can be seen when comparing Malmö to Stockholm; Malmö doesn’t have the same burden of history that prevents innovation.
Stockholm just won the first ever European Green Capital Award for 2010. Stockholm has reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 24% in the past 20 years and they have the goal of being fossil fuel free by 2050. Much of this is based on smarter more efficient development of current systems. For example, most of the cars in the city run on an ethanol/petrol mix and emit much less CO2. The ethanol is made from local sugarcane, trees, and wheat. Busses and some cars are fueled by biogas produced wastewater sludge, agricultural byproducts, and food waste. Three years ago, the city also implemented a congestion tax to help limit the number of cars going to and from the city.
During rush hour in downtown, more than three-quarters of people going to and from work use public transportation. Since the Stockholm Metro Tunnelbana was introduced in the 1950’s, it has been a quick efficient way to get from island to island. The trains and busses within the city all run on renewable fuels. Recently, Stockholm as also reintroduced the tram system in the outer areas of the city. While new, from my experience the Tvåbana is very successful and well used. I was able to hop on the tram and take it all the way from Hammarby Sjöstad (southeast) to Alvik (west) seeing all the developed area in between. I would like to see more trams in Stockholm. I'm not sure they would implement the system in the central part of the city because of the existing underground metro system, but I think it would be a really easy way to get around the hilly city at street level.
The cycling infrastructure is also very developed throughout the city. The city also provides city bikes that one can pay a flat fee and use them as much as they want throughout the city. The program is not just meant for tourists but for resident Stockholmers as well. It is not uncommon to see a businessman or woman riding one of these bikes in the city, perhaps going to a quick meeting across town. However, during the time that I was there, I felt like there was more infrastructure than cyclists. With all the car traffic and relatively empty bike lanes, Stockholm didn't really scream "cycling city" to me. Maybe they are leaving room for growth...
Stockholm’s first district heating system was developed in the late 1950’s. Today, the district heating systems accounts for 80% of Stockholm’s heating needs. The heating is fueled by renewable sources, as well as energy waste and residual heat from factories meaning less greenhouse gasses released, and less need for boilers and heavy machinery that use hazardous chemicals and emit CO2. The Högdalen cogeneration plant burns much of the city’s household waste and uses wastewater heat to fuel the district heating system and create electricity.
From the Environment Administration, City of Stockholm
Only 45% of Stockholm’s area is developed with buildings. Much of the rest is made up of fields, forests, nature preserves, and water. As in Malmö, the Swedes have a long tradition of appreciating and preserving nature. They have a policy of not interfering with existing greenery in the city, just using it to make it more accessible. According to the city, 95% of the population live less than 300 meters from green areas. I found that to be true. While walking around, it was nice to be able to find a park to just sit and relax in the shade a bit.
Since water makes up 14% of the cities area, waterfronts are everywhere. In the areas where there are no ports, there are always nice paths and places to sit and hang out by the water. The Swedes love their beaches too since most of the year the weather is not that great. The water is also very clean and is used for swimming and recreation. When I was there, I saw a lot of people kayaking and boating in the waters.
Like most cities, Stockholm knows that it cannot move outwards anymore. It must develop within the space it has already. This means densifying within the central city, reclaiming brownfield /former harbor sites, and building more efficiently.
New developments like Hammarby Sjöstad, Västra Liljeholmen, and the currently under construction Stockholm Royal Seaport area are just a few of the city’s makeovers. Hammarby Sjostad is an icon for holistic sustainable living with a cyclical plan for energy, waste, and water. And like many new developments in cities across Europe, Hammarby Sjöstad tries to create community spaces by bringing in water elements and small scale green areas. I found this very successful since as I walked around, I saw lots of families going out for evening walks and letting their kids run around in the grass.
The political will of Stockholm and its planning board have driven the development of the city into a friendly cultural and social center. However, the Swedes are very strict and can be seen as stiff when it comes to following legislation and slow when it comes to implementing major changes. They admit that they are not as radical or liberal as the Danes.
Stockholm boasts its open planning process where the city planners encourage dialogue with the public. The legislation states that the planners must consult the public at least once during the process, but Stockholm tries to invite the public on multiple occasions to find out what they really want. They are invited to make small models of how they would like the area to be developed. This marks a change in planning culture, at least here in Sweden. Planning is relying more and more on communication with and involvement of the public. People need to understand how and why their city is changing.
Stockholm is constantly trying to learn from other international cities. They are learning from the energy efficiency of the Germans, the transportation of the Swiss, the multifunctional cities of the Danes, and more. But of course it is never “copy/paste.” It’s about adapting good ideas to fit what each city needs.