Stockholm, Sweden: The city has been called the Venice of the North, and has proclaimed itself the ‘Capital of Scandinavia,’ rivaling close neighbors Oslo and Copenhagen. It is the biggest city in Sweden, housing nearly 10% of the country within its 188 square meter limits.
Nestled between the Baltic Sea and the idyllic Lake Mälaren, the city stretches across 14 islands connected by 57 bridges, its outer reaches extending into thousands of tiny islands that make up the Swedish archipelago. Low black rooftops dot its waterfronts, stretching evenly outward like drops of ink on a watery canvas.
A Dual Nature
Stockholm is a city of dualities. Life at the edge of the Arctic Circle means going from some of the longest days to the longest nights in an instant; every year the change is equally dramatic, and still a 3AM sunrise never ceases to surprise. A walk through the city reveals some of the oldest buildings tucked neatly among the newest; and yet half of the city is made up of public parks and green areas.
They are a delight to discover, making the city feel more like one big urban park than a concrete jungle. Below ground, the city’s metro system – what is often a strictly functional part of urban life – is also the world’s longest art gallery, showcasing local artists’ work and brightening the bleary-eyed chaos of a morning commute.
There is a duality in the people of Stockholm themselves: despite a historically homogeneous culture, the city’s recent growth shows a new diversity in the third of its population who have a non-Swedish background.
A Green Thumb
In 2010, Stockholm was designated as Europe’s first ‘Green Capital’ – an accolade for the city’s innovative approach to sustainable urban development. Our sustainable cities (micro-communities on the edges of the metro area) have become a role model for urban developers globally.
Our public transit system seamlessly connects the central city with the rural countryside, and endless bike paths make an active and car-free lifestyle easily attainable. Now, as the fastest-growing capital in Europe, we are faced with the challenge of growing and maintaining inclusion, sustainability, and mobility in our community.
Yet how much of this development comes top-down from city officials and planners, and how much is a collaborative process accounting for the wants and needs of the people? While we are lucky enough to live in a city where the government takes care of a large part of the social infrastructure, we are not complacent.
We keep our eyes open, want to take opportunities where we see them – not assume that someone else will take care of it – and want to be empowered to solve them.
As contributors to A City Made By People, our goal is not only to celebrate the people who are moving and shaking Stockholm toward a better future, but to encourage active participation in the city-making process.
Creating a New Normal
There is a Swedish word that has no translation– the word ‘lagom.’ It is a defining part of Swedish culture that applies to all aspects of life; the idea of being and having just enough – not too much, not too little.
It implies a sense of balance, a sense of place that is responsive to one’s environment, being perceptive enough to know exactly where the center is and to remain there. Lagom favors the status quo; it caresses the norm.
How can we as Stockholmers challenge the status quo? For the third of us who are not Swedish, how can we shape the city to reflect this new diversity, to become a city for all? The city of the future, not just in design and theory, but in people and practice. This new duality – a city shaped by a diversity of cultures, needs, and viewpoints – will build the Stockholm of the future.
Stockholm’s correspondents are Kayla Holderbein and Daniela Rossi. Kayla is a digital strategist working in advertising, and Daniela is a film production manager.
We are culture lovers and future urbanists with a passion for bringing people together in creative, collaborative spaces – we hope this will become one of them.
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