Friday, May 28, 2010

Expanding a city centre across mental barriers

STOCKHOLM. In the Swedish capital, living in the “inner city” means everything to a lot of people.
There is no wall around the inner city (the water that surrounds most of it is enough), but the mental barrier that separates it from the “outer city” can be just as hard to penetrate. And remember, Stockholm is a small city by international standards. Only about 300,000 people live in the popular districts of the inner city.
Many more would like to live there and as Stockholm grows city planners are looking for an expansion of the inner city across the barriers separating it from the closest suburbs. The most important ongoing and planned urban development projects are all located on the fringes of the inner city, pushing its borders outwards.
The other day I spent a couple of hours walking around in one of those developments.
On a grey morning in an early summer drizzle there isn’t much going on along the waterfront in Liljeholmen just to the west of Södermalm, the latter being the preferred choice of address for many young professionals in the inner city districts.
Liljeholmen, one of Stockholm’s first suburbs, has been one of the most important regeneration projects in the city for some years. Old industrial sites are turned into office and residential districts, nicely located by the water.
The typical suburban centre is being rejuvenated. The old towering housing blocks of earlier decades overlook the new, modern Liljeholmen down by the water. When finished, thousands of new apartments and workplaces will draw people here. So far about 1,600 new apartments have been completed.
Liljeholmen has excellent public transit (above), with two metro lines connecting with the relatively new transverse light rail service running through a number of Stockholm’s suburbs.
The City of Stockholm has chosen the next phase of the area’s development, the western part of Liljeholmen, to be one of the city’s eco-profile districts. Exactly what this is going to mean is not clear yet, since planning is just getting underway. This new eco-district will be built on privately owned industrial land, which means that the project will not be under direct city control.
When you stand by the new residential buildings on the waterfront, you can see Södermalm a short walk or bicycle trip away (right). But mentally you are still far away from the inner city. Only time will tell if these barriers will crumble eventually.
Hammarby Sjöstad, the city’s first eco-profile district where construction began in the mid 1990’s, is located south of Södermalm on the same waters as Liljeholmen but further to the east. Administratively Hammarby Sjöstad is part of the inner city district Södermalm, despite the separating waters, and mentally feels more connected to the inner city than the suburbs.
The two most important development projects of the future will both expand what is now the inner city of Stockholm.
Stockholm Royal Seaport (called Norra Djurgårdsstaden in Swedish) will be a high profile eco-district adding new density to the eastern fringes of central Stockholm.
Norra Station (North Station) is a huge residential and research cluster development project straddling the wasteland between the northern parts of central Stockholm and the neighbouring municipality of Solna.
By 2020 or so, all these developments might have altered both the physical and the mental map of central Stockholm.

A new residential district on the waterfront in Liljeholmen.

The old housing blocks of Liljeholmen overlook new developments.