Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Creating a manual for a world class city

STOCKHOLM/PLANNING THE FUTURE. The politicians in Stockholm’s City Hall have a vision for what the Swedish capital will look like in 2030.
Now there is a plan for how to get there.
On Monday afternoon, March 15, the local council is expected to adopt the city’s new comprehensive plan – the Stockholm City Plan.
In Vision 2030, adopted in 2007, the future Stockholm is described as a world class metropolis combining the pulse of the big city with a unique closeness to nature and water. It spearheads a strong regional growth and is a center for knowledge-based businesses supported by innovation, high quality education and research.
Today’s 800,000 residents will grow by 200,000 in a city where there is limited room to grow outwards within the city limits. Stockholm is the center in an extended region around Lake Mälaren with more than 3 million inhabitants, a third of the country’s population.
“If there is a clear vision of what the city will look like 20 years from now, it was pretty obvious for us that the comprehensive plan should tell us how to get there”, says Niklas Svensson, project manager for urban planning at the City of Stockholm Planning Administration.
Svensson headed work on the new City Plan, which in several ways leads in new directions when it comes to city planning in Stockholm.
First of all the new City Plan marks an ambition to make comprehensive planning, required by law for municipalities, more of a strategic navigation tool than a traditional land use plan. Strategic planning for the city’s future will also be an on-going process from now on.
“That way we can focus on the most important issues of the moment, take on the toughest challenges, and then update the plan when it’s needed”, says Niklas Svensson.
Secondly, the new City Plan calls for Stockholm to grow in a somewhat different way than in the past, when development traditionally has moved outwards in mostly smaller patches. Now Stockholm follows an international trend where cities grow inwards through densification and development of harbour and industrial sites in central locations.
In other words, what’s normally referred to as sustainable urban development.
“When we meet our colleagues from the other Nordic countries, and from what we see in EU-projects where we take part, it’s clear that the thinking goes like this in many cities. No matter how you toss and turn things, this seems to be the recipe for the future. It will be interesting to hear the verdict 15 years from now”, says Niklas Svensson.
“I know that there are critics who don’t think this unison way of finding solutions is good, but they seldom present an idea of how things should be done instead”, says Svensson.
The City Plan points out four strategies for sustainable growth.
● Strengthen central Stockholm.
This strategy covers not only on-going development right in the city center, with several projects under way near the Central Station accompanied by a never-ending public debate over what this does to the traditional cityscape of Stockholm.
Kungsholmen, one of the island districts that form what is known as the inner-city of Stockholm, is going through big changes as the last remnants of small industries give way for thousands of new homes (right).
In a ring of “inner suburbs”, bordering on the inner-city, densification will in fact lead to a further expansion of the central city. The model for this is Hammarby Sjöstad, a development that begun in the mid 90’s and became a showcase for Stockholm’s ambitions to be a world leader in modern, sustainable urban development.
Now Stockholm is ready to take the next step in the Royal Seaport development, already receiving international attention. How the experiences from Hammarby Sjöstad will be used in future developments will be the topic of my next report.
Further development of already existing inner suburbs will stir some emotions, mostly from people living there.
“This might the most controversial part of the comprehensive plan. These are attractive places, near the inner-city but with more open spaces. Some green areas should not be touched, but there are some areas that form barriers that you would like to breach. We think that this plan in an honest way should point out where this could be done, where we should put our focus for densification”, says Niklas Svensson.
Southwest of Södermalm, another of the popular inner-city districts, this is already happening.
● Focus on strategic nodes.
Planners have chosen nine suburban centres on the outskirts of the city as suitable for a special focus on densification and development as outer city nodes. There will be more on this in a later report.
● Connect city areas.
Stockholm has a good public transportation system, with a strong backbone in subway and commuter rail traffic. But most of it connects suburbs with the city center. The City Plan calls for a better integration between suburbs, with improvement in transverse travel. Linking city areas through development at connecting borders is another idea for the future.
The infrastructure needed for this will also be an important part of a new regional plan set to be adopted later this spring.
“We try to look at this in a more visionary way, maybe beyond 2030”, says Niklas Svensson.
● Create a vibrant urban environment.
City planners want to focus on the core and the suburban nodes for future development, but promise to keep an eye on the urban environment in other areas as well. As parts of Stockholm will be developed in the decades to come, other parts must be preserved. There will be room for smaller developments, but they must be near public transit.

This is the first in a series of reports on Stockholm’s new City Plan, to be adopted by the City Council on March 15.

The famous City Hall disappears behind construction in central Stockholm.

A model shows residents where Stockholm's future development will take place.