Hammarby Sjöstrand, the future of Stockholm housing?

Stockholm is a city of districts. Within its municipal boundaries include places as diverse as the Silicon Valley of the Nordics, the oldest intact historic town in Europe, grimy street art districts, whole island populated by hipsters and immigrant heavy districts. The city is therefore in a way all things to all men.

Add into this diverse mix, a reinvigorated residential district that could represent the future of waterfront living in Stockholm. The city is an archipelago, there’s a lot of waterfront living to be had. #justsayin.

Once a boring industrial estate servicing a port with a reputation from high crime levels as recently as the 1990s the southern district of Hammarby is has been gentrified beyond recognition and is home to the middle class. But its not so much the middle class that I want to focus on, they are a consequence really of the concept behind these housing projects.

What is the concept?

Hammarby is the Scandinavia example of an eco-friendly Urban district.

Hammarby was originally planned to be a sporting village, proposed when Stockholm bid to host the 2012 Olympics which was eventually won by London (and a bloody awesome opening ceremony may I add).

Once London won though those plans had to be scrapped and the city planners decided to develop a housing project in the area, a vastly more appropriate idea considering the housing crunch that has plagued Stockholm for quote a while now. The new plan was called the Hammarby Ecocity.

What made the Hammarby Ecocity was that it included alot of ‘infrasystems’, infrasystems the collective term for infrastructure. The city planners incorporated technological, mobility, communications, building and green-blue infrastructure into the plans. To increase the efficiency of energy, water and waste systems the physical infrastructure planning was highly coordinated.

All in what was done? Energy efficiency, renewable locally generated energy use was improved compared to the Swedish average. Storm and wastewater storage and filtration systems were enlarged, the stormwater areas were made into aesthetically pleasing parks to improve the quality of life of the residents. An advanced waste disposal system sucks rubbish directly to sub stations linked to power generation substations so there is no need to waste disposal trucks to enter and collection rates are almost immediate. And that’s just the parts involved in using resources available.

There there’s the parts directly linked to moving residents. The whole district is linked by tram feeding into the main metro system meaning there is no need for buses and therefore more consistent and clean transport (Swedish buses are already some of the most eco-friendly around). The houses are medium-height with many open spaces so residents don’t feel so claustrophobic, the design allows sun into the open courtyards but shields the cold winds (and wind chill) that regularly blow near a waterbody.

This district was developed with a plan for rich retirees in mind. Somehow the city planners assumed that it was the elderly that were into modern living, they clearly calculated wrong and soon realised that the bulk of residents purchasing dwellings in the district were young couples married without children or with a few children. The commercial buildings in the area were not planned initially with this target market in mind, hence important services such as schools and childcare facilities were not located in the district. Instead of being a retirement village, the district evolved into an aspiration housing area, it represented a dream lifestyle of the future, a quality of life that people aspire to – dare I say the Stockholm housing dream?

The area is not perfect, in fact as these writers argue, it is still flawed, “The whole sustainability concept is challenged as long as the Hammarby sjöstad waste-food cycle is not better developed in micro-regional and local scales.” This says nothing of the other challenges that the area faces in building a social environment that is conducive to a high quality life as well as the fact that the people who have chosen to, and have the means to move in to live in such an area belong to a select income bracket. All sustainable urban regeneration projects do face some massive challenges.

Perhaps the most iconic of the Hammarby district is the football club that was formed in the area. There are three major football clubs in the Stockholm area – Djurgårdens, Hammarby and AIK in Solna. Each of them has a particular appeal with Djurgårdens stereotyped to be the club of the rich and snobby, Hammarby to be the club of the working class and AIK the club at the outskirts. Looking at the housing all around, its hard to imagine the stereotypes remaining true.

But it raises to me an even more important aspirational point, why should sustainable, environmentally-conscious, sustainable living be the preserve of  the high income? A truly sustainable society is one in which every district is part of a larger sustainable ecosystem. As is the way with the world, all important progress takes place first at an exclusive level with the economic-haves but later will become a mass commodity that the lower economic brackets will have too (cars, rail, air travel, mobile phones, computers the list goes on). Could this be the future of housing in Stockholm? An aspiration, a statement of intent for a better future?

Maybe it should, considering the realities of today particularly in Europe and North America.



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