Why ‘urban villages’ are the future in Stockholm

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio in partnership with Invest Stockholm.

“Get to know your neighbours!” Åsa Mällström does not hesitate when asked what living through coronavirus has taught her about how we could change city living for the better.

  • Photo: Helén Pe, mediabank.visitstockholm.com
    Photo: Helén Pe, mediabank.visitstockholm.com

She’s one of the many Stockholmers convinced that being a city-dweller can be compatible with a sense of community and concern for the environment. Her views are revealing of a wider trend taking root in the Swedish capital: an approach that sees sustainability as a social issue that requires connecting people. 

Such a mindset may prove especially attractive for expats keen to integrate and make new friends. In this article, part of a series on 'Imagining the post-coronavirus world', we explore how urban communities can help us be kinder to the environment – and each other.

‘Human-centric sustainability’

“There are more people than you think that would like to help in your area,” says Åsa, who lives in Solberga in the south of Stockholm, growing vegetables on her balcony and in her apartment. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

In her development, the public housing company Stockholmshem provides an area where small businesses and organisations can test new sustainable solutions – with the help of tenants – before marketing them more widely.
Projects under the scheme, run together with the environmental institute IVL, focus on everything from collecting more food waste from households to handling rainwater to avoid flooding.

Photo: Åsa Mällström

“You can also rent rooms from the housing society in the neighboring area if you need a place to repair an old chair, stitch up your clothes or re-plant your flowers,” adds Åsa. “The rooms are affordable and available all year round.”

Shared spaces that enhance community are a major focus area at Atrium Ljungberg, a Swedish property developer creating new city districts for the 2020s and beyond.

“I think of sustainability in urban planning in a human-centric way,” says Linus Kjellberg, head of business development at Atrium Ljungberg. “We consider both the environment and the psychological aspect of how city living is experienced.”

The company’s Stockholm projects reflect a vision of urban life that enhances quality of life while simultaneously making it easier for people to live sustainably.

A sense of community: sharing is caring

At a time of deep concerns about climate change and our sense of community, Åsa, who works for TV4 sales, focuses on local solutions that help individuals act on both. “We have a small group that shares things and services with each other – everything from tools to help with shopping during coronavirus,” she says. “I’m also a member of a Facebook group that allows you to borrow things, get help transporting stuff, rent someone’s car and ask for help to renovate your home.”

In Stockholm, forward-thinking developers are designing future homes and the surrounding areas to encourage more of this kind of mixing. Atrium Ljungberg’s Nobelberget development, which will preserve some old buildings alongside new ones, is one example.

A ‘community kitchen’ will be shared by several residential buildings with around 550 apartments and made available through a simple, digital booking system. It will sit 50 people or host nearly double that in total.

Users can book a chef to come in and cook for them, giving local people the chance to get together, unwind and share – whether that be stories, things, or perhaps even childcare.

“In a lot of apartment buildings, 80 percent of people don’t know the first name of anyone else living there,” says Jon Allesson, business development manager for urban innovation, at Atrium Ljungberg. “It’s about creating closeness so people feel safe and comfortable. It takes a village to raise a child, as they say.”

Co-creation and the digital dividend

When the first residents move into 68 apartments in Nobelberget this November, they will be able to use a digital community platform and app. The idea came out of the ‘co-creation’ process for the area: the use of focus groups and the views of people with a direct interest in the area to shape the new development plans.

“It will connect people whether they’re looking for a tennis partner or a local handyman,” says Linus Kjellberg.

Photos: Linus Kjellberg/Nobelberget/Åsa Mällström

Currently in a pilot phase, the solution could potentially enable residents to come together on everything from car-sharing to food deliveries to babysitting. People who only work in the area will be able to sign up to a different version of the app to fit their needs.

Supporting small businesses

The meatpacking district (‘Slakthusområdet’ in Swedish) is an industrial area in the south of Stockholm that will see a major regeneration led by Atrium Ljungberg between now and 2030. A new metro station will open and the area will welcome more than 10,000 new residents, with another 10,000 people working in the area.

At the heart of the new apartments and offices will be a cultural hub focused on music and seasonal, local food – markets, street food and fine dining establishments will all feature, along with coffee roasteries and breweries.

Looking beyond shops and restaurants, Linus Kjellberg says the concept of what a workplace should be is evolving – with coronavirus “accelerating” the focus on radical ideas.

“Offices will become meeting places and creative spaces where you choose to be rather than working at home,” he says. “Having a nice area outside and creating your own vibe becomes more important.”

Åsa, a vegetarian, believes we each have a “duty to the younger generation” to promote small, sustainable businesses now. “They’re the ones who will spend money on locally grown fruits and vegetables and switch to non-meat and non-dairy products,” she says. “They should have the option to do this without compromising quality or price.”

In Stockholm, it seems compromise is not always a must – the ‘urban villages’ springing up might just offer the best of both worlds.

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