Malmö, Scandinavia’s bridge to Europe, is Sweden’s third largest city with 300,000 inhabitants. About a third of them are immigrants.
Malmö is a city in transition from being an industrial hub to a centre of knowledge and services.
When the dockyards closed just over a decade ago, Malmö started an ambitious project, launched with a construction exhibition that seeded a housing and office district. Västra Hamnen, or Western Harbour, is Malmö‘s model for sustainable development.
Swedish-American Joakim Lloyd Raboff, a photographer who lives and works in the area, told euronews: “Sweden in general is, when it comes to architecture, very homogeneous. There is not much difference between one town and the other, it’s more or less the same. Malmö went through a very negative period. And when this area was built in 2001, it was an incredible change to how architecture was seen before. So this area represents a visual inspiration for not only me but a lot of people, most people that both live here and work here or visit. There is an enormous diversity.”
His gallery is a few metres away. His wife works at home and their daughter goes to school in the district – which keeps car use to a minimum.
“We grew up, my wife and myself, in the 1970s, when nobody cared about anything of this. Everybody was smoking, there was no thinking about this. So it’s very exiting for us to be part of this generation at least, taking part of that and developing that,” he adds.
Food waste is collected for the production of biogas. Solar panels, low energy houses and self sustaining passive-energy houses are part of the concept of 100 percent locally renewable energy. The nearby wind turbine supplies the whole area with electricity.
The Tufvesson family has lived here since the project’s beginnings. They do not have a low-energy house, but nevertheless use high tech to save energy.
“We try to use all the facilities for sustainable living that exist here. It feels good, when it is so easy to live a green life,” says Lars Tufvesson.
Demand for houses or flats in the area is high. But the success of the project has also a downside.
“Yes, the schools. Our son Rasmus goes to kindergarten. There aren’t enough nurseries here, we have to bring him into the town to a nursery school there,” says Tufvesson.
And when it comes to the details of daily life, sometimes architecture and aesthetics have the upper hand.
“There are few protection facilities, for example at the water ponds in our district there are no handrails or balustrades,” says mother Jenny Tufvesson.
“So you have to look after your children,” agrees Lars.
“You have always to hold on to them so that they don’t fall into the water,” says Jenny, for whom this is a concern.
The show-piece of Västra Hamnen is the building known as the ‘Turning Torso’ which was designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava. It is Malmö‘s new landmark with luxurious flats, offices and conference rooms. Food waste goes directly from the skyscraper into biogas production.
Västra Hamnen has its snags: the inhabitants are using more energy than was expected, there is more housing space than originally planned, and you cannot force people to save energy. Also technologies today are more advanced than a decade ago.
“It’s a learning process. So both we and the construction companies, we have to learn, both how to calculate and to build. We have tried a lot of things. Sometimes, it went wrong, of course, and sometimes it became a success. But you have to allow yourself to experiment, otherwise you won’t have any good things coming out of it,” said Christer Larsson of the city’s planning department.
Malmö‘s Rosengård district is also getting a green touch. The buildings, built in the 1960s and 1970s in a huge housing programme, needed renovation, and its mainly immigrant population needed integration.
The city and the ‘Hilda’ housing cooperative combine sustainability measures: walls are being newly insulated and the old plumbing is being changed. Food waste pipes are being added, and rain water is now collected to be used to flush the toilets.
But it is not only about refurbishment: The inhabitants are also encouraged to participate in the rebirth of their district.
“For the Hilda housing cooperative, it’s a need to renovate the buildings. For the city as a whole it is the wish to be self-sustaining with renewable energy by 2030, which is a very high target. And for the residents, I think it is twofold: One is to be able to participate in the development of the city. And another one is that if we are able to change the physical environment and upgrade it, people will be more proud of their neighbourhood. I think we are going to be able to change the media image of Rosengård which is quite bad for the moment and also persuade that people who live here they want to stay here,” explained Lena Eriksson, the project leader of ‘Sustainable Rosengård’.
Not everyone living here will be lucky enough to have their homes renovated – it depends on the owners. Part of the programme is also a youth project to create new and nicer public spaces, currently dominated by men.
The project especially targets girls and young women from 16 to 25. They are encouraged to come out of the shadows to organise public events and collect ideas on how to change their appearance of their neighbourhood.
“We in the group represent young people. And we try to be the ones with the motivating ideas. And we don’t want to just watch while everyone else takes the decisions and makes things happen. We want to be part of it. I try to change things, so that we girls, and we young people can have more of a say, and so we can change our everyday lives and we can make it good,” says youth project participant Vlora Makolli.
To encourage sustainable transport, Malmö offers more than a good cycle lane network: It distributes bright orange seat protectors and helmets, and provides shower facilities and even air-pumping stations for bike tyres. But how does the city convince people to ride bikes in cold, windy winter?
“Winters aren’t normally so harsh, so we don’t get a lot of snow. There is maybe about nine times a year, nine days out of 365 days. The biggest problem I think is the darkness. And in September every year we have a campaign where we hand out vests, reflective vests, and encourage people to wear them,” says bicycle campaigner Tina Giannopoulos.
“No ridiculous car trips” is the slogan, and it has worked. The amount of short car journeys of under five kilometres has declined.
“About a quarter of our citizens use their bikes to go to work and to school every day. So we are quite happy about that number. And we will one day, hopefully, raise it to about 60 percent. Then we would be extremely happy. We are doing the best we can but of course, we have quite a long way to go, but we will get there!” says Tina Giannopoulos.