Cities narrate stories without the need for words. In their architecture, their organization, their geography, our urban centers dictate how we should live in them. They show us what ideals they value, what principles they follow. People do the same. Often the needs of the populace and the demands of the metropolis conflict. I see it in the way glass, steel, and concrete have overtaken public parks and gardens. I notice it in the treeless motorways criss-crossing one another over denuded terrain. I observe it in the barbed wire perches to keep birds away, in the contorted metal benches to ward off loafers, in the barren privately owned cement courtyards dotting municipalities.
The qualities of settlements which made them essential to us in the past no longer hold sway. From creating artificial islands to damming rivers we keep separating ourselves from the ecosystem to which we belong.
So I was a skeptic when I arrived in Stockholm, Sweden. I hesitated to believe that this modern capital had anything to offer except dull architectonics and estrangement from nature. I was in for a surprise. Covering fourteen archipelagos, Stockholm is a third waterways, a third green spaces, and a third civilization. Balance between productivity and eudaemonia is the main narrative. Everything in moderation, or “lagom,” is the operative motto. The pursuit of this equilibrium is achieved through a confluence of design which seeks to incorporate beauty, comfort, community, and functionality into every facet of the workaday.
There are no barricades here. I walk from the narrow alleys of Gamla Stan to the shady slopes of Vita Bergen in Södermalm. I hop on a ferry chugging past the lush shorelines of Värmdö to a tranquil trail in Djurgården. I travel through underground caverns in search of sylvan boulevards…and find them. No one rushes about, head down. No one frowns when I lean against the railing to watch gulls play along the pier. No one forbids me from lolling along the embankment.
This is not to say that Stockholm is perfect. Time and money constrictions hamper sustainability. Scaling up biodiversity in an expanding market is a challenge. The ecological experience is not available to all. However, the city continues its dedication to transforming into a place where nature integrates into neighborhood.
The future of Stockholm is in the hands of thinkers, designers, and developers. They will have to shape its civic structure to align with our changing earth. What provides me hope is that Stockholm today is a destination in flux, willing to learn from its mistakes. It is a sanctuary, open to both humanity and the wider interconnected network in which we exist.
Hammarby sjöstad is one of several development projects within Stockholm’s jurisdiction which seeks to implement a green-blue infrastructure embracing energy conservation, natural aesthetics, and evolving social services to residents.
What features are necessary to you in urban spaces? What resources delight you in a city, which ones do you not prefer? Let me know in the comments below.