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Stockholm, The Open City

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.

132 replies »

  1. Good question. Necessary urban space features?
    1) Clean, decent public transportation with a good coverage. (Rome is out!)
    2) Pedestrian space. Wide sidewalks so you can walk around safely with your nose up in the air.
    3) Security. Can’t do the above two if you know you can be mugged at every corner.
    4) Shops, cafés, galleries on the ground floor to muse around.

    • “Pedestrian space. Wide sidewalks so you can walk around safely with your nose up in the air.” I love this image. How often I have been out strolling with my nose in the air only to discover that the sidewalk meant for me had mysterious disappeared and I was now forced to walk among the cars! Tack för din kommentar.

  2. A lovely post! Where indeed did our priorities for liveable spaces take the wrong fork! A measured view of Stockholm comes through to me. There is much to be admired.

    • Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. Commercial interests always battle against livable spaces because there is no monetary value in them. I like to hope that people will have a greater say in how they wish to live in the cities of the future.

      • Some years ago the powers that be ‘upgraded’ the square in front of our townhall. Previously a favourite spot for office workers and others to lunch under the shade of trees, the new minimalist concrete and stainless steel space was not only barren but people-less. They voted with their feet. How galling for them to see their taxes squandered

        • Oh yes! That particular look is everywhere; it is the love of all urban commercial interests. It keeps things “clean” and “undesirables” away and doesn’t cost money to upkeep. So having no people hanging out in the space is exactly what the powers that be wished would happen.

  3. You’ve painted such a vivid picture of Stockholm, a city I’ve never been to, that it’s left me wanting to travel there one day. Thank you for taking me in this mini virtual tour on this cold grey Melbourne morning.

  4. I enjoyed reading your post about Stockhom and its complex character. You never stop suprising your readers with fresh and innovative outlooks and ideas. Very beatiful and unusual photos too.

    • Oh, thank you Natalia for that very wonderful praise. I try to talk about different perspectives that interest me, so I’m glad my stories provide that sense of surprise and innovation for you.

  5. The words and photos you use to paint this picture of Stockholm gives me a view of the city I find inspirational ~ the move away from a manufactured city into a more holistic approach to development and bringing nature into the city. Wonderful photos and integrating nature into the city is a great dream, a dream that I hope never fades.

    • I hope it is a dream that doesn’t fade either! It would be nice to see Stockholm forging ahead with this sort of integration and even more wonderful to see other cities following suit.

  6. What an insightful post. I went in the Summer and I have memories of a bright, colorful and welcoming city. But you dug deeper and, like most large cities, Stockholm has its flaws (even if Scandinavia looks mighty attractive from where I am sitting).

  7. You’ve got me longing to sail Stockholm with your inviting imagery and word. You never fail to delight me with your keen eye and depth of perspective. Your words had me thinking of what I’m currently experiencing in The Maldives. The ‘national tree’ is a cell tower or two on every island keeping us connected but separating us further from Mother Nature’s splendor. And the rows of bungalows jetting from many an island give a sense of paradise for those within but a feeling of paradise lost to those sailing by. My keys to a good city are a robust public transport system, green space, and a colorful population. A bit of edge is an added plus.

    • Thank you, thank you, it is such an honor to hear that my stories delight you!
      “And the rows of bungalows jetting from many an island give a sense of paradise for those within….” What you said so lyrically there is really part of the crisis isn’t it? We want the comforts and conveniences of the manufactured world while we gaze upon the natural, but I wonder if that is a balance that is possible. I appreciate you bringing this idea forth, as it highlights the complexity of building a true “city in nature.”

  8. We definitely hope to visit Stockholm one day. I am surprised by all the green. It sounds like Stockholm is doing a good job of finding balance between function and beauty.

  9. Bonjour, quelle jolie ville où il doit faire bon se promener à pied ou à bicyclette. J’apprécie vos belles photos.
    Bonne journée.

  10. It’s intriguing to know about Stockholm. The narrow streets give it a mysterious vibe and I would love to go there. Thank you for peaking my interest in this place.

    • Gamla Stan, or old town, is very lovely to wander around with cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, and older architecture. So glad you’re considering traveling to Stockholm.

  11. Thanks for the write up on Stockholm, it brings a lot of wonderful memories of our visit there too, the photos are excellent!!

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