Stockholm using urban planning to increase diversity and inclusion

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

Stockholm’s city planners and property developers are engaging local communities to build a safer and more inclusive city. Projects such as Bredäng, Husby and Kista are just the start of an urban development trend that looks set to characterise Stockholm in the forthcoming decades.

The Swedish capital has long enjoyed a reputation for safe and sustainable living for its nearly one million inhabitants. With such a reputation comes great responsibility and even greater expectations. And the city’s planners, as well as its property developers, are not resting on their laurels.

Take the Alba Lilium project in Bredäng commissioned by Stockholm developer JM AB. Bredäng is a suburb of Stockholm known for its tower blocks and having a population of almost 70 percent with an immigrant background.

The suburb has attracted publicity for all the wrong reasons in the past (unfairly, say the locals) but now Bredäng is being hailed as a model of social inclusion. The reason? An artistic collaboration between JM AB and a local school in the area to coincide with the Swedish property developer’s plans to build 137 rental apartments in Bredäng.

“We wanted to do something for those who live in this neighbourhood; to create engagement and to do more than just build apartments in the area. And also for the students to contribute to the neighbourhood and boost their self-confidence,” Magdalena Carlstein, business developer at JM, tells The Local. Pupils in the seventh grade at the local Slättgårdsskolan participated in a competition to produce a piece of art that would reflect their community. Carlstein says that, at first, there can be scepticism of new building projects but in Bredäng the locals and the school quickly got onboard.

The winning entry was done by four students and featured a red rose on a stone tablet. Both the winners and Carlstein agreed that it reflected the diverse community.

“Many people have prejudices about Bredäng, that there are many immigrants here and that they won’t have a successful future. we wanted to show that you can succeed wherever you come from. The rose is a symbol for it...there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said the winners.

Carlstein of JM AB added, “The piece of art is visible from the street and attracts attention. We definitely want to do something similar in the future and involve the students even more.”

The powers that be at Stockholm municipality have also taken note of the project and cited it as a fine example of social sustainability to other would-be developers.

‘It’s a lot about diversity and inclusion’

At the planning office for Stockholm municipality, strategists and developers are mapping out plans for the Swedish capital for the next 20 years.

The strategic unit has ambitious plans to make diversity, inclusion and safety a signature aspect of housing and retail projects going forward. At present there is a city plan that incorporates social values into urban planning to try and counteract differences in living conditions.

“It’s a lot about diversity and inclusion,” Christoffer Carlander, development strategist at Stockholm municipality, tells The Local.

He adds, “This is a unique opportunity to develop the city; all parts of Stockholm can benefit from urban development. We can add different social values in terms of housing, good public environments, playgrounds and parks, etc.”

Such an approach has borne fruit in the Husby district of the city. Having been built in 1974, the centre of the district was due a facelift. However, initial plans to remove the traffic separations were met with resistance from locals forcing the City and the developer, Svenska Bostäder, to shelve the plans.

Just like in Bredäng, involving the local community from the outset so that they could shape their neighbourhood was pivotal and so a series of focus groups were held in Husby. A spokesperson for the developer said the protests from locals were useful as they learnt the importance of dialogue.

It’s a sentiment that Carlander at the Stockholm planning office can well agree with.

“We wanted to make the centre of Husby more equal, inclusive and safer based on the proposal for improvement we got from the residents in the focus groups. For example, in the centre, the square will be renovated with plans to have premises on the ground level. This will mean there are more eyes on the street and more footfall as part of the safety aspect.”

Addressing local concerns

Swedish construction giant Skanska is also following the urban development path as, together with real estate owner and fund manager Areim, it prepares to transform the Kista district of Stockholm from an IT hub into a residential and business quarter.

The region of Odde in Kista was previously the home of IBM but with the American firm moving to new premises, the Stockholm suburb is ripe for redevelopment. Skanska plans to build 2000 new homes, preschools as well as a cultural and business quarter in the area.

Reaching out to the public to assuage safety concerns before a brick is laid has been a hallmark of the new project.

“We wanted to raise the issue of safety to a larger perspective and invited several local organisations (schools, police, city administration) to a workshop. They all wanted to know how we are going to work with security, who is responsible for what and how we can collaborate in new ways in this neighbourhood,” says Emma Färje Jones, development leader in social sustainability, at Skanska Sweden.

Ensuring a safe living and working environment is assessed by conducting a survey to investigate the issues that may arise in the area. Local concerns, such as security, are frequently top of the list and Skanska intends to quell any anxiety over safety by creating an environment where everybody feels secure.

“For example, we decide how we are going to place the windows in the buildings so that many people can see what is happening on the street, and those that are coming home late at night can also feel that they are being seen,” adds Emma Färje Jones.

Taking such a holistic approach is a win/win situation for Skanska as it yields positive side effects for the locals as well as the construction firm. With greater investment in public amenities, such as parks and playgrounds, allied to a safe environment makes a region that has urban development at its core more attractive to potential businesses and would-be tenants.

“Social impact assessments have been done for a long time and noted how it will turn out. But we want to work more proactively and instead ask the question: how can we get it right from the start?” concludes Emma Färje Jones of Skanska.

Projects such as Bredäng, Husby and Kista are just the start of an urban development trend that looks set to characterise Stockholm in the forthcoming decades. And with the municipality onboard as well as developers, Stockholmers can look forward to an even better city to call home.