Stockholm Leads the Way

In 2010, Stockholm, Sweden, was selected as the first Green Capital of Europe. After a brief visit, it is easy to see why. In almost every area that one can think of -- transportation, sewage, heating, new development, historic preservation, assorted clean technologies -- Stockholm has a model project to observe.

Biogas from the sewage-treatment plant fuel public buses, cars and taxis. Sludge from the same plant is clean enough to be used for agriculture and has been transported up north to cover a used copper mine and reconstruct nature. One large new building at the train station captures the body heat of the 250,000 people passing through it for building heat. In a newly constructed neighborhood, 100 percent of the household waste is converted into heat and electricity. A traffic congestion charge introduced in 2007 helped reduce traffic by 20-25 percent and emissions by 10-14 percent. Bicycles are considered a "mode of transport" to be expanded with new lanes and parking opportunities.

And, as Stafan Tillander, Climate Change Ambassador of the Ministry of Environment, points out, Stockholm has shown that it can grow its economy -- 50 percent growth since the 1990s -- and still cut emissions by 10 percent. "The EU wants to cut emissions by 20 percent by 2020, but we have set a target of 40 percent," he says.

The Green Capital initiative was launched in 2005 and participated in by 40 European cities all interested in spotlighting cities that are leading the way in broad-
based environmental innovations and that can serve as role models for other cities. In the first year, 35 cities with more than 200,000 inhabitants from 17 countries applied.

Stockholm's unique geography gives it an environmental advantage to start but it is clear that the city not only values that advantage, it seeks to protect and advance it. The character and charm of the city seem to be defined by water and green spaces with the 1,000 large and small green areas adding up to 30% of the city and various bodies of water totaling another 30%. Nearly every resident lives within 300 meters of a green area and not much further from one of 12 small lakes. Water makes up more than 10 percent of the city. The more developed urban areas are spread out like fingers, interspersed with protected green areas.

Sometimes referred to as the "Venice of the North," Stockholm is located on 14 islands on the south-central east coast of Sweden. Lake Maelaren is a freshwater lake feeding into the Baltic Sea. A locke has connected these two bodies of water since the mid-17th century and is critical for the prevention of flooding by the lake.

The tight grid of narrow streets holds remnants of its medieval beginnings but feels more like the late 19th century city so prevalent in European capitals. Like its "sister" capitals on the Baltic Sea, Stockholm's trade and transportation history is sea-based whereas most other European capitals are on major rivers.

The priorities and deepest values of a city are, perhaps, best reflected in the development that emerges in different ways. Three sizable areas are in various stages and while they are totally different in nature, they have certain things in common. None has a dominant large-scale building and, in fact, they are each in keeping with the mid-size scale of the city. Stockholm's population of 800,000 is expected to reach one million by 2030 but the growth will be spread around so no one area is overwhelmed.

All three projects have had extensive public input and each is a model of environmental advances in water, waste, transport and construction technologies. The most centrally located project is Slussen in the city's historic core where Lake Maeleren meets the Baltic Sea. Here, the primarily concrete developments of the 1950s are giving way to parkland and recreational sites. Two vehicular bridges are giving way to one with less room for cars and more for bicycles and public transit. And plans for new buildings have been cut back by public demand. (See "Stockholm Model: Planning Yields Dramatic Results," Roberta Brandes Gratz,, June 23, 201l).

The Stockholm Royal Seaport, the site of a former container port and oil and gas storage facilities, and Hammerby Sjostad, an old industrial and harbor area, are two entirely new urban districts that are effectively expanding the city proper.

Planning for Hammerby Sjostad started in the 1980s and will eventually have an estimated 36,000 people living and working there. Completion is set for 2018 but it is already considerably built and occupied and feels like a fully developed district. Taking full advantage of its varied waterfronts, Hammerby Sjostad is marked by parks, quays, walkways and marshes providing a diverse assortment of architectural opportunities taking advantage of waterfront views and facilities. No one architect dominates so the range of styles is impressive, even if they all fit within a framework that sets the bulk and height of all buildings.

This emerging urban district is a model of environmental advances in energy production (energy from waste, biofuels for heating and electricity, biogas extracted from sewage sludge and food waste), full scope recycling and water and sewage systems that take full advantage of rainwater. Although the plans boast of mixed uses, the primary commercial uses seem to be clustered rather than interspersed. Street life appeared limited on a recent visit. My host, Michael Skoglund from the Swedish Institute, observes, "we are an indoors people." But that doesn't fully explain the scarcity of street life on a clear, sunny day of mild temperature.

The Stockholm Royal Seaport is a totally different kind of new district and is still in the planning stage. But what makes it unique is its strong emphasis on historic preservation as the centerpiece around which a new mixed-use area will be built.

One newly developed building over the rail yards at Central Station, embodies a wide range of environmental innovations. Jernhusen, the state-owned real estate company that manages and develops properties throughout the Swedish Railway System, recently completed the 14-story 40,000 square meter building that includes a small hotel, restaurant and office space.

"We wanted modern proven technology but didn't want to be the first to try anything new," said Klas Johnasson, head of Jernhusen's environmental division. "Happily we would be second."

First they deconstructed an existing building that no one wanted to save, he says, even though "Stockholm rarely permits demolition of existing buildings and prefers rebuilding and expanding." They sold 2,000 tons of concrete to be reused in highway construction. Rebar was sold and melted by a steel company and the windows were sold to Estonia for the cost of transporting them. Furniture was donated to Doctors Without Borders. The money earned was absorbed by the extra time that went into careful deconstruction but 95 percent of the original building was recovered and reused.

From day one, energy considerations were the priority. For the new building design, Jernhusen approached four architectural firms to provide concepts for the new building, insisting that they make their energy calculations before they design the building not afterwards which is the way it is usually done. Three refused, insisting this is done after. Only the Dutch architect, Oma (Office of Metropolitan Architecture), responded accordingly and got the job.

Car parking space is limited to 100 but bike accommodation is double that and includes male and female locker rooms with showers. An electro-magnetic elevator creates electricity and in Jernhusen's own two-story office suite, the stairwell walls are filled with huge photographs of the outdoors to encourage walking. Special inoperable windows helps maintain inside temperature and doors to terraces provide fresh air opportunities. All lighting systems automatically shut off when a room is empty.

All sorts of additional features add to the building's energy efficiency but, perhaps, the most interesting is what supplements a thermal heating system -- the body heat of 250,000 people passing through Central Station below on a daily basis. "They do a lot of activity," notes Johnasson. "They buy coffee, food, newspapers, books. All this activity generates an enormous amount of heat. If we don't use it, it will just be ventilated out." Heat exchangers in the station's ventilation system convert the heat to hot water that is then pumped into the nearby building. This lowers the energy costs of the office block by 25 percent.

"This is an old technology," Johnasson adds. "We're surprised that more people don't do it."