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Sustainable Stockholm: The EU's Greenest City

The city of Stockholm, Sweden, held many surprises for Summer 2014 voyagers. The old town was quaint and beautiful, and offered a variety of wonderful options for dining on Swedish specialties, including meatballs and pickled herring. The museums held treasures, the parks were lush and lounge-able. Though beloved for its culinary treats, history, culture and scenic views on the water, Sweden is also revered for its commitment to sustainability: it was the first city to be named the “European Green Capital” in 2010 by the EU Commission.

Professor Rocky Rohwedder, Chair of the Department of Environmental Studies and Planning at Sonoma State University, is intimately familiar with Stockholm’s forward thinking when it comes to sustainability. For his “Sustainable Communities” Global Comparative Lens class, he arranged for two field labs to take place in Stockholm, and its itinerary mirrored a Field Program titled “Sustainable Stockholm,” offered to the entire shipboard community.

We asked the fan of Sweden to elaborate on a few comments he made during our pre-port meeting the evening before we arrived in Stockholm. From Rocky Rohwedder:

“I shared with the shipboard community prior to our arrival in Stockholm that I was feeling ‘tingly’ in anticipation of our arrival. Having been to Stockholm before and having professional passion urban systems and all things sustainable — I knew that soon enough they would be tingly too. Why? Let’s start with the Swedes themselves. They are among the happiest and healthiest people on the planet. They’re highly educated (free universities) and in spite of dark cold winters, they have a sunny attitude with a keen sense of humor. They live long, happy lives — and they do it with a relatively low ecological footprint.

Then there is the city itself. As a professor of sustainable communities, I tingle because the concepts in our textbook seem to spill out and congeal in this city. From “poop-powered” buses (they recapture methane from sewage treatment) to cutting-edge green development (such as Hammarby Sjostad) to waste management (90 percent¬† of materials are recycled) to green spaces (they have an urban national park), this city brings the vision of a more sustainable world into clear view. This isn’t a Tomorrowland ride at Disneyland, it a highly functional, beautiful city that teaches us all that sustainability is smart, fun and obtainable if you have the vision and commitment to made it happen.

While the city and country as a whole represent powerful models of sustainable innovation and creativity, perhaps the most poignant example is Hammarby Sjostad. This urban redevelopment project for 25,000 people was once a toxic industrial site. Today it stands as an outstanding example of a fully integrated ecological community. A walking tour of the area reveals a range of techniques and technologies including storm water management, car sharing, uber green building design, high tech waste management systems, community eco-education centers, and a mixed use design approach. With a 5-minute walk from anywhere you’ll find schools, restaurants, workplaces, recreational opportunities. This place feels fantastic. It’s not “in your face” green design. It’s a seamless and integrated approach that brings a refreshing ambiance to future-resilient urban form.”

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The view from above Stockholm on the way to Hammarby Sjostad. In the foreground is the completely repurposed customs building that now houses Fotografiska Museum.
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Student Nathaniel Ricca of Piedmont Virginia Community College peers over the edge of the ferry on the way to Hammarby Sjostad, with the Luma building in the background. The building used to be a production plant for lightbulbs and since has become office buildings and high end apartments.
Resident Director Kristin Skarie and student Maryam Al-Dabbgh of Dar al Hekma University check out the take one, leave one library on the ferry. This small ferry is free to everyone, as there was originally a bridge planned where it now exists. At right, just steps off the ferry, one of hundreds of bike stands within the city waits. This bike stand also has a free pump, just in case you’re a little low.
Resident Director Kristin Skarie and student Maryam Al-Dabbgh of Dar al Hekma University check out the take one, leave one library on the ferry. This small ferry is free to the public. At right, just steps off the ferry, one of hundreds of bike stands within the city waits. This bike stand also has a free pump, just in case you’re a little low on air.
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In the residential section of Hammarby Sjostad, waterways make for a scenic walk, but serve another purpose as well. All the water here is storm drainage and at the base of the small riverbed is a specific type of sand with mesh underneath to filter the storm water naturally by gravity before treatment.
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Placed outside of buildings on the main commercial street are signs constantly measuring how much power that building is producing at the current moment.
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The waste disposal system in Hammarby Sjostad requires residents to separate all of their waste into distinct categories: food, plastic, paper and glass.
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Fresh local fruit can be purchased at most corners in Stockholm; these raspberries were enjoyed by the voyagers while walking about Hammarby Sjostad.
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Tina Barnes, wife of Professor Rick Barnes from Randolph College, looks over a public garden space in an apartment building courtyard that backs up to an elementary school.
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Across the city in the second urban redevelopment project, Royal Seaport has a similar waste removal system with one main difference. Each resident has a chipped key to open the doors here, in essence letting the amount of waste be measured for payment to the city.
A simple but amazingly effective norm in all of Stockholm; these tracks on almost all stairways allow bikes and strollers to easily move up and down between the many levels of the city. Stockholm’s roads are bike friendly, with full bike lanes on almost every single road within the city. At right, the continuing development of Royal Seaport is done in the most effective manner possible. The buildings are not only sustainable in multiple ways, but are built in a way that creates as little construction waste as possible, leaving as little of a carbon footprint as the community can.
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