UPDATE LIVE FROM SVEDEN:
On Friday we woke up in the modular Omena Hotel, which reminded us that Sweden was the birth place of Ikea. We were in Stockholm, a city composed of 14 different islands. After our morning yawns, pajama shedding and stretches we ambled over to the pleasant nearby park. There we feasted. Afterwards we confusedly wandered for an hour looking for a bank and laundromat. After our somewhat fruitful quest we hopped on the comprehensive biogas bus system to the sustainable city of Hammarby Sjostad.
Hammarby is the prototype ‘eco-city’ for other sustainable cities being built around the world. Sustainable cities are incredibly important because half the world’s population lives in cities. In the 1970’s and 80’s the standard building philosophy was incredibly short-sighted, but new cities need to be built to last. Before Hammarby was constructed the area was home to two separate industrial sectors, one regulated and one un-regulated. The unregulated area proved that no taxes or regulation leads to heavy environmental degradation. The unregulated area became a popular place to cheaply get your car, motorcycle or boat fixed or repainted. This lead to terrible pollution. To clean the area they had to completely remove the soil in which they found over 120 tons of oil, grease and 180 tons of heavy metals on which a bio-remediative treatment was performed.
The newly cleaned area was then submitted to city planning. From the beginning it was designed with sustainability in mind and before ground was broken integrated planning took place that utilized synergy crossovers between energy, water, and waste to create sustainability. They originally thought the city would be predominantly dominated by older people, but in fact the city is full of young families with children. Many of the people who lived there cited their main reason for moving being the fact that the city was close to nature and to the center of town. The environmentally friendliness was more of a side effect, a behavior that the people learned due to its increased ease of access. Perhaps this explains the environmentally degrading behavior of our populous. 😉
Some of the sustainable building techniques employed in Hammarby were heavily involved with city design and sustainable materials. There was only one road through the city, with mandatory commercial spaces on the bottom floor of the buildings running along it. This heavily reduced traffic and noise but still allowed citizens to shop. To further reduce noise, U-shaped buildings faced away from the road and sheltered nestled away green areas. Buildings were mandated to be between 5-8 stories to prevent sprawl but also allow daylight. This allowed for a dense population that felt incredibly calm, the perfect environment to raise children. There were several passive strategies to reduce energy loss. The patios were glassed in to prevent heat loss, and every apartment had a mandatory efficient laundry, drier and fridge. The toilets had low flushing with two settings for multiple styles of excrement. Developers were forbidden against using unsustainable materials such as copper and PVC pipes. Originally the thought was that these high standards would be an extra cost to the whole city, but actually turned out to be only 2-4% greater. Emerging technology such as solar cell blinds and smart grids produce their own electricity and allow the excess to be sold to the rest of the city. Some of the new buildings didn’t even need heating during one of the coldest winters in recent history.
A critical synergy took place between the waste collection system and energy generation. Automated waste collection tubes were located at several points accessible to citizens, from their the waste flowed through underground tubes to a specific collection point. This system was very efficient because it enabled at source sorting and also disposed of the need for smelly garbage trucks. This was another reason the city was peaceful and pleasant smelling. The combustible waste was incinerated for hot tap water, district heating was also piped from hot wastewater treatment processes while the cooled water was used for district cooling.
Another synergy took place between waste and transportation. Many people ride biogas buses that run on food waste and waste water. There was also a popular ferry that enabled people to cross the river. For trips to the grocery store there is a company that enables carpool booking with a cell phone. Due to these alternatives 40% less people use a car now. Another interesting transport mechanism was ‘green bridges’. When we first walked on one I had no idea there was a highway below me. It was more like walking through a quiet, peaceful park then over an overpass. These green bridges also acted as connecting segments between the many green areas back-boning the city. These green areas stretched across in a skeleton framework with all areas connected. This allowed critical micro-organisms and biodiversity to travel between the areas, increasing ecosystem resiliency and eliminating the need for pesticides. Many of the buildings also have green roofs for insulation. These green areas are maintained by the city park department.
Totally, the Hammarby project took a $4.5 billion krona investment from the city, which had to initially beg developers to take on the project. Then a very important paradigm shift occurred in the construction industry where they realized building a sustainable city was actually cost-effective and the begging turned into a bid war. The goal for Hammarby was to reduce the environmental impact by 50%, currently they calculated to be at 30-40% but this is hard to quantify as there is no index for these matters. Currently Hammarby houses 28,000 people, with 10,000 working there. There are 11,500 flats and it took less than 20 years to build.
Later that night we visited the old town center, Gamla Stan. The group had a night out and came across the bayonetted castle guards! Luckily we were armed to the teeth with common sense and turned around before getting gutted.
The next morning part of our group visited the Vasa Museum, a sailing ship that sunk on te maiden voyage designed by the king at the time trying to make it too fancy and top-heavy. Vasa sank, after sailing barely 1300 meters. The ship sank in 1628, and with significant engineering involved, the ship returned to the surface as a whole section in 1963, after over 300 years mostly preserved at the bottom of the sea.
We then spent time trying to solve the rubix cube that was the bus locker system. With our stuff finally safe, we went on a boat tour to an island full of predatory seabirds. Between staving off vicious attacks and evading dive-bombs we managed to have a good time climbing rocks and relaxing on the seaside. After this invigorating expenditure we went to the best restaurant in the world, ‘Hermans’. There we all feasted on a vegan/vegetarian meal that was fit for a Swedish king. Bellies full, we retired to the train station to play a game of cards aboard the comfy couchettes!
On Friday we will wake up in the lovely Omena Hotel in one of the cleanest capitals of the world (1). Stockholm is the most populated urban area in Scandinavia and the cultural, political and economic center of Sweden. In the morning we may have time to explore using the rentable city bike system, and check out the many green zones, museums and palaces littering this beautiful city.
In the afternoon we will make one of the most interesting visits of the trip. Up until 1998 Hammarby Sjöstad was a corrugated steel shack shantytown with heavy ground contamination from industrial pollutants such as heavy metals, oils and greases. This former brownfield is now one of the world’s highest profile examples of sustainable city development. Biogas energy is integral and produced from organic waste that is automatically collected and digested with treated wastewater or sludge(2).
We will have the rest of the day and Saturday to visit neat cultural spots like Gamla Stan, meaning The Old Town, which consists mostly of the island Stadsholmen and is filled with medieval architecture. Here we can also visit the Royal Palace and the Nobel Museum.
There are several other places we could visit such as the Drottingholm Palace or the National Palace. The Drottingholm is the private residence of the Swedish royal family (3). Other attractions include the Vasa museum which is centered around a shipwreck, or the museum of natural history. Both cost 80 SEK for students (4). Other options include boat tours of the thousands of islands in the archipelago or simply strolling about and enjoying all the subtleties of this beautiful city. After an exhausting day of adventure we shall board the overnight train to Lulea and crash in comfy couchettes!