The Northern Brights
Who ever heard of Swedish ingenuity? The city of Malmö is leading the way to a sustainable future.
You could say that Scandinavians are the New Zealanders of the north. They have a healthy, outdoor approach to life thanks to plenty of landscape legroom, and they are inventive enough to come up with the sauna to get them through those long winter nights. But there are a few things in which they may be a wee bit ahead of us.
City planning, for one. For example, the southern Swedish city of Malmö (pop. c280,000) has designated its entire former docklands area as an ‘ecological quarter’, with a rule book for developers wanting a piece of the action as thick and green as the traditional pea soup with pork.
For a start, construction materials deemed harmful to the environment are outlawed, and each new house has to meet stringent energyefficiency criteria. The area’s ‘green points’ system takes a leaf out of the Berlin city eco-codes, and requires developers to provide for on-plot vegetation, including planted roofs and surface waterways. Rainwater management begins with these ‘green roofs’ covered in specially selected plants, then to open-paved channels that finally discharge via the ornamental canal into the sea.
You won’t see too many cars hooning around. Parking is limited to less than one place per dwelling, and pedestrians, bicycles and gas-fuelled buses have priority on the street. Cars are completely prohibited from many streets and tend to be parked out of sight underground.
The city is also set to test a new ‘Hiriko’ transport system based on small shared-use electric vehicles that fold away into tiny specially designated parking spaces. The plan is that this pool of electric mini cars will be available for residents to travel to the city centre, while a neighbourhood natural gas and biogas station will dispense alternative fuels and charge electric cars using wind-powered electricity.
But why would you want to speed through anyway? This once stark industrial area has now been landscaped to include verdant indigenous flower gardens. And canals that were once crammed with boats carrying goods from the ports have become the central features of woodland walks and cycle routes.
And for a lot of the inhabitants there is no need to go far anyway. State-of-the-art broadband is wired into every apartment, which can also be used to monitor water and energy use, or access specially tailored online environmental advice. All this gadgetry, as well as lighting and such, is powered by regional wind farms and a few solar electric photovoltaic panels.
Meanwhile, heating comes from natural gas, solar collectors, solar heat collectors, and even heat pumps located in freshwater aquifers and the sea. A municipal biogas reactor is also being built to convert organic waste into gas to be returned to people’s homes via the mains.
Estimates are that the overall reclaimed power from waste alone will be enough to enough to light seven low-energy lamps in each apartment each evening.
The aim is that these systems will sell surplus power to the national grid and buy power when these systems are not able to meet the need, with the net effect coming out as near even as possible. And the emphasis has been on celebrating this technology by making it stylish and visible, instead of hiding it away out of site. This heightens the sense of real transformation and provides huge visual cues to remind locals and visitors to conserve energy wherever possible.