The North­ern Brights

Who ever heard of Swedish in­ge­nu­ity? The city of Malmö is lead­ing the way to a sus­tain­able fu­ture.

Element - - Better Cities - By Andy Ken­wor­thy

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.

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