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Stockholm, Sweden: An Urban Planner's Dream City

The city of Stockholm, admired the world over for its beauty, cultural assets, and exemplary urban planning, is sometimes called the 'Venice of the North' because of its setting on 14 islands in a large archipelago on Sweden's East Coast.  Due to its status as one of the world's most livable cities, its growing economy, and its recent baby boom, Stockholm continues its nearly unabated historical rise in population. 

Population and Growth Challenges

Indeed, its population of 880,000 is rising at an unprecedented rate of 15,000 persons annually and is expected to reach 1,000,000 as soon as 2022.  In response to the growth challenges it faces, the city created an updated plan three years ago that will preserve its historic asset base and noted walkability as well as improving the interconnectedness of its neighborhoods.  Its layout today reflects a town-style concentration of buildings constructed around compact lanes and plazas with a generous assortment of parks, paths, and promenades. Stockholm is poised to absorb a steep growth curve in the future because of the intelligent and sensitive planning it has exercised in the past.

Density and Smart Growth

Although it contains 73 square miles for its 880,000 residents, only 8% of its land area is home to 31% of the population.  Most of the residential streets in that 8% core area consist of row apartment houses of a uniform, six-story height, conforming to earlier codes based on sunlight throughout the year, and are seldom replaced because they were built to last centuries.  The remaining 92% of the city has an average density of just ¼ that of the older, inner city districts, according to Stockholm's Christoffer Carlander, Policy Analyst for the city's planning administration. Mr. Carlander describes how portions of this land are suitable for infill, including under-utilized and disused industrial tracts.  Taking into account the long-range consequences of such development, today's most ecologically smart planning  involves the design of compact, vibrant communities sited near public transport, a modern version of the old-European, town-style districts found in abundance throughout inner-city Stockholm.


Human Terms-Planning for People

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the city's urban planning is its base-point focus on urban design for the people of Stockholm themselves, with an emphasis on creating a "safe and environmentally friendly city".   This means the maximizing of opportunities to create vibrancy and safe public spaces as well as the presentation of visually appealing architecture.  Another aspect of human-scale city planning is Stockholm's provision of an abundance of bike and pedestrian tracks throughout the city, a feature of its mobility plan.  The city has made bikes a form of transportation, no longer just a form of recreation, and has de-prioritized the automobile from first to fifth place, a demonstration of its policy that streets and roads are an integral part of the urban fabric and not just for cars.

Transportation and the Environment

Another aspect of Stockholm's urban fabric that consistently garners worldwide accolades is its mass transit system.  The most praiseworthy feature of the system is its high degree of intermodal connectivity.  Subway riders can easily change to a tram, bus, or commuter train using the same fare card and with minimal walking, or waiting, as the system's lines run every five to ten minutes, even late at night. The high level of functionality of the city's public transit network, and other policies to reduce automobile traffic in the city, has played a leading role in the city's 25% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in 10 years.  It was also a contributing factor in the city's winning of the 2010 European Green Capital Award, besting 35 other cities. 

Urban Planning Model City

The Stockholm of today is an urban planner's dream city for its many town planning superlatives, including its walkability and clean air, water clean enough that people can fish and dive in the city center, an efficient, rail-based public transit system, and its preservation of the many beautiful buildings and family friendly parks, many of which are well-stocked with sandboxes, jungle gyms, swings, and slides. Its densest neighborhoods can be traversed via quiet paths between apartment blocks or through charming streets brimming with coffee shops, fine dining, shops, and entertainment.  Its nature reserves feature communities of tiny Swedish garden houses and rocky hilltops with commanding city views.  The city's many bike lanes are predominately grade separated and located between sidewalks and parked cars, with margins so that opening passenger doors don't fly into the paths of oncoming bicyclists. These and many other tangible and intangible urban planning assets set the bar high for other cities to emulate and assure Stockholm's place as an urban planning model city.