Swedish town sets new standards in low-carbon living | Global Ideas | DW | 09.08.2010
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Swedish town sets new standards in low-carbon living

The district of Hammarby in Sweden was originally designed in 2004 as an Olympic village. Stockholm's Olympic bid failed, but Hammarby has since become a model for sustainable urban living.

The pier at the Swedish town of Hammarby

Hammerby has taken sustainability to a new level

The Hammarby Sjöstad eco-town, located a few kilometers south of Stockholm's city center, was developed following the Swedish capital's failed bid to host the 2004 Olympics.

What was once potentially a temporary Olympic village, is now a permanent and attractive lakeside community of 25,000 people and will be increasing to 35,000 residents in 2015.

With 11,000 flats and 10,000 working people, Hammarby was deliberately designed so that residents commute to work using public transport, bicycles and carpools rather than by individually driving cars.

In 1990, well before a global discussion on climate change was taking place in the mainstream media, the Stockholm City Council began detailed planning for Hammarby with sewerage and service planners.

To date, the project has managed to reduce emissions by a significant 30-40 percent although still below its original 50 percent target.

Hammarby's success has even helped Stockholm win the European Green Capital 2010 award.

a view of a residential area in Hammarby, Sweden

From Olympic village to model green city - a view of a residential area in Hammarby

In-built green features

The Hammarby Model was presented by Malena Karlsson to an international audience at "The Great Transformation– Greening the Economy" conference in Berlin earlier this year. Karlsson works for the energy- saving Stockholm Glashusett (Glasshouse) building that functions as the information centre for the Hammarby district.

She believes that the key to the village's success is that eco-features are well integrated into the design of the whole project. “Seventy-five percent of the environmental goals are built into the buildings,” Karlsson said.

In contrast with more bottom-up approaches, where environmentally conscious citizens band together to live sustainably, Hammarby doesn't rely on the environmental awareness of its citizens. Even if citizens are not eco-conscious when they enter Hammarby, they will be after living there.

Innovative waste recycling

“There is a recycling room in every building,” Karlsson said.

People sun themselves at the pier in the Swedish town of Hammarby

Relaxing in clean environs - Hammarby's pier

All these rooms contain refuse chutes that are linked by underground pipes through which vacuum suction carries waste to a central collection station.

Food waste is converted into “biogas — the purest environmental fuel there is,” as Karlsson calls it. Biogas, in addition to sludge from wastewater, is used by the town's buses and is also clean enough to naturally fertilize the area's fields.

Hammarby village's waste system does not emit many emissions because both incinerated household waste and treated wastewater are extracted and used to heat houses. Other features include a solar panel experiment that has yielded 50 percent of energy needed for supplying heated water.

Quality of life was also in the forefront of the minds of the town's planners. Nature parks and a close proximity to water are central features of the complex, and are not just token inclusions.

“We have a holistic approach and do not just focus on carbon alone. We have green areas for biodiversity and well-being,” Karlsson said.

Hammarby Müllsortierung

Hammarby's waste recycling has drawn global attention

According to her, the integrated recycling system is also designed so that different waste categories are collected at different times. Fewer trucks enter the area simultaneously, thereby reducing the risk of accident. Another ubiquitous town feature is the water system that is designed with low flushing toilets and aerated taps.

Eco-towns face resistance

But eco-towns such as Hammarby also have their fair share of detractors. Not everyone is pleased with changes to rural and urban landscapes resulting from new "eco-town" developments.

Protestors in Britain in 2008 were concerned that proposed eco-towns would take up large amounts of open countryside, damage biodiversity and change the rural character of their communities.

UN Habitat predicts that by 2050, a whopping 5.3 billion people, or 70 percent of the world's population, will live in urban areas. But instead of building so-called eco-townships from scratch, several cities are implementing progressive sustainable urban development policies.

Public transport-friendly Munich, which aims to be majority dependent on renewal energy as early as 2025, has a designated ‘ green zone' wherein cars will be fined if they do not meet the required emissions criteria.

This sort of thinking goes against market-orientated approaches, typical of Western civilization in the twentieth century. The availability of cheap fossil fuels has entrenched development of inefficient car-dependent suburbia in North America in particular, but also in other parts of the world we would not suspect, like Egypt.

The evidence from these examples is clear: for innovative urban design strategies to succeed in the long term, they have to be supported by both city administrations and citizens.

"Hammarby's success has been achievable because of integrated planning," said Karlsson.

Hammarby's talents will be on display when Stockholm hosts the Building Sustainability conference in October this year.

Mark Notaras (jp)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

This article is a result of our cooperation with OurWorld 2.0. More information under http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/

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