Urban Development

Stockholm's Controversial Makeover

Stockholm and its surrounding areas are getting a makeover, with dozens of major building projects underway or planned for the decade ahead.

More than 300,000 newcomers settled in Stockholm over the last decade bringing the population of the region to nearly two million and making it one of Europe’s fastest growing urban areas.  

The influx is putting a lot of pressure on housing, transport and other services in the city and prompting Stockholm city council to commission ambitious new building projects, including a number of controversial waterfront developments.

One of them is at Slussen - the city's historic 17th century centre- where lake Mälaren passes through sluice gates into the Baltic sea.

Since it was built in the 1930s, the unique clover shaped road system and underground buss station has channelled tens of thousands of cars, buses, bicycles and pedestrians pass through this island junction daily. Now it is in dire need of repair and the city hall is recommending a total makeover.

A plan drawn up by renowned British architect Norman Foster - in partnership with a Swedish architectural firm - involves demolishing much of the area and building a futuristic eight-lane bridge, new office buildings, apartments and shopping malls, which will block off much of the view. 

The city council has just backed down on one of the main buildings which protestors have said would destroy the character of the area.

But architect Ola Andersson has participated in the Save Slussen campaign and says that the council is out of step with what people want.

“The problem is that the city has changed its policy drastically. Suddenly politicians and administrators woke up to the big international wave of building going on in other cities and have tried to compensate for their lateness by going something drastic and not very well thought through,” he said.

“The changes have upset a lot of people.”

However, there is little doubt that the Slussen area needs a makeover.

There have been a number of cases of falling concrete and of children rambling into tunnels in the bowels of the dilapidated bus station and never coming out again. Just maintaining the roads and walkways will cost up to 2 million dollars this year according to the local council.

But there have been many attempts to redevelop the area over the last two decades and all of them have failed.

"The city administration has locked itself into a solution concerning the traffic that makes these proposals steadily worse," said architect Ola Andersson.

"The history of city building in Stockholm has been very dramatic. Large parts of the city centre were torn down in the 50s, 60s and 70s - it created greater changes in Stockholm than in many cities that were bombed during the Second World War."

Just across the water from Slussen lies Stockholm City Hall, a squat red brick building topped off with a green copper roof and a bell tower capped off with the three golden crowns that symbolise Sweden.

Across the street looms a brand new black glass and steel office block and conference centre - confirmation, if any was needed that great changes are afoot in the capital.

“Stockholm is growing rapidly. We’re trying to keep it as a unique city but we have to grow bigger,” said Kristina Alvendal, the city councillor responsible for planning and urban development, adding that the intention is to build the city in a more mixed way with housing, offices and shopping all located in the same districts.

“We won’t create a city that destroys what’s great about Stockholm. In the public debate things are often portrayed as black and white.”

But not everyone is against the new building plans for Slussen and the rest of the city.

“There is a lot of support for new building projects but media biais is a problem and there is too much attention given to protest groups,” said Anders Gardebring from the pro-urbanism network YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard).  

”No one discusses anything except the height of buildings but we need to look at the whole picture including public transport and how the city functions. Stockholm cannot be frozen in time.”