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How urban recovery guided by a successful planning process can turn a damaged area of a port into a catalyst for urban renewal and sustainable development? The case of Western Harbor in the city of Malmö, the third largest in Sweden, is a proof of how to deal with this type of urban development challenge. Taking into account the importance of multisectoral work and comprehensive planning of urban programs and policies, this case shows lessons learned from the Nordic urban experience to Latin American and Caribbean cities.
The urban development challenge and how it was addressed
At the end of the 90s, the city of Malmö began a very important recovery after an industrial decline that caused the loss of employment for a significant part of its inhabitants which led to a deteriorated economy as a result of the Swedish financial crisis. Historically, the economy of the port revolved around the shipping industry. Later, the zone housed the SAAB auto industry, which retired in 1996 and sold its land to the city.
Decades of industrial use and the intrusion of seawater left a legacy of contaminated soil. In 1998, the city began the recovery of the area with the construction of the University of Malmö, which currently serves more than 24,000 students. The recovery was also in part due to the development of the Öresund railway-tunnel bridge, completed in 2000, and to the successful management of its authorities.
In 1996, Malmö was selected to organize the national housing exhibition, as a result of winning a competition with seven other major cities. The idea of organizing a housing exhibition was driven by the need to stimulate investment and construction in the city. A housing exhibition had the potential to attract additional funds and interests from the developers and hopefully, make them more interested in investing in the city. The organization of the exhibition was launched in 1998 with the name of “Bo01 – City of Tomorrow”.
This was how the area called Bo01, built for the exhibition that took place in 2001, served as an incentive for the construction of a nucleus of buildings and villas that made up the new urban district of the city. The vision was to create efficient sustainable systems for an attractive and well-located compact city, which would serve as a model for future urban development. A series of subsequent urban developments have attracted the attention of the international community and have positioned Malmö as an example of sustainable urban development. These include a successful planning model, soil recovery, open-water rainwater management, and solid waste management, which are summarized below.
A) URBAN PLANNING AND MASTER PLAN
The authorities controlled the recovery process from the beginning, with empowerment, goal setting and, a careful planning process. A renowned architect and planner was hired, who conceived a holistic vision balancing technology with social environmentalism, and used a mechanism of “creative dialogue” to transmit it to city officials, departments and developers. Through a series of meetings and presentations, the participants developed the “Quality Program”, which established the standards and requirements for the area. The dialogue sessions ratified and refined the philosophy and objectives of the project, and mainly, they were an opportunity of mutual learning for the city, the project planners and the developers; which, although intensive in time, would be reflected later in faster approvals for the plans proposed by the developers.
The comprehensive physical planning is a fundamental process of sustainable development and the master plan for Western Harbor sets the context for Bo01. A slightly distorted network was created for the entire western port, establishing the vehicular and nonmotorized transport system. In general, the perimeter buildings form most of the master plan, while the smaller buildings and spaces in the interior establish a more human scale within Bo01 with a consideration of the internal microclimate that extends through the creation of large enclosed courtyards which are both residential and of mixed use. 26 architecture companies and 20 development companies (Malmö City, 2006) met to create the great diversity of the neighborhood. This contrasts with many multifamily projects in which the repetition of the same building design results in a monotonous living environment.
The master plan for Bo01 was designed primarily around two water elements from north to south. The first of these elements is the promenade, or “Standpromenaden”, which runs along the western edge. The walk is intended to be a public service for both residents of Bo01 and those of Malmö in general. A promenade allows guests to experience the wind and the sounds of the sea. The second water feature is the canal park, or “Kanalparken”, which runs parallel to the seafront, near the eastern edge of the site. This element is a canal with gardens designed to complement the urban character of the promenade. The overcrowding of buildings is another important aspect of the master plan and plays an important role with respect to the two elements of water. Larger, six-story buildings are aligned on the seafront to the west. These structures are high enough to serve as a backdrop for the promenade and protect them from the blowing west wind, thus protecting the housing blocks in the center of Bo01.
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B) SOIL RECOVERY, ECOLOGY AND GREEN AREAS
A large zone of Bo01 was contaminated with hydrocarbons, and before the construction large industrial areas that had different degrees of contamination had to be evaluated. As part of the recovery, the contaminated soils were removed and treated. This process included new types of risk assessments and tests of different techniques that resulted in improved routines and knowledge in relation to the management of slightly contaminated soils. The purchase of land and the decontamination of the soil to prepare it for the new development, instead of developing other sites with agricultural value or habitat, represents an achievement of substantial sustainability. This process was financed by the Swedish government.
Additionally, two programs for the sustainability of green spaces were adopted: The Green Space Factor and the Green Score System. The Green Space Factor is an innovation of the City of Berlin in 1994, The Green Space Factor (GSF) is an innovative and flexible urban planning tool which aims at improving green infrastructure in private open spaces. The Green Scoring System is a program to ensure that developers incorporate measures of sustainability of biodiversity. In Malmö, they agreed to incorporate at least 10 of the 35 green dot options within each new urban development area. As an example, the options for this score include, for example, a bird house for each apartment, rustic gardens in the courtyards, walls with vines, a pond for every 54 square feet of cemented area in the yards, buildings with green roofs, among others. As a result, considerable improvements in the biodiversity of Bo01 have been reported.
The shallow waters in the strait near Bo01 are biologically rich, partly due to the dense vegetation of seagrasses, which could have caused great environmental damage with the filling of the piers. For this reason, the city and residents have incorporated activities to recover the ecological habitat, and this has been verified with a monitoring system for the species in the area.
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C) STORMWATER MANAGEMENT
The Bo01 zone does not suffer from common problems such as channel flooding and downstream water erosion because it is on the edge of the Oresund Strait. However, drainage of water away from buildings and the quality of water entering the strait are relevant. Because of its location, it is easier to manage rainwater, collect and distribute it to the sea, and return a portion for recreational use.
The rainwater system was developed on an open surface. Most of the rainwater is collected in two main channels and redirected towards the sea in north and south directions. The rainwater of the housing area is collected in gutters along the streets, which lead to the main salt water channels. The entire drainage system is designed in an open and interactive way, accompanied by gravel and strips of vegetation, which act as border and protection for the residential area. In this way, water is filtered and evaporated in small quantities, before reaching the built area. In some areas the design and the edge of the canal imitate natural morphology.
In addition, the water from the roofs and the streets is carried through channels open to small ponds (wet basins), for storage and for irrigation of gardens, for further infiltration. Throughout the system, small ponds abound, planted with wetland vegetation to obtain a filtering effect on the water. Infiltration is also achieved in the western area of buildings covered with permeable surfaces to slow down and reduce the amount of water before entering the canal system. The passable surfaces of cars or bicycles are made with permeable, porous pavements, while non-passable surfaces are made of gravel. There are also other permeable surfaces, such as recreational areas and parks, covered with soil and grass for better water filtration. The open channel system, besides serving as rainwater management it simultaneously adds an aesthetic value to the area.
D) SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT
The management of organic solid waste starts from the crushing in the residence, and is collected in underground vaults, from where they are pumped to an anaerobic digestion chamber. The mixture is used to create biogas (methane), which is extracted for use in public buses or to generate heat and electricity. Similarly, non-organic waste is deposited in vacuum tubes located in residential yards or inside buildings. The waste is sent to a central facility where it is recycled or incinerated to contribute to the district heating system (City of Malmö, 2006).
Western Harbor: Lessons learned in urban recovery and planning
Designed with attractive views overlooking the sea, the Bo01 area has served as a base to attract the urban middle class. Bo01 is considered a model of urban recovery that has been constantly studied and cited as a model for other countries.
The national housing exhibition functioned as a catalyst mechanism for the renovation process of the port area. The strategy of competing and making the national housing exhibition “Bo01 – City of Tomorrow” took place in the area, proved successful as a marketing tool for the city and as a mechanism to attract investors and developers. Hosting the largest European housing fair was a risky bet, and required a careful and innovative planning process, which was materialized through aspects such as the Creative Dialogues, the developers’ association, and the Quality Program. An integral vision led by a visionary urban planner was key. In the end, the success of the strategy made the site of the exhibition become the new urban heart of the old port area.
The integration of important aspects of sustainability such as quality architecture, landscaping, and attention to socio-environmental issues were important factors behind the achievements of Bo01. For example, an adequate population density was achieved, with more than half of the area dedicated to open spaces, demonstrating that a compact urban space should not diminish the quality of life of the residents. The open water rainwater management system showed how planning and attention to detail can resolve functional, safety and aesthetic aspects that are considered risky in these systems. The incorporation of the green elements (green space factor and scoring system) in the individual construction projects also proved to be effective and were adopted concepts in the rest of Malmö and in other cities.
The gradual development of the project has served to adopt responses to some emerging challenges and revisions to correct problems that have arisen. For example, in response to some criticisms, the development of the Flagghusen area increased the parking capacity; adjusted the methods of calculating energy use, and increased density to reduce the value of housing and rents, in the face of criticism that public funds were financing residences for wealthy people.
Urban workshop: learning from the Nordic experience
Taking into account these lessons learned from Malmö in urban recovery and planning, the IDB Cities Network organized a knowledge exchange meeting, in which mayors and technical officials from sixteen cities in Latin America and the Caribbean learned from the Nordic urban experience. The urban workshop took place from 27 to 29 May 2019 in the cities of Copenhagen (Denmark) and Malmö (Sweden), and it was developed in joint with the Nordic Development Fund, the Confederation of Industry Danish, an the Cities of Copenhagen and Malmö. Based on the Nordic urban experience, we intend to facilitate learning in terms of sustainability, competitiveness and inclusion for a better quality of life in Latin American and Caribbean cities.
The IDB Cities Network is an institutional platform for knowledge, relationships and solutions at the municipal level that aims to socialize knowledge, lessons learned and good practices in environmental, economic and social sustainability of more than 160 cities in Latin America and the Caribbean. We provide support through meetings that promote institutional support, innovation, good practices and the exchange of knowledge between the public sector, the private sector and civil society to boost the demand and capacities for urban loans and investments able to solve the main challenges of cities in the region.
Learn more about the Nordic urban experience!
- Public space for all: what makes Copenhagen the city for the people?
- Integrated urban development: Copenhagen and its Nordhavn case
- Sustainable urban transport: what can we learn from Copenhagen?