Cities don’t often decide to pack their bags, get up and move down the road. But that’s exactly what Kiruna, an Arctic town in northern Sweden, is having to do – to avoid being swallowed up into the earth.
“It’s a dystopian choice,” says Krister Lindstedt of White architects, the Stockholm-based firm charged with the biblical task of moving this city of 23,000 people away from a gigantic iron ore mine that is fast gobbling up the ground beneath its streets. “Either the mine must stop digging, creating mass unemployment, or the city has to move – or else face certain destruction. It’s an existential predicament.”
The Czechs did it to Most, a place 20 clicks or so from where I’m sitting now. There it was coal instead of iron ore.
A closer look at the plan shows the new town bears little relation to the original Kiruna at all. The current town is a sprawling suburban network of winding streets, home to detached houses with gardens. White’s plan incorporates a much higher-density arrangement of multistorey apartment blocks around shared courtyards, lining straight axial boulevards, down which the icy winds will surge.
It is an opportunity, say the architects, for Kiruna to “reinvent itself” into a model of sustainable development, attracting young people who wouldn’t have stayed in the town before, with new cultural facilities and “visionary” things such as a cable car bobbing above the high street. But it is a vision that many of the existing residents seem unlikely to be able to afford.
But that’s exactly the same. The Czechs took down a perfectly decent Bohemian town and rebuilt it as stack a prole worker flats (panelaky here, Brezneviki in Russian, fucking Ronan Point style tower blocks in English). Why in fuck all architects want us to live in such monstrosities I’ll never know. They themselves never do, do they, preferring that Georgian Rectory for their little darlings to enjoy.