Reality or Myth?: Hammarby Sjöstad

Last semester, I took a course with Dr. Whitworth titled “Sustainability: Economic, Environmental, and Social Justice.” We covered a whole array of topics from food systems to consumer habits to housing and urban development. During our discussion of the latter topic, Hammarby Sjöstad, an urban residential development in Stockholm, was put forth as an example of progressive, sustainable housing. As such, I planned to visit the neighborhood while in Stockholm to see if it really lived up to what we had discussed.

I chose to analyze Hammarby Sjöstad as my cultural artifact for the trip because, upon asking the concierge how to get there, I was bombarded by a rant on how the “greenness” of the neighborhood is a “myth.” She told me it wasn’t worth it to go there, an opinion seconded by the receptionist who also told me it was “all BS” (his words, not mine). On the other hand, Dr. Whitworth had commended this development as an advancement in sustainable living, and the advertisements for the neighborhood touted how eco-friendly it was supposed to be. Naturally, my interest was piqued by the two conflicting views I had been given of Hammarby Sjöstad.

So, I decided to venture out there anyways with a few of my wonderfully obliging peers to see what it was like for myself! There had to be a reason for this discrepancy in perceptions, and I wanted to see what the reality was.

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One of the Hammarby Sjöstad complexes.

My conclusion was this: Hammarby Sjöstad indeed has many sustainable aspects to it, but for some Swedes, it’s simply not enough. Brooke and I spoke with a resident of the neighborhood who was out watching his daughter play in the community sandbox. He had been living there for three months and had chosen to move out there to be closer to nature (the neighborhood is roughly three miles from the city center). He told us that he had six different waste bins for sorting trash, which he takes to the pneumatic disposal tubes that transport it to the on-site recycling and composting facilities. His residence is equipped with water- and energy-efficient features, he has easy access to multiple public transport options with a new Metro station opening across the street soon, and he is able to work out in the local outdoor gym or go hiking in the nearby parks if he so wishes. Moreover, the neighborhood was built on a site that was formerly an industrial area, reclaiming land that might have sat unused for years. Yet, as we plied him with questions about the neighborhood, I got the sense that while each of these eco-friendly aspects are good and helpful, to some they may seem like small drops in the bucket of solving our Earth’s environmental issues.

(Pneumatic disposal system.)

The concierge I spoke with had a great number of concerns about the environmental well-being of Sweden and the planet as a whole. She lamented that people could no longer safely swim in the waters off of Stockholm due to pollution; the daily Stockholm newspaper now includes a Water Quality Index to publicize how good or bad the water is each day. She also claimed that environmentalism was limited to the middle class because of its extra costs. What I sensed from her complaints was that Swedes desire a deeper, more systemic change to advance toward a cleaner, greener future. While Hammarby Sjöstad is a step in the right direction, perhaps they feel that it is too highly lauded given the small impact it has compared to bigger issues like ocean pollution or nonrenewable energy consumption.

In reality, both the little and the big changes are important. The “greenness” of Hammarby Sjöstad is not a myth, and I would love to see similar developments pop up in the U.S. because these neighborhoods have the potential to improve the environment and people’s quality of life. However, we can’t get so caught up in the small improvements that we fail to address the larger, more complex environmental issues as well. The tension that Hammarby Sjöstad has apparently created in Swedish dialogue demonstrates this clearly.

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The complexes were very open and appeared to encourage local community and fellowship.

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Bikes seemed to be a popular mode of transportation.

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The neighborhood had beautiful, well-designed green spaces.

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Green Living Isn’t a Tourist Attraction

When we arrived in Copenhagen, I was looking forward to touring the city and seeing all the green features that are in place. After all, Copenhagen was chosen as the 2014 European Green Capital and is very proud of its goal to become the first carbon-neutral capital in the world by 2025. However, as I searched for a “green” city walk or a sustainability tour to take on one of our free days, I was disappointed to find no organized groups dedicated to this kind of activity. At first, I was upset; how was I supposed to know where all the hotspots of sustainability were in the city so I could visit them? As I thought further though, I realized that truly going green doesn’t  produce a series of tourist attractions! It’s a way of life, and as such, it requires more subtle observations than a guided tour.

I would argue that in the movement toward green living, there are two major categories of changes – infrastructure and behavior. Infrastructure covers the large-scale, foundational elements like renewable energy systems and recycling plants. Behavior covers the individual actions of people that are spurred on by the advances on infrastructure.

What I saw in Copenhagen is that green living is so integrated with daily life that it’s the norm. The infrastructure is in place to enable its people to live sustainably with ease. The first thing I saw when we sailed into port was a massive offshore wind farm in full swing. Many people don’t like the aesthetics of wind turbines, but I think they are beautiful because they are more than just giant white pinwheels. They represent an effort to work with our environment instead of against it and thereby advance toward a cleaner world. With these in place, Copenhageners can take advantage of the wind to power their lives (more than 40% at this point, according to the official website of Denmark).

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Small portion of the offshore wind farms in view of Copenhagen.

We then sailed past a recycling plant under construction that will also function as an urban ski slope, according to our tour guide. Not only does this showcase the green factor of Copenhagen, but it also highlights their dedication to functionality – why not use the roof for something fun? Speaking of roofs, Copenhagen was the first to implement a mandatory green roof policy, so all new buildings with flat roofs must have a vegetated roof, which helps capture rainwater and reduce urban temperatures.   Later, as we cruised around on our own, we saw Copenhageners jumping into the harbor to swim because the water is so clean that people aren’t affected by pollution from the boats. I could never imagine swimming in the Port of Los Angeles! How amazing is it that the people of Copenhagen are able to enjoy the ocean outside their back door without worrying about pollution? And, of course, we witnessed the extensive bike culture everywhere we went – 55% of Copenhageners commute to work by bike!

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Copenhageners swimming in the harbor (photo courtesy of Google since I forgot to capture this phenomenon).

All this to say that I realizedmy expectation of taking a tour of the “green” sights of Copenhagen turned out to be unrealistic because sustainability is not a series of destinations but a way of life for them. And that’s when going green really becomes effective in improving our lives!

Surprise Royal Sighting!

One of my favorite parts about traveling is that somewhere along the way, you’re bound to run into something unexpected that’s really cool. For example, when Mikaela and I were in Vienna two weeks ago, we went to see the Town Hall lit up at night, and instead found ourselves going through security and being patted down on our way into a huge crowd of Austrians all watching Germany v. France in the EuroCup on a massive screen in the square!

Yesterday, I had another one of those surprises – I set out on my own to see a few places on my personal checklist, one of which was the Oslo Cathedral. I love visiting European churches, and since the rest of Norwegian culture has been so different from my previous experiences, I wanted to see how one of their churches would compare to those of continental Europe. However, I never got to see the inside of the church (guess I will have to return to Norway someday!).

As I approached the cathedral, I ran into a whole lot of police and some metal barriers along the street in front of the church. Some sort of event? I thought. After further investigation, I learned that yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the 7/22/2011 terrorist attacks in Oslo and Utøya, and they were holding a memorial mass for the 77 victims. In attendance were the Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon and his wife Crown Princess Mette-Marit. Naturally, I decided to wait for them to emerge from the cathedral, eager to see royalty in person! I didn’t know that the mass would last another 45 minutes, but it was well worth it to catch a glimpse of the royal couple!

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The Crown Prince and Princess (not my own picture)

I found a few things interesting about the whole spectacle. First, it was clear that the mass was very emotional as some journalists left a little early wiping tears from their faces. Even the crowd waiting to see the Crown Prince and Princess was very quiet and respectful when they emerged with only a couple of little kids shouting, “Hallo!” Second, there wasn’t as much hullabaloo as I would expect for a royal sighting. The crowd waiting with me was relatively small, and security was tight but not nearly the level of the President’s. As you’ll see in the video, Princess Mette-Marit simply walks around to the vulnerable outer door of the car to get in with no escort or anything! Whether this is because they aren’t a target because they don’t hold real political power or because they just trust the Norwegian people, I’m not sure, but I found the lack of hyper-intense security notable. Lastly, I was surprised by how little English news coverage this memorial received. Only one article on the event came up when I searched Google on my phone, and this just reinforced my impression that Norway is very insular. Dr. Whitworth informed us of the remarkable homogeneity of the people and culture here, and from my brief experiences over the last few days, Norwegians do seem to keep to themselves and handle their own affairs among themselves instead of making international news with their doings. Norway continues to fascinate me in all respects, and I have already decided to return some day to explore it some more!

Here are some snapshots from my royal sighting since I can’t seem to upload the video!

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The Crown Prince and Princess

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They shake hands with the religious leaders.

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The Crown Princess waves!

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They walk to the waiting car.

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She walks to the outside of the car without an escort!

 

 

3 Days and I’m Already in Love

After only 3 days in Oslo, I’m ready to claim Norway as one of my favorite countries that I have ever visited. I am absolutely blown away by the unique culture and history that exists here. For the past month, as I have travelled throughout Western Europe and a small portion of Eastern Europe, I have experienced a host of cultures that all felt a little bit similar. I don’t mean to say that all European cultures are the same – each country possesses its own unique distinctions that make it worthwhile to visit them all! But at the end of the day, I felt like each culture was a twist on the same underlying theme, and after a while, they all started to blur together.

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View of the Oslo Fjord.

Yet, these past couple of days have convinced me that there is something special about Scandinavia. In many aspects, Norway stands out from the rest of continental Europe in my mind. One of my goals for the trip for to delve into Viking/Scandinavian history, and I have been so rewarded the last two days with constant history lessons that I have actually really enjoyed. From tour guides and museum exhibits, I have learned so much about Norway, and that excites me! The history and culture of Norway have rich folk backgrounds, hardy Vikings and adventurous explorers, and incredibly original contemporary art. Every part of this city seems to be intentionally steeped in Norwegian culture; for example, the City Hall is built strictly from Norwegian materials and filled with Norwegian art. I think that because Norway is a relatively small and isolated country, it is able to forge those deep cultural bonds among its people. The country appears to be very unified in its identity.

Also, Norwegians’ love for nature is evident all over the place! At the Folk Museum, you could tell how intricately their lives were tied up with the environment from the vibrant floral decorations that covered nearly every artifact. At the Royal Palace, we learned that the Queen of Norway has visited every mountain in the country and recently demonstrated her commitment to the environment by picking up litter in one of Norway’s towns. Norway’s connection to nature seems to run deep in their roots, and I think that motivates them to be more sustainable and protect the environment. What you love is what you’ll prioritize, and it’s clear that Norwegians take enormous pride in their natural assets. Even in Oslo, you don’t have to go very far before you’re wandering through one of their many public parks and green spaces, like the Ekeberg park or the Akershus Fortress.

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Part of the Akershus Fortress.

Oslo has been wonderful so far, and I have high hopes for the rest of our trip!

Scandinavia, Here We Come!

Hi everyone!

My name is Annaliese Miller, and I am one of the lucky Chancellor’s Scholars who has been given the opportunity to explore Scandinavia on the CSI trip!  I am a senior at TCU, majoring in environmental science with minors in business and sustainability and a certificate in geographic information systems.  I absolutely love traveling and jump at any chance I get to adventure to somewhere new and experience all that our world has to offer.  In fact, another Chancellor’s Scholar and I will be traveling on a whirlwind trip throughout continental Europe in the month leading up to CSI, visiting ten countries and 17 cities before meeting up with the rest of the group in Oslo!

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This trip to Scandinavia is one I have longed to take for years.  One of my good friends in high school visited family in Norway every summer, and I always heard amazing stories of what it was like.  Visiting Scandinavia has been high on my bucket list ever since.  During this trip, I hope to see for myself the wonder and beauty of Scandinavia and to experience the rich culture of its people.  Also, if I’m being entirely honest, one of the main reasons I’m really excited is because Norway hasvepsebol-jordbaer.jpg this fantastic sweet & sour candy called Vepsebols (translation: wasp nests), and I plan to bring back at least 10 packs of it for my brothers and roommates to try!

I anticipate some incredible adventures happening over these two weeks abroad, and along the way, I am hoping to delve deeper into three areas – environmentalism, socialism, and Norse studies!

  1. Environmentalism

This one should come as no surprise to you if you read the first paragraph of this post.  As a student of environmental science, I am always interested in exploring how other countries deal with environmental issues.  Scandinavian countries are leaders of the environmental movement, which I find fascinating, and I am hoping to see some evidences of this leadership on our trip.  For example, Norway produces 56% of its total energy use from renewable energy sources, and 99% of its electricity from renewables, mainly hydropower.  It is a major European exporter of fossil fuels, yet the country recognizes the decline of the oil market and is adjusting proactively with the expansion of wind energy.  Denmark is “one of the most energy-efficient countries in the EU”, according to one source, and has the goal of being fossil fuel-free by 2050.  In fact, to discourage gasoline-powered cars, the government has levied a 180% tax on such vehicles.  Lastly, Sweden is a pioneer in sustainable living with innovations in urban communities (see Hammarby Sjostad), agriculture (see the vertical greenhouse Planatagons), and building design.  One of my main questions is whether this emphasis on environmentalism is readily visible among the day-to-day culture of Scandinavians.  I know that Dr. Whitworth will be able to satiate some of my curiosity since he taught one of my courses last semester on sustainability in which we studied both the biking culture of Denmark and the Hammarby Sjostad community of Sweden!

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Visualization of the pilot Plantagon for Linkoping, Sweden.

  1. Socialism

In light of the current presidential race, the concept of socialism in the United States has risen to the forefront of political conversations due to the campaign of Bernie Sanders.  Whether you believe Sanders is a socialist or not, his platform has certain leanings that have led some conservative Americans to label him as the ever-feared “socialist.”  For years, history classes in our country have inevitably proclaimed the glory of capitalism and declared the dangers of socialism.  Yet, all three Scandinavian countries we will be visiting are arguably successful socialist countries.  I am eager to experience life in these countries for that very reason.  How have these countries managed to overcome the “evils” of socialism and become some of the happiest countries in the world?  What are the daily trade-offs of this system?  Does the sacrifice of some economic freedoms truly impact the average person that much?  I do not mean to say that I believe America should become socialist; I think every country should choose the system that works best for their politics, their culture, and their people.  Nonetheless, I am interested to see how Scandinavia makes it work for them.  For these three countries, socialism appears to be the right system, and I would love to hear Scandinavians’ experiences of living in a socialist society.

  1. Norse Studies

Vikings are just really cool, and we don’t often focus on them in our American education system.  My current knowledge of Vikings consists of images of burly, bearded men with horned helmets and huge shields sailing the icy waters of the North Sea, a few Norse tales mingled with Greek and Roman mythology, Leif Eriksson’s voyage to North America, and the movie How to Train Your Dragon.  There are some obvious gaps in there, and I’m looking forward to filling them in at the various museums we visit!

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Fram Museum in Oslo, Norway

To end this inaugural post, I am, of course, very excited to travel with my fellow Chancellor’s Scholars and experience all that Scandinavia has to offer by their side.  What a wonderful journey upon which we are all soon to embark!