Thursday, September 8, 2016

Stockholm, Sweden - A City Lacking Some Major Earmarks of Urban Life

Stockholm is beautiful, built on an archipelago of 14 islands. The best way to gain a perspective of it is to take a boat tour around it. We did on our last day there. Not having enough time for that the first day, we took a walk around Normann, the area that included the main business district and downtown of Stockholm. I was immediately impressed by how different it looked from anywhere else I’d been. Its architecture, a mixture of Swedish functionalism and buildings built a thousand years ago, somehow all fit together in a beautiful stately whole.

panoramic view of Sweden

The first thing I noticed missing were the panhandlers. All right, during our four days there, we saw a few –maybe five. In most American downtowns, one would see a lot more. Later on our trip we learned that in Scandinavia, people use credit cards for everything and carry no cash. All of their credit cards have chips and are impossible to use by someone who has stolen one. Since potential panhandlers know this, they don’t bother to panhandle. Thus, the government is left to help people in need instead of relying on the generosity of individuals.

The next absence we noticed was the homeless. We learned at the Nordica Museum and on the Under the Bridges boat tour that in the 1920’s and again in 1960, the Swedish government undertook a massive program of building affordable and low-cost housing for its citizens. In 1920, it was done to stem the emigration to America caused by poverty. In the 1960’s, a million housing units for upper income, middle income, and low- income people were built. For a country with a population of about 10 million, this is really remarkable. Most of the housing built were apartments. We didn’t see any large single- family homes but we didn’t see homelessness either. On the boat ride, we saw some government housing. It didn’t look beautiful but it was better than seeing people walking around downtown pushing shopping carts with all their earthly possessions in them because they have nowhere to live.

public housing in Stockholm
One of our first stops was to the Stockholm City Hall where we took a tour. The tours are given in English every half hour. We were taken through the banquet hall where the banquet for the Nobel Prize winners takes place. The building itself and the artwork in were definitely worth a visit. Upstairs, we saw the rooms where the Stockholm City Council has its meetings. One fact I found very intriguing is that the City Council members are part-time workers with other jobs who are paid only for the meetings that they actually attend. I am still working on a proposal to adapt this concept to the Illinois Legislature. It sounds like a great idea to me.

Stockholm City Hall

In the Banquet Hall

In the Stockholm City Hall
We saw a lot more in Stockholm in the following days. I felt that I had seen the future both in how to design a government that works for all its citizens as well as in some very innovative technology that goes a long way toward preserving the environment and slashing the carbon footprint. All in all, Stockholm is a unique, forward looking city.



  1. Very interesting, Lisa. I didn't know that Stockholm was built on islands.

  2. The island setting around all the islands helps to make Stockholm really beautiful.