February 5th, 2011
I returned yesterday from a short research trip to Stockholm, Sweden. I went to visit their architectural archives and to visit the suburb of Vällingby firsthand. Unfortunately, most of the sources I needed were written in Swedish, but I did find one interesting article written in 1958 by a visiting Italian architect, which was then commented on by a Stockholm city planner. Most of what you read today about Vällingby says it was planned to be a completely self-sufficient city just outside of Stockholm. The concept was dubbed the 'ABC city', an acronym for Arbete – Bostad – Centrum [Work – Housing – Center]. Though Vällingby and other suburbs like it were planned to provide most everyday necessities, planners envisioned that citizens would still travel to Stockholm for any cultural or entertainment events. In fact, development of the suburban cities didn't start until a rapid transit train system linking the suburbs to the inner-city was completed. From the start, citizens were offered a train into Stockholm center every 12 minutes.
While in Stockholm, I stayed in the up-and-coming trendy district of Södermalm. For any of you who have read the Stieg Larsson books, yes, this is where Lisbeth Salander lived. It is a lively district with great vintage shops and unique restaurants and bars. Of course the age of residents ranges widely, but it seemed to slant towards the young and childless. Its truly a challenge to find a lunch less than 90 Kronor (about $15) so I can see the allure of moving outside the city once the glitter of the nightlife begins to fade. This has long been the case in Stockholm; the city began buying up land outside the city center beginning in 1904 in order to provide affordable housing for those less well-off. These early 'garden cities' with single-family homes and gardens became more popular than had been expected, and more prosperous citizens began giving up their well positioned flats for more free space. Through the development of modern planning theories and sociological studies of the successes and failures of these planned communities along the way, the pinnacle of Stockholm's suburban community development was met at Vällingby. Before I visited, I feared it would feel sterile and monotonous, and though the housing was a bit monotonous in a rationalistic way, it was a vibrant and appealing community. It seems that city ownership of the land and the high standards of housing imposed by them may be the reason some midcentury Swedish housing developments have remained viable living communities whereas others in the United States and the United Kingdom fell into states of disrepair, poverty, violence and were eventually razed to solve the social problems enabled by the environment. This is something to look further into. Please leave any commentss or views on the topic!
Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics