Swedish City of Kiruna Plans Massive Relocation
Ground Fissures Forcing Entire Town to Move Over Next Two Decades
For the Kiruna municipality, the process started in 2004 when it received an unassuming one-page letter from the state-controlled mining company Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB, or LKAB.
To extract more iron ore, it needed to dig deeper into a nearby mountain, leading to the fracturing and deformation of ground sitting beneath thousands of apartments, the City Hall, the main church and other vital buildings.
A decade later, fissures in the ground are creeping ever closer to the center of Kiruna, and some residents of this city of 18,000 may soon start packing their bags.
In March, Stockholm-based architectural firm White arkitekter AB won a competition with its proposal of a master plan for a new city shifted about two miles to the east, dubbed "Kiruna 4-ever."
In mid-September, a winner will be picked in the design competition for a new City Hall, the first major building to be relocated.
Over the next two decades, more than 3,000 apartments and houses, several hotels, and 2.2 million square feet of office, school and health-care space will migrate east.
The massive relocation is virtually unprecedented and is raising a range of thorny issues including how to compensate property owners and how to design the new city.
White's plan for the new Kiruna will showcase many of the ideals popular in present-day city planning, including sustainability, a bustling, densely built city center, mixed-use development and less dependence on automobiles.
At the same time, the anxiety level is rising over whether the massive project will be completed on schedule. "We should have started the process in 2009 or 2010," says Peter Johansson, the local contracting manager at construction company NCC. "The only thing that cannot be stopped is the fracturing, and it makes me worried thinking about how we will be able to make this in time."
LKAB, which has agreed to pay the bulk of the tab, says it is impossible to estimate the full cost of the project. But it has dished out 3.5 billion kronor ($532 million) to date and set aside an additional SEK7.5 billion for the remaining transformation.
The residents of Kiruna largely support the relocation because the city is almost entirely dependent on extracting iron ore from the mountain. Residents know what it is like when LKAB falls on hard times, as in the 1970s and 1980s when the company's struggles sparked a population drop of almost 30%.
That is one reason why people realized the project is necessary, Kiruna's municipal commissioner Kristina Zakrisson says. "The town and the mine are mutually dependent."
Krister Lindstedt, a White architect, says the fragmented and low-density layout of the current city also may be incentive for people to move. "Kiruna has built a city that people don't really want."
White architects describe their plan for the new Kiruna as a "Model City 2.0." Topping the agenda is establishing a new city center soon as possible. A new City Hall, which will be its hub, will be built on a plot that now houses a half-occupied industrial property and next door to an asphalt factory.
The town hall, planned for completion in 2016, will be accompanied by a public square and a train station so people and businesses will be attracted to relocate.
Downtown stores have about 10 years to move, but some owners are concerned their business will be hurt if they move too early.
"There is a major concern among store owners in the city center about what will happen if only some of the businesses in the current center will move," says Kjell Törmä, co-founder of Kiruna's only book shop.
Ms. Zakrisson agrees. "Ideally, we would close downtown on Friday and open in the new location on Monday. That may be unrealistic but our ambition is to make it as coherent as possible."
There also are significant challenges when it comes to housing. The city already is facing an acute housing shortage, Ms. Zakrisson says, and it needs at least 100 new homes even before demolition starts.
Construction companies like NCC, which sees potential for a 200% increase in construction volumes in Kiruna, will need even more homes for workers that will help build the new city. "We need to bring people here, but it will be hard if we can't offer decent housing," says Mr. Johansson, the construction manager.