Stockholm, the city where it all began

Environmentally friendly Sweden cannot be separated from the majority of reforms and transformations of the modern era and it dominates pioneering initiatives with proven examples set by the country’s capital city, Stockholm. The city of 925,000 inhabitants, which is predicted to become home to 1 million people by the year 2022, has been at the forefront of the country’s major sociocultural and technological developments.

One key characteristic of a country’s successful and applicable sociocultural changes and technological innovations is the availability of world class universities to support such excellent achievements. Located between Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea, Stockholm boasts the title of being the best city for students in Europe’s Nordic countries. Ranked 24th by QS Best Student Cities 2016, Stockholm is ahead of Denmark’s Copenhagen and Finland’s Helsinki.

As for universities in Stockholm, the city’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stockholm University both make the world’s top 200 in the QS World University Ranking for 2015/2016. Stockholm also boasts a number of well known specialized institutions, including the Stockhom School of Economics and the Karolinska Institute, one of the world’s most prestigious medical universities.

Another key supporter of Sweden’s major sociocultoral and technological development is the presence of influential institutions that are not only involved in the planning, but also the execution of the government’s priority development programs. Such a capacity is well performed by the Stockholm-based Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA).

Founded in 1919 amid an energy crisis after the World War I, IVA was apparently the first academy of engineering sciences in the world. However, do not misunderstand. Being called an academy does not mean it merely performs research and analysis of engineering-related development issues, but it undertakes much broader tasks as stipulated in its mission statement: “To promote the engineering and economic sciences and the advancement of business and industry for the benefit of society.”

The presence of IVA is unique as it is a transboundary meeting place for decision-makers from business and industry and experts from the academic, business and political spheres, who form an independent forum that influences the development of society. To add to its excellent capacity, all members of the Academy are elected based on expertise and merit.

One major recognition of Stockholm’s achievement as an internationally renowned capital city that has managed to exploit its potential and simultaneously develop the sociocultural and technological aspects of its inhabitants is none other than the annual ceremony and banquet for the Nobel Prize, which is held in the city. The Stockholm Concert Hall hosts the prestigious Nobel Prize ceremony, while the Stockholm City Hall hosts the Nobel Prize banquet.

Apart from those internationally recognized achievements, the city of Stockholm has for a long time been serving as the “micro-laboratory” for Swedish national development programs, as can be seen from the numerous introduced programs that were initially meant to tackle problems of the capital city, but have eventually been adapted to be national programs, not only because they were proven successful locally, but most importantly because of their high relevance to solving the country’s national problems.

Stockholm has apparently been pioneering the implementation of fossil-fuel-free public transportation within the city. The city has announced plans to become a fossil fuel-free city by 2050. In order to achieve this long-term goal, a roadmap was developed alongside a one-year broad consultation process led by the city. The final “Roadmap for a fossil-fuel-free Stockholm 2050 was officially approved on March 24, 2014 by the Municipal Assembly.

With its ambitious plans “as the capital of Sweden and the nation’s engine for growth, Stockholm has the opportunity to take the lead in this work by demonstrating that it is possible to phase out fossil fuels and reduce emission levels while still sustaining growth and meeting the challenge of a rise in population”.

As the first European Green Capital in 2010, Stockholm was committed to being a role model, to inspire other cities and spread best practices across Europe and around the world. Yet, Stockholm city leaders are looking to blow past that goal — they want to be a completely fossil-fuel-free city by the year 2040. That presents a major transportation and urban planning challenge, but the city is already well on its way. It’s getting there through a series of rewards and punishments.

First, the punsihments. If you drive into the center of Stockholm during rush hour, you will have to pay for the privilege: about US$4. This idea, called “congestion pricing”, had been kicking around Sweden for some three decades before policymakers finally agreed to give it a try, but only for a brief trial 10 years back.

The policy was indeed not an easy one to implement as the city’s environmental and health administration had to convince the public that this wasn’t simply another tax since the policy was taken in order to improve air quality and to reduce the city’s impact on the climate. The result was inspiring: With congestion pricing in place, air quality quickly improved by as much as 10 percent and traffic fell by roughly 20 percent.

Besides congestion pricing, Stockholm has another form of punishment to keep people out of their cars — parking is expensive and gas is heavily taxed.

Apart from punishment, the city planners also offer plenty of rewards for those agreeing to leave their cars at home and use public transportation to get to their workplaces or other places in the city. They can enjoy excellent public transportation in Stockholm, with such frequent arrival of buses that one needs not check the timetable as everyone can trust that the buses will actually come. Also among the rewards for public transportation users is the fact that the buses, subways and trains are clean and nice.

Public transportation also burns clean in Stockholm. The trains run on electricity that has been generated from hydro, nuclear and wind sources. As for the buses, which are off the electrical grid, they can be powered by table scraps or animal waste. On the side, many read “Biogas Bus”.

Besides the fossil-fuel-free commitment, Stockholm has been pioneering an integrated waste management system, introducing an underground vacuum system for food waste, garbage and recycling. All the food waste gets swept off to a big biogas digester where it’s converted into fuel. This system also keeps garbage trucks off the road, another small way to make Stockholm’s air cleaner, cut pollution and make the streets less crowded. It all ties into Stockholm’s spatial development plan for the future of the city.

Lastly, city leaders and its urban planners have been aiming high to convert Stockholm into a more people and climate-friendly city with walkable environments, cyclable routes, access to services, access to entertainment possibilities and access to nice parks.

All of these could have happened because the city, particularly its leaders, prove their commitment for the betterment of the city with action: They not only talk the talk, they walk the walk




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