Article Wednesday, June 8, 2022
The Basque city of Vitoria and the Swedish town of Malmö are 2,171 kilometers apart, but they are united by an unprecedented approach in the fight against global warming, making them true benchmarks for public policy makers. Both cities are part of the European Green Capital Network, a list drawn up by the European Commission, which sets apart the continent's most innovative cities in the fight against climate change. This list also includes Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bristol, Brussels, Copenhagen, and Lisbon, among others.
Vitoria and Malmö began at similar starting points. The first, with a population of 250,000, converted the most deteriorated areas of its suburbs into a 31-kilometer, 833-hectare green ring for pedestrians and cyclists, internationally recognized for its diversity and high ecological value. Sweden's third largest city, meanwhile, has in common with Vitoria a strong tradition of industry in its DNA, but in the case of this Nordic miracle of sustainability, it left behind its important shipyards and concrete plants after the oil crisis of the 1970s and the financial crash of the 1990s, which affected its current currency, the krona. Its industrial port also housed the logistical headquarters of the Saab car brand, which relocated its production in 1996 and sold its land to the city. By the early 1990s, unemployment levels had reached 12.4% in Malmö and the destruction of its industry drove more than 40,000 people out of work. Decades of industrial use and dumping at sea had polluted the coast and degraded its soil and seabed.
The Bo01 neighborhood , the 'City of Tomorrow'.
In 1998, the city initiated the recovery of this industrial area with the construction of Malmö University, which currently serves more than 24,000 students. Two years later, the national government built the Öresund railway bridge and tunnel linking Malmö to Copenhagen, which helped revive the city's economic heartbeat and offered new routes for businesses and travelers. The authorities also organized a competition to transform the former industrial port into a residential area: the Bo01 neighborhood, or the 'City of Tomorrow', which was intended to serve as a mirror for the construction of efficient buildings and villas that would serve as a model for future urban developments.
Among the main innovations in this area are a successful planning model, soil recovery, solid waste management, and the construction of a promenade that connects the city from north to south and a large forested area. In addition, abundant rainfall and rainwater are stored in aquifers located 70 meters underground. Water is drained through a series of ponds, canals, and moss-covered roofs, and subway geothermal reservoirs provide heat in winter and cool air in summer.
All this, together with the intelligent heating and cooling system and renewable energies, enabled this urban district—home to 5,000 people—to become the first neighborhood in Europe to achieve zero carbon dioxide emissions.
How to get 20 years ahead of the Paris Agreement
Malmö took the lessons learned in the Bo01 neighborhood and replicated them on a large scale. Among its most ambitious objectives was to act ahead of the UN Sustainable Development Goals agenda promoted for 2030. In its SDG 11, which promotes more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities and communities, the agency establishes as priorities planning cities with adequate housing and basic services; improving slums; providing access to safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable transportation systems; reducing the negative per capita environmental impact of cities, such as air quality and municipal waste management; and universal access to green areas, among other aspects.
To meet all these objectives, Malmö shut down its two 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plants in 2002 and 2005, and is working on the construction of numerous wind farms. Ahead of this energy transition, Sweden's third largest city plans to comply with the Paris Agreement by 2030 and become carbon neutral 20 years earlier than agreed in the international commitments.
It also has the largest biogas plant in Europe, which recycles most of its solid waste and converts it into fuel for buses and cars. Another of its urban centers, Augustenborg Ecocity, pioneered the mass use of roof gardens, which total more than 10,000 square meters of green roofs and help reduce the energy consumption of buildings. The commitment to sustainability is completed with the installation of more than 400 kilometers of bicycle lanes. According to the authorities, 30% of all trips are already made by bicycle, representing a 15% reduction in emissions.
In addition to the bridge linking Sweden and Denmark, Malmö has inaugurated important buildings in recent years, such as the Oh Boy cyclohotel, dedicated to promoting bicycle travel, and the Turning Torso business tower, designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava in 2005. All of the energy consumed by this building is renewable, from sources such as wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal. To improve their energy efficiency, residents and businesses can see their daily consumption with smart meters installed in each floor and thus make better decisions to reduce their electricity bills.
The 'ranking' of innovative cities created by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) tracks patent applications in all cities around the world and then calculates these requests per million inhabitants to measure their inventive capacity. In 2021, Sweden continued to lead the list of the most innovative countries in the EU, followed by Finland, Denmark, and Belgium; performing well above the EU average, according to Eurostat. The three major Swedish cities are leading the way in this frenetic intensity of patent production. And Malmö, the smallest, outperforms its larger neighbors with 686 patents per million inhabitants. It is followed by the country's capital, Stockholm, with 568, and Gothenburg, with 431 patents per million inhabitants, in a historical series compiled by the OECD between 2013 and 2016.
Blessed by its geographical proximity to Copenhagen and its location on the southern coast of Sweden, Malmö is a city accustomed to reinventing and transforming itself over time. First, by moving from an economy based on the salted herring trade in the 14th century to one of the most important industrial ports in the Nordic countries, with prominent heavy engineering industries in the 20th century. And now, capitalizing on its connections with the Danish capital to attract financial, technology, services, sustainability, and tourism companies.