What sets Malmö apart?

From an industrial town in decline, Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, has transformed itself into one of the greenest, most sustainable cities in the world. Then Mayor Ilmar Reepalu, who has been instrumental behind Malmö’s turnaround, talks about significant initiatives that have been making this city stand out.

City of Malmo
© City of Malmö

Driving sustainability
According to Mayor Reepalu, Malmö has invested in progressive climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives for more than a decade, with a vision to become a world leader in sustainable urban development. The city aims to be carbon neutral by 2020 and by 2030, for its energy use to be based entirely on 100% renewable energy. “We hope that many of our pilot programmes and solutions we are testing today will become the standard by 2020,” says Reepalu.

Two notable projects illustrate the city’s commitment to sustainable urban development – the revitalisation of the Augustenborg district and the redevelopment of a brownfield site in the Western Harbour district. An aging district from the 1950s, the Augustenborg District has been revitalised into a sustainable urban environment with improved water management, green roofs, renewable energy and recycling projects. Local residents and a range of stakeholders in the public and private sectors were proactively engaged in the process. Similarly, the Western Harbour District has been transformed from a once decaying industrial area into a recognised model of a densely built environment. It has its own energy supply, energy efficient buildings and residences, household, surface and waste management systems, and very few cars.

Making cycling easy
The sustainability message is also evident in Malmö’s evolving transport infrastructure. Beyond its focus on providing modern, environmentally friendly public transport, the city is known for its cycling culture: the 451 km network of bicycle paths is travelled daily by more than 150,000 citizens who use bicycles as their form of transport. About 30% of all trips are made by bicycle in the inner city, and nearly 40% of all commuting to work and school us by bicycle. Explaining the city’s strong cycling culture, Reepalu said: “For a long time, urban planning has focused on making the city cycle-friendly. We want cycling, walking and taking the public transport to be the basic transport networks within the city. Cycling must be easy, safe and effective so we work actively to continuously improve the conditions for cyclists. Cycling is indeed an intrinsic culture in Malmö. This is mainly due to the city’s high percentage of students and other youngsters, but it can also be traced back to the 1950-1970s, when a proportion of Malmö’s population were factory workers.”

Cycling in Malmo
Cycling in Malmö © City of Malmö

Other transport initiatives include planning for an express Metro between Malmö and Copenhagen and a Super-Bus system, shares Reepalu. “We hope to build a cableway between the railway station, the University and the Western Harbour. We have also convinced the state level to plan several railway investments in the Malmö area.”

Partnering Cophenhagen
Another vital ingredient to Malmö’s success is its unique relationship with Copenhagen. The opening of the Øresund Bridge in 2000 has created a physical connection between the two cities. While Malmö’s growth potential is constrained by its physical size, the close partnerships with Copenhagen has extended its economic reach beyond its 160 sq km and population of 300,000, making it the centre of the Øresund region, together with Copenhagen.
“Together (with Copenhagen), we form a strong and competitive sustainable region where we can learn from each other’s strengths and counterbalance economic downturn in one sector with growth in another.”
– Ilmar Reepalu, Mayor of Malmö (1994 – present)

Malmö and Copenhagen have charted out comprehensive plans that have common goals on social, economic and environmental sustainability, setting a strong and common vision for the region’s growth. As a result, there are joint discussions on the expansion of public transport across the Øresund, common projects on sustainable growth and cleantech, as well as initiatives on education for sustainability and the integration of youth in city planning. Elaborating further, Reepalu said, “Together, we form a strong and competitive sustainable region where we can learn from each other’s strengths and counterbalance economic downturn in one sector with growth in another. Our joint city planning efforts, sustainability projects like wind power plants and the creation of a modern sustainable co-owned harbour have been highly successful and have attracted much attention. In front of us lies the challenge of integrating these positive experiences into our daily work.”

Malmö’s joint effort with Copenhagen reflects the importance of long-term planning in not just cities but for the region as well. It is a lesson learnt that ambitions, when shared, can be achieved more comprehensively. Their efforts have paid off - both Malmö and Copenhagen were selected as Special Mentions for the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize 2012. Malmö’s drive and dedication to its rejuvenation is admirable, in spite of the challenges faced in the initial stages of redevelopment. It has illustrated its innovative governance and notable level of commitment to its ambitions, backed by systematic and rigorous processes. Malmö’s experience shows that sustainability is not about sacrificing the quality of life, but about embracing a new quality of life as opportunity to build new economies. The benefits of the cooperation between Malmö and Copenhagen have been profound, benefiting not only the citizens of the two cities but also the entire Øresund region. O

This article was first published in October 2012. All images contained within this page are used with license and shall not be copied, modified, or reproduced.

Ilmar Reepalu

Ilmar Reepalu

Ilmar Reepalu was born 1943 in Estonia. He holds a Master of Science in Civil Engineering and Architecture from Chalmers University and a Supplementary Degree in Architecture from the Royal University College of Fine Arts. From 1970 – 1985 he worked as architect in Gothenburg specialising in sustainable city planning. From 1985 – 1994 he was Vice Mayor of Malmö, and from 1994 – 2013 he was the Mayor of Malmö. Since 1994 he is Chairman of the City Executive Board and Lord Mayor. From 1999-2007 he was President of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, and since 2007 he is its Vice President. He also is member of the Policy Committee of the Council for European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) since 2001. He is a member of the EU Committee of Regions since 2007 and the former chairman of its Commission for Climate, Environment and Energy (ENVE).