The initiative, known as Street Moves, aims to inspire a greater sense of community, cut carbon emissions from traffic, and even boost public health. And what do you need to achieve all this (and more besides)? Some prefabricated wooden street furniture, a few vacant parking spaces, and a strong level of engagement from local people.
The Local spoke with Dan Hill, director of strategic design at Vinnova, Sweden’s state innovation agency, to get the full story on the benefits of going ‘hyperlocal’.
Making the most of street life
The idea of the 15-minute city, where all your needs are within a 15-minute radius on foot or by bike, has earned Paris global attention and is central to its vision for its post-pandemic recovery. In Sweden, Vinnova and ArkDes, Sweden’s national centre for architecture and design, are going a step further by focusing on single streets.
The idea is to encourage each of us to help design, take care of, and make the most of what lies right on our doorsteps – what Hill calls “the one-minute city”.
Think of a big city in terms of Russian dolls, says Hill. At the biggest scale are sports stadiums, ports, the metro system, city libraries, hospitals, and so on. “At the 15-minute scale, we have parks, local places of worship, neighbourhood libraries, local theatres, and health centres,” he continues. “At the one-minute scale, our streets transform. We have kindergartens, local book groups, bars, cafes, shared gardens, bike-sharing hubs, a basketball hoop, energy microgrids, and all the ingredients of a vivid street life.”
With Street Moves, the ambition is to ensure the immediate street life we all encounter on a daily basis is genuinely people-friendly. Cities have been planned around cars for 60 years, says Daniel Byström, project manager for Street Moves at ArkDes Think Tank. “Now it’s time to start designing streets for other things, such as satisfying an increasing need for greenery and meeting places in the city,” he adds.
Amplifying ‘expert’ local voices
Street Moves has been piloted at four locations in Stockholm, as well as one location each in two other Swedish cities. Following the success of the first phase, Vinnova and Arkdes are working to extend the project in Stockholm and other urban areas.
The street furniture units, made with light but hard-wearing wood, were designed by LundbergDesign, along with ArkDes and Vinnova, as a ‘kit of parts’. The foundation is an expandable wooden platform, to which benches, tables and other parts can be added, while the whole thing remains quick to put up or take down. A platform can stand-alone in a single parking space or be joined with others to stretch along a street.
Residents can use them for all manner of possibilities: for bikes or scooter racks; for cultivating urban gardens; for an outdoor gym or children’s playground; for a charging station for electric cars; or simply as a social hub to sit and chat with friends or neighbours in a way that’s all too rare for many city-dwellers!
Through workshops and consultations, local people can decide how much street space is reserved for parking and how many spaces to give up. Involving residents in such decisions not only gives people a voice but also a vested interest in using the space to their advantage – and personal wellbeing is already highly valued in Stockholm.
The intention, according to Hill, is to “explore how a city can be made by us all, and how a sustainable, resilient and vibrant city must be produced by us, on our terms”. He expresses hope for a new age of design: “One that recognises that the expertise people have about their own places and neighbourhoods is just as valid as the technical expertise that might exist in city hall.”
Almost three-quarters of residents in the first phase supported alternative uses of parking spaces, says Hill, and they wanted “convivial, green and healthy spaces”. Movement on the streets around the units also increased dramatically, according to ArkDes.
The benefits of going ‘hyperlocal’
Stockholm is playing an important part in international movements to promote a healthier and more sustainable future. For instance, it’s on the steering committee of C40 Cities, which connects almost 100 of the world’s greatest cities – representing more than 700 million citizens – to take bold action on climate change.
The ultimate goal of Street Moves is hugely ambitious: nationwide implementation throughout the 2020s, so that every street in Sweden is healthy, sustainable and vibrant by 2030.
Hill says both the 15-minute and one-minute city concepts aim to reorient cities “around people and place” in order to tackle some of the biggest challenges of our age.
“These ‘hyperlocal’ ideas are likely to be the answer to many of these challenges,” he continues. “It will help slash emissions, but just as importantly, a city framed around diverse local cultures, active transport and healthy biodiverse environments can transform our public health issues. This would not only be the right thing to do ethically, but it would also reduce our healthcare costs.”
Research suggests other potential benefits could include reduced crime, increased social fabric, and more resilient local shops. “What’s holding us back?” asks Hill.