Thursday, 23 October 2014

Modern urbanism defined - build places people don't want to live in and call it 'sustainable development'


I can understand dense urban development when there's not a lot of spare land and values are very high. But sometimes it just reveals the ideology of urbanists to be unpleasantly directing and controlling. Here's an example - the relocation of the Swedish town of Kiruna:

“Either the mine must stop digging, creating mass unemployment, or the city has to move – or else face certain destruction. It’s an existential predicament.”

So Kiruna (familiar to us 'A' level geography students as the best example of a town that simply wouldn't be there were it not for an essential natural resource - iron ore) needs to move. But the proposed replacement is a classic example of what you get when trendy architects meet 'sustainable development' and state control:

The current town is a sprawling suburban network of winding streets, home to detached houses with gardens. White’s plan incorporates a much higher-density arrangement of multistorey apartment blocks around shared courtyards, lining straight axial boulevards, down which the icy winds will surge.

It is an opportunity, say the architects, for Kiruna to “reinvent itself” into a model of sustainable development, attracting young people who wouldn’t have stayed in the town before, with new cultural facilities and “visionary” things such as a cable car bobbing above the high street. But it is a vision that many of the existing residents seem unlikely to be able to afford.

Kiruna is in the middle of nowhere - quite literally. It only exists because of the reserves of magnetite and, if you don't want to stay and dig the stuff up, you're going to head south pretty sharpish. Why on earth would young people stay in a small town where it's dark for half the year when they can go to Stockholm?

There was no need at all to build this sort of trendy version of 'Stalinist Baroque' - the authorities could have simply parcelled up and handed out building plots to residents. But that would have been too free, open and democratic for the urbanists. They'd much prefer some choice and living room but will be getting the high rise, high rent apartments the state dictates. This is the sort of world the fans of garden cities and sustainable living want. It's not what people want.  But what do we get?


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