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Another side of Malmö's infamous Rosengård

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The omen of the Yalla Trappan restaurant; Drömmarnas Hus youth charity
14:02 CET+01:00
While Malmö's Rosengård neighbourhood is often the subject of negative headlines, the multi-ethnic district is slowly becoming a model for positive change in Sweden's third largest city, contributor Patrick Reilly discovers.

Mention the name Rosengård to anybody in Malmö and you are guaranteed to be met with an opinion – good, bad and frequently ugly.

It's not a place that provokes a neutral response and normally only makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Located just over four kilometres from the city centre, Rosengård is usually referred to as a suburb.

Click here for a walking tour through the streets of Rosengård

Despite the close proximity to central Malmö, it feels remote and separated from the rest of Sweden's third largest city.

“Mentally, Rosengård is a suburb but geographically it isn't,” Dick Fredholm, the head of public relations for the City District of Rosengård, tells The Local.

Unless one lives or works in Rosengård, most people in Malmö are unlikely to make the short journey to the district.

Rents are generally cheaper here – often more than 1,000 kronor ($150) less per month for a two room apartment compared with elsewhere in the city – and the image of a dangerous multi-ethnic community in chaos persists.

More often than not, an unfair national media is blamed for further tarnishing Rosengård's reputation.

Reporters flock here in droves at the merest hint of trouble and even America's Fox News arrived in 2003 to portray Rosengård as a virtual war zone to the world.

On one occasion, a media pack descended after hearing of a fire which turned out to have been caused by a malfunctioning electrical fan.

A visiting sheriff from Los Angeles specializing in violent extremism said Rosengård's biggest problem was its public relations.

“Traditionally it has had connotations with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, falafel, fires and riots but there is an everyday life in between which is quite similar to the rest of Malmö and other parts of Sweden,” adds Fredholm.

Built in the 1960s as part of the Million Programme (Millionprogram) home construction project, Rosengård has long been associated with immigrants.

Most of the original residents came for work, but in more recent times it has hosted a number of refugees from the Middle East.

And a walk through Rosengård nevertheless reveals obvious differences compared to many other parts of Sweden, with shops advertising their produce in both Swedish and Arabic, for example.

A shopping trolley has a message in four languages while the local supermarket points out that its offerings are 100 percent halal.

Pop into the local library and one finds an assortment of Macedonian, Albanian and Arabic titles to name just a few.

Walking into the shopping centre one hears a medley of languages being spoken with Swedish not always audible.

It is estimated that 86 percent of Rosengård residents have immigrant backgrounds, with most having roots in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.

And the way the area is often portrayed in the media might lead one believe that these disparate groups are at war with each other.

But the reality on the ground is rather different.

One of Rosengård's most popular haunts is the Yalla Trappan restaurant. Staffed solely by immigrant women, the eatery's Middle Eastern-themed menu draws a dedicated clientele of locals…of all nationalities.

“Most of these women have never worked and have no education from their own country. Many of them suffer from depression," says Dorotha Trusz, director of Yalla Trappan which provides work and education opportunities for local women.

"They have only been mothers and never had another role, so they feel isolated when they get here."

The group has branched out into corporate catering and is opening another restaurant elsewhere in Malmö.

“Yalla Trappan is a door to another opportunity. Our idea is to give women a chance to show how Swedish society operates so they can do something good for themselves and also for Sweden," Trusz adds.

A short walk from Yalla Trappan is Rosengård's very own "White House" complete with a West Wing.

Drömmarnas Hus ('The House of Dreams') has been transforming the lives of the local youth for over two decades.

Its current project, Mitt Område ('My Area'), gives youngsters media skills and has proven to be particularly successful.

Local young people who participated in Mitt Område recently produced a well-received web-tv drama series called ‘Under.'

It's a love story set in the area with fantasy elements including a magical fish which connects people.

“The kids we meet identify themselves as being from Rosengård, not from Malmö. Often they cannot identify with the media picture of the area,” Sanna Bang Olsson, Youth Coordinator of Mitt Område tells The Local.

“We encourage participation, democracy and engage young people to be a positive influence to give a more nuanced picture of Rosengård.”

Young people also get an opportunity to speak their mind on local radio with a weekly 90 minute broadcast hosted by teenagers discussing topics which affect their community.

On a recent broadcast, a quartet of teens with Palestinian, Iraqi, Lebanese and Afghan heritage had a lively debate about immigration and what it means to be Swedish.

As a follow up, representatives from the local police are expected to make an appearance on air to answer questions from the youth.

The district's local recreation centre is famous for boxing and is used for a variety of purposes.

After the local mosque mysteriously burned down in 2003 following an attack on the Islamic Center, on Fridays the rec centre also serves as a place of worship for the Muslim community.

However, Rosengård's willingness to adapt to its community is both a blessing and a curse according to Trusz.

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“It is a big mistake to translate everything into people's native languages. Why bother to learn Swedish when your own language is spoken here. It is too easy,” says the Yalla Trappan director.

And the district has its fair share of challenges.

A damning report on the standard of local schools last year revealed an alarming number of pupils don't go on onto upper secondary education.

“Results in the schools are so bad, 50 percent of the students that leave ninth grade go to upper secondary school so 50 percent go and do nothing which creates frustration," Fredholm, of the Rosengård district council laments, explaining that improving neighbourhood schools has become a top priority.

"There are too few students so the size of the classrooms is being changed so there is more money for teachers per student."

Ambitious plans are also being drawn up that call for the creation of railway station in Rosengård that will give the district a direct link to Malmö's city centre.

Hundreds of new student apartments are also in the pipeline and constructing the district's own high rise tower is also under consideration.

There is even a project inspired by a literal English translation of the district's Swedish name that calls for a world leading rose garden to be created in Rosengård so the area finally lives up to its name.

Despite the negative headlines, the multi-ethnic district is a community proud of its identity with visitors greeted by a quote from their most famous son – footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic – saying you can take the boy out of Rosengård but not the Rosengård out of the boy.

Innovative social projects, a responsive community and better communications mean the image of Rosengård as a crime-ridden ghetto is slowly changing.

Although the job is unlikely to stop there, as a similar image rehabilitation task is likely to be carried out for the whole of Malmö as well.

“The image that Rosengård had or has is being passed on to the image of Malmö now. What we have been doing here for two years will likely have to be done for the city also," Fredholm explains.

Thus Rosengård appears to be setting the trend for positive change that locals hope will expand to the rest of Malmö, as residents of other neighbourhoods in the city begin to see the once outcast district as a potential model for future improvements to the city as a whole

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