Uproar over planned destruction of urban ‘green lung’

Uproar over planned destruction of urban 'green lung'
Residents living in Kvarteret Plankan in the Södermalm district of Stockholm are in uproar over plans to build a large apartment block in the centre of their courtyard.

The apartment complex is owned by Svenska Bostäder (SB), Sweden’s largest housing association. SB has stated an interest in developing additional housing at Plankan since 2003, although all previous plans have been refused.

Susanna Stenfelt from Stockholm’s city planning office told The Local: “SB are very eager to develop the site. They are looking all over the city for places to build new housing and are under considerable political pressure to do so”.

The new five-storey, colosseum-esque building will provide the area with nearly 80 new residences; 24 of which will be apartments, a further 42 specifically for students and 12 business premises with residential mezzanines. Construction is planned to commence in 2010.

Despite the city being in dire need of new residential space, especially for students, the tenants of Kvarteret Plankan say it will destroy their quality of living.

Plankan resident Mariana Santini spoke to The Local about her concerns over the plans:

“We are not against new buildings, but I can’t understand why they are so stubborn in wanting to put something here when it is already so polluted.”

Kvarteret Plankan is flanked by the bustling Hornsgatan, the largest thoroughfare linking Södermalm with Stockholm. Not only a very busy street, with a heavy concentration of traffic, Hornsgatan is considered to be Stockholm’s most polluted street.

“It’s quite a wild exploitation without any explanation,” says Santini. “They want to create green spaces, how does this help?!” It seems in contrast with other ‘green’ initiatives in the city”.

The potential destruction of the courtyard is not only an environmental concern. The existing complex is comprised of 341 apartments, housing over 600 people and the open space is utilized by many of its inhabitants.

“Especially during the summer there are a lot of people using this. When it’s sunny, of course they go out and sit there. It’s a very nice, pleasant, little green area to be in,” comments Santini’s partner, Mathias Thiel.

The area is used not only by the 600 occupants: in addition to the complex’s own day care facility, the large fenced play area is also used by several other nurseries in the area.

“Every morning they come and play here as they have no green space themselves,” adds Santini.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are also concerns over how the development might affect the many elderly and disabled residents of Plankan. Currently the simple landscaping of the courtyard, punctuated with winding paths, trees and benches, provides many of the less physically able tenants with their sole opportunity for exercise and fresh air.

“I don’t know where else they would go” says Santini, pointing out how both exits to the courtyard either end in steps, or potentially uneven public pavements.

Built in the 1960s and constructed largely from concrete, the Plankan complex is not the most aesthetically pleasing of housing blocks. The many mature trees and evergreen shrubs in the courtyard are one of the only redeeming features of this otherwise stark edifice.

The central square is also the only light source for many of the lower apartments. If this is obscured by extensive construction, Santini notes how they “will lose so much light, particularly those on the bottom storeys”.

Thiel continues: “I think it’s a pity that they are thinking of dividing up this big yard. It will be five spaces, one in each corner and then one in the centre of this main column. All of these spaces will be quite dark and confined”.

However, Stenfelt disagrees with this view: “The courtyard is quite large, there should be no problem fitting in the new building whilst still retaining lots of green space around it”.

There is much disbelief amongst residents as to why SB is so interested in building at Plankan, as Thiel explains: “You need to weigh the needs of 80 or so households against the fact that we are 341 flats here. I don’t know if there can really be much to gain”.

The planned build certainly is an emotive issue for residents, and there is great concern for both the environmental and humanitarian cost. As an impassioned Santini states:

“We need to see it as an issue for the whole city. It is a lung which will disappear”.

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