Swedish culture capital to attract new residents

With northern Swedish town Umeå set to become the European Capital of Culture next year, The Local finds out how the arts accolade could boost the city's growth with local officials hoping to almost double the town's population.

Swedish culture capital to attract new residents

The event organizers Umeå2014 is going to host two seminars in upcoming political conference week Almedalen about culture-driven growth for the town of 117,000 people.

Located in Västerbotten County, Umeå is known chiefly as an academic centre with about 37,000 students. In six months’ time, the town is bound to be the European Capital of Culture.

Community officials hope the title will help drive economic and cultural growth across Sweden’s northern region, in 2014 and beyond.

“We don’t want to create sparkling events that everybody will forget once 2015 comes along. We believe that we have to cooperate here in the north,” Marit Andersson, Media Communicator of Umeå2014, told The Local.

Putting the town firmly on Europe’s culture map could also make it a more attractive town to live in, organizers hope.

“The Capital Culture project is part of our desire to reach 200,000 inhabitants in Umeå by 2050. As a whole, we want to develop the city and it is a long way to go,” Andersson said of the target to near double the town’s population in four decades.

As the northern location of Umeå makes the trip there for would-be tourists considerable, Umeå2014 will also export its cultural events across the continent.

“We will do a European tour in September and October in eight big cities in Europe, to talk about the north and to promote it,” Andersson said.

“To reach European citizens, we also have a creative competition called ‘Caught by Umeå’ where people can create artworks inspired by their perception of the north,” Andersson said.

Umeå will also be cooperating with nearby towns (by northern standards) Piteå and Örnsköldsvik.

“Today, Piteå will inaugurate their own cultural centre and they have a Capital of Culture office,” Andersson said.

The smaller town is already a flag bearer, of sorts, as a central roundabout in Örnsköldsvik now sports the Umeå2014 smiling-heart logo.

The town is the first spot on the cross-region “Art on track” project, where art lovers will be treated to installations along the Bothnia Line railway. Stations in between Sundsvall, Nordmaling, and Örnskölsvik will be adorned with art work.

Just like the Stockholm metro takes everyday commuters and tourists on an artistic trip every day, the “Art on track” project will shuttle passengers along a reinvented Bothnia Line.

Elodie Pradet

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Swedish city Umeå has Europe’s cleanest air

Umeå in northeast Sweden, has been named as having the cleanest air in Europe, according to a new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Swedish city Umeå has Europe's cleanest air
Umeå city centre, home to Europe's cleanest air. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

The EEA published The European city air quality viewer, an interactive tool showing the air pollution levels in 323 cities in Europe. Air pollution is the biggest environmental health risk according to the EEA. 

“This city air quality viewer allows citizens to see for themselves in an easy-to-use way how their city is doing compared to others on air pollution. It provides concrete and local information which can empower citizens towards their local authorities to address the issues,” says Hans Bruyninckx, the executive director of the EEA.

The cleanest air out of all these cities can be found in northern Sweden, in the city of Umeå, which has a level of 3,7 micrograms of fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, per cubic metre of air.

The EEA’s classification of air quality defines four levels of air quality: “good”, “moderate”, “poor” and “very poor”, with “good air” defined as having under 10 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter.

Only 127 out of the 323 cities in Europe are found to pass the limit of “good air” set by both the EU and the WHO.

All of the Swedish cities included in the study – Uppsala, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo as well as Umeå, had “good air” according to the report. Uppsala ranked 6th out of the 323 countries tested, while Stockholm ranked 9th, Gothenburg 23rd and Malmö 93rd. 

Second and third in the EEA’s ranking are Tammerfors in Finland and Funchal in Portugal.

 “Very poor air” was defined as over 25 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter of air and five cities on the index are considered to meet  this standard. Worst of all were Nowy Sacz in Poland, where 27.3 micrograms of particles were found per cubic meter of air, Cremona in Italy and Slavonski Brod in Croatia. 

Despite a reduction in emissions during the Covid-19 pandemic, the remaining 196 countries were all found to have above acceptable levels of air pollution. While lower levels of commuting have led to a decrease in levels of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, levels of particulate matter have remained stagnant.

The EEA’s experts said that emissions of particulate matter are the result of many different processes, including combustion of fuel for heating of homes, industry, and agriculture.

“White air quality has improved markedly over the past years, air pollution remains stubbornly high in many cities across Europe,” says Bruyninckx.

Last year, an EEA report found that Europe’s air has gotten cleaner in the last decade, but that the bad air caused 417 000 premature deaths across 41 countries in 2018 alone.

A similar study in The Lancet Planetary Health earlier this year found that air pollution causes around 200 000 premature deaths per year in Europe. They stated that if the pollution was lowered across Europe to below the limit of 10 micrograms per cubic meters, the levels recommended by the WHO, around 52 000 deaths could be avoided each year.