How I came to appreciate Malmö’s underdog charm

How I came to appreciate Malmö's underdog charm
Introducing The Local's new Malmö correspondent, Richard Orange. Photo: Private
As our reporter Richard Orange starts contributing daily reports from Malmö, his home for eight years, he sums up what he loves about Sweden's third city, and what he hopes will change.
Before I arrived in Malmö my future wife sold the city as a sort of multicultural, hipster wonderland. So when I got here, I found the reality, with its drab, functionalist architecture and quiet Swedishness, pretty underwhelming.
It wasn't an assault on the senses, oozing with history, like Mumbai, where I'd lived before. I sympathized with a friend from bustling Nairobi who complained, “but where are all the people?”. 
But I've come to appreciate the city's underdog charm, the abrasive sense of humour of the local 'skåningar', and the new culture emerging from the fusion of more than 170 nationalities. It's not pretty, but it certainly has character. 
So I am excited about the opportunity I will have as The Local's first Malmö reporter to report on sides of the city that rarely make the news elsewhere in Sweden, let alone internationally. 
Startups and app developers 
Over the last two years we've been renting out a room on AirBnB, and it has been a revelation. 
Every month, we get computer programmers from Eastern Europe looking to check the city out before applying for a job, more often than not in a gaming company. 
The Romanian we have staying with us at the moment has just started working at an app developer founded by a Bulgarian Swede. Of the 15 people working there, no two come from the same country. 
The huge investments Sweden made in rescuing Malmö after its ship-building industry collapsed in the the 1980s are clearly still paying dividends. And the idea of Greater Copenhagen, which sees Malmö as the centre of a high-tech industrial cluster stretching from Lund and across the bridge to Denmark is more than just marketing. 
Playmobil city
But it's an aspect of Malmö I had up until now rarely seen. 
For me, Malmö is the place where I've looked after my young children, now six and four.  It has always felt like a sort of 'Playmobil city', a social democratic construction where all the amenities are conveniently placed.
Everything is so close. I cycle two minutes to the park. Next to the park is the local co-op. The next street up is my daughter's old day care (just opposite the building that was the Police HQ in the hit TV series The Bridge).
The next street down is where I had my shared office. Just across the nearby Möllevången Square is the hospital where my children were born. 
For my first five years here, I lived in a one-kilometre radius around Folkets Park, the centre of my social life ever since my daughter learned to walk.  
Viewed from the there, with its playgrounds, laid-back outdoor bar, and faux-Moorish palace, the description of Malmö as a city under siege, rocked by shootings and grenade attacks, seems absurd. 
On a summer's day, you see large Arab families setting up there with elaborate picnics and sheesha pipes. Last month, I stumbled on a Palestinian harvesting mulberries from high up in a tree above the bouncy castle, which he then handed out to curious onlookers.
The park vies with the local branch of Ikea for the title of the least segregated place in the city. 
But segregation is arguably Malmö's biggest problem. Just two kilometres south of Folkets Park is Rosengård, where almost 90 percent of people have an immigrant background. I went there almost every day this summer to enjoy its beautiful and often completely deserted Olympic-sized outdoor pool. 
After my lunchtime dip one day, I bumped into a mum I'd got to know years earlier at Öppna Förskola (Open Kindergarten) a drop-in centre for parents and their babies right just outside Folkets Park. 
She came from a Middle-Eastern country, I forget which. We had an awkward chat about how our respective children were both about to start school, and I cycled off. 
The reason this struck me is that I would have liked to have been her friend. But I hadn't seen her once in the five years since my daughter started kindergarten. Rosengård may be only two kilometres away, but it's in a totally different bubble. 
Richard Orange with Eira (6) and Finn (4) on the way to Folkets Park. 
The other side of the track
This is the dark side of the 'Playmobil city'. In 2014, the area around Folkets Park overwhelmingly backed parties which favour open immigration, with the Left Party, Feminist Initiative, and Greens taking two thirds of the vote.  
But few people who live here do anything in their day-to-day to welcome new immigrants or make friends with them, and almost none of them ever ventures over the railway line which separates this part of the city from Rosengård. 
Twice, my son and daughter have got a place at a nursery school on the border of Rosengård, and both times my wife, a Left Party supporter, and I have turned the place down. 
This summer, we were once again terrified that our daughter would be placed in the school 700 metres in the Rosengård direction, where most of the children have immigrant backgrounds, rather than the one 400 metres the other way, where most don't.
We're not alone. When one of my neighbours was considering renting out their apartment for six months, our building's board shamefacedly ruled out leasing it to a family awaiting an asylum decision because it was just “too risky”. 
I see Malmö's Arab and African-origin immigrant families in Folkets Park, but the people I talk to are middle-class Swedes, Europeans, Australians and Americans. 
What I find frustrating about this is that Rosengård has a lot to recommend it. If you've visited the local library and seen the earnest young women and men studying there, it's hard to believe claims that “immigrants don't want to integrate”. 
As I went for my swims, I'd pass children of Somali, Arab and other origins playing happily in the car-free areas of bustling Bennetts Bazaar as their parents shopped, mingled and sipped coffee. The parks and playgrounds are well-tended. There's none of the broken glass and discarded syringes you find in the poorest parts of some other European cities.
I suspect that in twenty years, someone will write a memoir of their idyllic, multicultural childhood. (Arguably, with the footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic's autobiography, someone already has). 
The only time Rosengård makes the news is when someone has been shot, and in a way this is strange, as I would happily walk through it alone at any time of night, while in London, I was mugged three times in a single year. Today gangs of young men on mopeds there apparently throw acid in people's faces just to steal their phones. 
So Rosengård, and many other Malmö immigrant districts, are in some ways success stories. The problem is that they are separated, socially at least, from the rest of the city. 
The whole Malmö 
I want to try to write about the whole of Malmö, following its startups, the development of 'Greater Copenhagen', and the high-tech industry cluster it shares with Lund. 
I will cover the crime and the social problems. But I also want to cover the positive sides of immigration and the city's efforts to fight segregation, initiatives like Malmedalen, the political festival held in Rosengård last month.
In December, a new railway station will open in Rosengård, allowing people there to reach Malmö's central station in a matter of minutes. There is a lot going on.
And while sometimes the gang violence gets a little too close to comfort, Malmö still feels to me like a city on the up. It might even one day become the dynamic place, fizzing with cultural exchange and ideas, that I was promised all those years ago.  
Follow Richard Orange's future reports from Malmö here.

Eira Orange and Finn Orange appreciate Malmö street art. Photo: Mia Orange

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