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The one-minute city: how Stockholm is going ‘hyperlocal’

As pandemic-related restrictions are lifted, cities across Europe are exploring changes they can make to improve their residents’ quality of life. One pioneering scheme, started in Stockholm and being rolled out in other Swedish cities, was already being planned before Covid-19 but seems even more relevant as a result of it.

The one-minute city: how Stockholm is going 'hyperlocal'
Photo: ArkDes

The initiative, known as Street Moves, aims to inspire a greater sense of community, cut carbon emissions from traffic, and even boost public health. And what do you need to achieve all this (and more besides)? Some prefabricated wooden street furniture, a few vacant parking spaces, and a strong level of engagement from local people. 

The Local spoke with Dan Hill, director of strategic design at Vinnova, Sweden’s state innovation agency, to get the full story on the benefits of going ‘hyperlocal’.

Looking to improve your quality of life? Get top tips from Stockholm residents for a fulfilling personal and professional life in the city

Making the most of street life 

The idea of the 15-minute city, where all your needs are within a 15-minute radius on foot or by bike, has earned Paris global attention and is central to its vision for its post-pandemic recovery. In Sweden, Vinnova and ArkDes, Sweden’s national centre for architecture and design, are going a step further by focusing on single streets. 

The idea is to encourage each of us to help design, take care of, and make the most of what lies right on our doorsteps – what Hill calls “the one-minute city”.

Think of a big city in terms of Russian dolls, says Hill. At the biggest scale are sports stadiums, ports, the metro system, city libraries, hospitals, and so on. “At the 15-minute scale, we have parks, local places of worship, neighbourhood libraries, local theatres, and health centres,” he continues. “At the one-minute scale, our streets transform. We have kindergartens, local book groups, bars, cafes, shared gardens, bike-sharing hubs, a basketball hoop, energy microgrids, and all the ingredients of a vivid street life.” 

With Street Moves, the ambition is to ensure the immediate street life we all encounter on a daily basis is genuinely people-friendly. Cities have been planned around cars for 60 years, says Daniel Byström, project manager for Street Moves at ArkDes Think Tank.Now it’s time to start designing streets for other things, such as satisfying an increasing need for greenery and meeting places in the city,” he adds.

Photo credit: LundbergDesign

Amplifying ‘expert’ local voices  

Street Moves has been piloted at four locations in Stockholm, as well as one location each in two other Swedish cities. Following the success of the first phase, Vinnova and Arkdes are working to extend the project in Stockholm and other urban areas.

The street furniture units, made with light but hard-wearing wood, were designed by LundbergDesign, along with ArkDes and Vinnova, as a ‘kit of parts’. The foundation is an expandable wooden platform, to which benches, tables and other parts can be added, while the whole thing remains quick to put up or take down. A platform can stand-alone in a single parking space or be joined with others to stretch along a street.

Residents can use them for all manner of possibilities: for bikes or scooter racks; for cultivating urban gardens; for an outdoor gym or children’s playground; for a charging station for electric cars; or simply as a social hub to sit and chat with friends or neighbours in a way that’s all too rare for many city-dwellers!

Through workshops and consultations, local people can decide how much street space is reserved for parking and how many spaces to give up. Involving residents in such decisions not only gives people a voice but also a vested interest in using the space to their advantage – and personal wellbeing is already highly valued in Stockholm

The intention, according to Hill, is to “explore how a city can be made by us all, and how a sustainable, resilient and vibrant city must be produced by us, on our terms”. He expresses hope for a new age of design: “One that recognises that the expertise people have about their own places and neighbourhoods is just as valid as the technical expertise that might exist in city hall.” 

Almost three-quarters of residents in the first phase supported alternative uses of parking spaces, says Hill, and they wanted “convivial, green and healthy spaces”. Movement on the streets around the units also increased dramatically, according to ArkDes.

Photo credit: Daniel Byström

The benefits of going ‘hyperlocal’

Stockholm is playing an important part in international movements to promote a healthier and more sustainable future. For instance, it’s on the steering committee of C40 Cities, which connects almost 100 of the world’s greatest cities – representing more than 700 million citizens – to take bold action on climate change.

The ultimate goal of Street Moves is hugely ambitious: nationwide implementation throughout the 2020s, so that every street in Sweden is healthy, sustainable and vibrant by 2030.

Hill says both the 15-minute and one-minute city concepts aim to reorient cities “around people and place” in order to tackle some of the biggest challenges of our age.

“These ‘hyperlocal’ ideas are likely to be the answer to many of these challenges,” he continues. “It will help slash emissions, but just as importantly, a city framed around diverse local cultures, active transport and healthy biodiverse environments can transform our public health issues. This would not only be the right thing to do ethically, but it would also reduce our healthcare costs.”

Research suggests other potential benefits could include reduced crime, increased social fabric, and more resilient local shops. “What’s holding us back?” asks Hill.

Want to build a better life? Find out what Stockholm’s local ‘experts’ have to say about making the most of today’s opportunities in the city

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PROPERTY

EXPLAINED: Will Swedish housing prices plummet as interest rates rise?

The Swedish financial supervisory authority warned on Wednesday that rising interest rates could lead to house prices falling "quite sharply". How likely is it that this will happen?

EXPLAINED: Will Swedish housing prices plummet as interest rates rise?

What financial circumstances might make it difficult for borrowers to repay loans?

With an increase in the cost of living, including rising interest rates and rising electricity prices, there are plenty of circumstances that may make it difficult for borrowers – especially those holding large debts in relation to their income – to repay their mortgages.

Households with large debts are therefore more sensitive to an increase in interest rates, according to the Swedish financial supervisory authority, known in Swedish as Finansinspektionen (FI).

The agency published its annual Swedish Mortgage Market report on Wednesday.

“Large debts also mean a higher sensitivity if you were to suffer unemployment during an extensive recession,” said Henrik Braconier, the authority’s chief economist.

Other factors that could stretch borrowers’ finances include rising energy prices, higher food prices, and growing inflation.

“Apples, oranges, tomatoes have gone up by 30 percent,” said Américo Fernández, a household economist at SEB. “Wheat is coming from Ukraine and it’s getting harder and harder to get hold of.”

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Will homeowners become unable to repay their mortgage loans?

Not according to Fernández.

“One of the last things Swedish households will fail to make their payments on is their mortgage and their houses,” he said. “They would rather decrease their spending on vacations abroad, or restaurants.”

The FI report noted that most new mortgages include margins that allow for fluctuations in the borrower’s finances. This means that mortgage holders have a cushion that allows them to handle financial changes.

“Our stress test shows that they can handle increases in the interest rate and also loss of income,” said Magnus Karlsson, FI’s director of macroanalysis. “New mortgages have margins in them calculating discretionary income, and will be able to absorb increases in interest rates and loss of income.”

SEB foresees an interest rise of up to three percent over the next two years, Fernández said,an increase that can be absorbed by most households.

Both Fernández and Karlsson agreed that if homeowners have to cut back on spending, those cuts will not come from debt repayment, but from their disposable income – the money they might ordinarily spend on entertainment, eating out, or travelling.

So while household spending may have to change, financial stability is not at stake for most households.

What’s going on with the housing market?

Right now, a record number of mortgage-holders have loans that are worth more than 4.5 times their income. This year, more than 14 percent of new mortgagors took on such large loans, compared to 6.3 percent last year.

A “low interest rate, increase in housing prices, increase in disposable real income and a housing market that is not functioning well” are all factors in the large debts that homeowners have incurred today, Karlsson argued.

Fernández noted that there is an imbalance between the low supply of housing and the high demand for housing, which is in part responsible for the high housing prices we see today.

He said a decrease in price of a few percentage points would not be surprising: “We’re coming from two years of exaggerated prices.”

Will housing prices begin to decrease after two years of increasing prices?

Calculations for three different scenarios tested by FI show that housing prices will decrease, Karlsson said.

While the agency does not predict housing prices, its report shows that under three different scenarios – the first an increase in mortgage interest rate, the second an increase in energy prices, and the third a combination of the first two with a reversal to pre-pandemic housing preferences – prices will decrease.

The Local Sweden reported last year about increasing housing costs in Sweden, spurred on in part by a desire for bigger homes further away from urban areas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fernández called the two years of increasing housing costs “surprising.”

“10-12 percent two years in a row, that’s historical in these uncertain times,” he said, noting that prices were still increasing in figures for March this year.

What sorts of housing will see the largest price decrease?

The FI report also included various scenarios of how the price of different types of housing may fluctuate based on changes in the interest rate.

One scenario assumed a 1 percent increase in interest rates this year and a 0.5 percent increase next year, and predicted that while the price of apartments owned in a cooperative – called bostadsrätter – would fall only slightly, the price of detached houses would fall by 10 percent.

Another calculation that accounted for rising electricity prices and a decline in new housing purchases found that the price of bostadsrätter and detached houses risked falling by an average of 30 percent.

Is there a plan to let borrowers end their mortgage terms early?

“We believe it needs to be simpler and more inexpensive for households to repay their mortgages early,” FI Director General Erik Thedéen is quoted as saying in a press release published by the agency on Wednesday.

To that end, Thedéen said at a press conference that the agency had sent a request to the government to change the calculation model for how banks are compensated when mortgages are terminated early.

“When you terminate a loan agreement and the bank incurs costs, it must be reimbursed,” Thedéen said. “But at present the banks are overcompensated, that is what our calculations show. If the government follows our line and changes the model and follows our line, then the banks must simply adapt.”

When asked about the likelihood of this request being granted, FI recommended reaching out to the Ministry of Justice for comment.

What does this mean for foreigners in Sweden?

If you’re already a mortgage holder, then as Karlsson and Fernández assured, mortgage calculations include a cushion that allow for changes in your financial circumstances.

If homeownership is in your future, housing prices may begin to decrease in the near future, so it’s worth keeping an eye on your local real estate listings.

By Shandana Mufti

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