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OPINION & ANALYSIS

When will Sweden have daylight again? 

Congratulations, you survived the longest night of the year in one of the darkest countries in the world. 

When will Sweden have daylight again? 
The sun rises above Stockholm Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

Remember daylight? 

Daylight is shy; it starts creeping back slowly, almost imperceptibly.

During December, the sun’s path dips lower and lower each day. If you didn’t know any better you might think that it could drop below the horizon and disappear forever. 

On December 21st, Stockholm had 6 hours 4 minutes and 48 seconds seconds of daylight according to this page. The next day was three whole seconds longer. And by the end of the year, the city will have one and a half minute more daylight than the day before.

It’s not much, but it’s something. 

If you’re wondering why you live in a place with such little winter daylight, remember summer? It’s easy to forget in the height of the long Swedish summer days that winters are so miserable. But it’s just as easy to forget that summer’s marathon days will return when you’re deep in the darkest days in one of the darkest places during one of the darkest times. 

In the northern parts of the northern hemisphere we’re forced to compensate with 10,000 lux light therapy lamps, trying to artificially photosynthesise while we wait for the daylight to return. We light candles, trying to squeeze the most mys out of these extra long nights. Mammals go into hibernation and so do we, in our blanketed Netflix dens, barely seeing the midday sun. 

While January comes with a few precious extra seconds of daylight, it can feel darker than ever. House plants might be losing their leaves, and your vitamin D levels are waning. We cling to each glimpse of sunshine that vanishes like sand in an hour-glass. 

But at last, the days are getting longer again. 

March 20th will mark Stockholm’s vernal (spring) equinox, when the hours of daylight and nighttime are equal. From there, daylight hours increase every day by about five minutes in the Swedish capital.

If you live in Kiruna, Sweden’s most northern city, you will first see daylight again on January 2nd. From then on, every day will get longer and longer until the sun does not go down again, a phenomenon which starts at the end of May. 

At the other end of Sweden, in Malmö, there’s now seven hours of daylight. By midsummer, Malmö will get 17 and a half hours of daylight.

The exact moment where the northern hemisphere is furthest from the sun varies from year to year due to a slight misalignment between the Gregorian calendar and the actual rate of the Earth’s rotation around the sun, but it usually falls on December 21st or 22nd. It’s called the “solstice” because from a human perspective, the sun seems to literally stand still in the sky.

We tried to interview some daylight for a comment on this story but they were busy in the southern hemisphere. Right now, Antarctica – the coldest continent on earth – has more daylight than Sweden.

READ ALSO: Facing the January blues as an immigrant family in Sweden

Pagan winter solstice festivals were referred to as jul long before the birth of Christ was celebrated. Even hundreds of years ago, we knew to comfort ourselves with festivities, with candles and fires, with family and friends, with food and drink. And we knew to celebrate the coming of a new sun. 

That new sun marks the beginning of the end for winter. From now until June 21st 2022, every tomorrow will be lighter than the last. And then Stockholm will be bathed in 18 hours 37 minutes and 8 seconds of daylight. 

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Sweden’s second city is the site of Scandinavia’s largest urban development project. But there is rising concern that the costs outweigh the benefits, says David Crouch

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Last week, residents in the area of Fågelsången (birdsong), a quiet street at the very heart of Sweden’s second city, woke up to read the following news: “Explosions at Fågelsången: On August 8, week 32, we start blasting around Fågelsången and are expected to be done by week 40. When blasting, for safety reasons, no one is allowed to go out, open their windows or be within the blasting area. We will work weekdays 7am to 5pm.” 

Blasting deep holes in the granite – along with sprawling roadworks – has been the reality for central Gothenburgers for the past four years, as a vast rail tunnel is being dug to link the current terminus with other parts of the city and enable smoother connections with other routes. The aim is to triple rail passenger numbers and eliminate traffic jams on the main road through the city, at a cost of 20 billion crowns (€1.9 billion).

This railway, known as Västlänken (the West Link), is not the only big construction project in the city centre. It is just the largest element in a gigantic scheme to revive the docks area along the river, which was destroyed by a global shipping crisis in the 1970s. The great rusting cranes opposite the opera house and the disused Eriksberg gantry are an important aspect of Gothenburg’s skyline and self-image. The areas on the north bank were also home to many recent immigrants and a byword for poverty. The city’s mayor famously, and shamefully, referred to it as “the Gaza strip”.

So in 2012 the city launched an ambitious plan. Christened Älvstaden, the RiverCity, municipal investment aimed to build an attractive, modern waterfront while creating tens of thousands of homes and jobs. It is by far the Nordic region’s biggest urban regeneration project. A YouTube video commissioned by the city authorities a few years later neatly sums up both the breathtaking scope of this vision and the exciting / brutal (choose your own adjective here) nature of the transformation it would bring: 

The RiverCity revolved around two flagship projects: a new bridge over the river, the Hisingsbron (Hisingen Bridge), combined with major new office developments right in the centre; and Karlatornet, Sweden’s tallest skyscraper, which would literally tower over Gothenburg like a beacon of modernity in a city that traditionally has had strict rules against high-rise buildings. 

Add to all this a proposed high-speed rail link with Stockholm, and you have a recipe for quite spectacular urban upheaval involving billions of tons of steel and concrete. Visit Gothenburg today and much of the city seems to have been turned into a building site. There is a forest of cranes, while smart new office blocks puncture the skyline – a genuine metamorphosis is under way.

But many Gothenburgers are either uneasy or downright unhappy. The RiverCity is a vanity project to gentrify the docklands, they say. Karlatornet’s 73 stories of luxury apartments will be a scar on the landscape and a symbol of Gothenburg’s new love affair with finance and real estate, a slap in the face for the city’s proud industrial values. Västlänken is a vit elefant, a costly project that will deliver questionable benefits, many believe.  

Opposition to Västlänken was such that a new political party, the Democrats, took 17 percent of the vote in 2018 with its headline demand to stop the project immediately. This caused a revolution in local politics, overturning decades of Social Democrat rule. 

And now the gloss on these big-ticket construction projects is starting to fade. Karlatornet was the first to run into trouble. For most of 2020 building work was at a standstill, raising the threat that this flagship of regeneration would be nothing more than an unfinished stump, after American financiers pulled out of the project. The new Hisingen Bridge is open to traffic, but its construction was fraught with setbacks and the final cost to the taxpayer is still unknown. “There has been an awareness from the start that this was a high-risk project,” one of the project’s bosses said ominously this spring.

RiverCity is more than two billion kronor over budget, and facing accusations of mismanagement that evoke Gothenburg’s old nickname of Muteborg, or Bribetown, after a proliferation of municipal companies in the 1970s led to conflicts of interest, with politicians sitting on company boards. Opponents of the scheme argue that in any case it is unlikely to solve any of the city’s fundamental problems, such as the ethnic segregation that has created immigrant ghettos in outlying suburbs.  

In May, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published leaked minutes from Västlänken management meetings in which one of the main contractors on the project said it would be delivered billions over budget and four years later than its official 2026 deadline – in other words, four more years of earth-shattering explosions, roadblocks and associated upheaval. With local elections only months away, the Democrats have taken out advertisements on billboards and in local media demanding that top politicians tell the truth about what is going on. For opponents of the scheme, this is exactly what they have warned of all along

Next June, Gothenburg will officially celebrate its 400th anniversary, postponed from 2021 because of the pandemic. Visitors will experience a city on the move, with pristine new motorways and sparkling office blocks. So for Gothenburg’s urban planners, there is light at the end of the development tunnel. In the case of Västlänken, however, they will be hoping that the light is indeed that of an oncoming train. 

David Crouch has lived in Gothenburg for nine years. He is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It, a freelance journalist and lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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