Hammarby Sjostad, Stockholm, Sweden, 1995 to 2015Building a `Green' City Extension

Hammarby Sjöstad has demonstrated how high environmental targets can be met through the use of a well developed masterplan with high levels of investment in infrastructure to support environmentally-friendly housing and resident lifestyles.

Key Points

  • Incorporating environmental technologies into a new community through a rigorous masterplan
  • Using competition between developers to spur innovation
  • Predicting the future community, and adjusting the development when those assumptions prove incorrect
The scope of the Hammarby Sjöstad development

The Hammarby Sjöstad development, when complete, will house 11,000 residential apartments, along with comprehensive provision of new public transport links, leisure facilities and green public spaces. To date 6,600 homes have been built, and the area has been transformed from a polluted ex-industrial site to a popular neighbourhood for young families.

Housing need in Stockholm

In the early 1990s Stockholm's City Planning Administration became aware that the population of the city was growing and predicted that this trend would continue into the new century. The 1999 'city plan' identified several areas across the city for development, the majority of which were ex-industrial sites. These developments were planned to be extensions of the city rather than new suburbs in order to meet the growing demand for urban living.

Large-scale housing development in the post-war era had resulted in an extra one million homes in Sweden. However these suburban developments proved to be unsustainable and today tend to house higher concentrations of deprived communities than other parts of Stockholm. The City Planning Administration was conscious of these problems and was keen to develop new housing gradually in parallel sites across the city, and to high design standards so as to avoid repeating the same problems.

Predicting the future population

In the 1960s many residents of Stockholm had moved out from the city into more rural areas in what became known as the 'green wave'. At that time the general consensus was that rural lifestyles were more environmentally harmonious. Gradually that consensus changed and many began to value the benefits of city living, of public transport provision and higher density housing. The City Planning Administration forecast initially that many of the residents who would come to live in these new developments would be older people who had left in the 'green wave' and would now come back to the city.

Olympic catalyst

Hammarby Sjöstad was intended to form part of Stockholm's bid to be the host city for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. The bid aimed to be the most environmentally sustainable games ever held. Though the bid was unsuccessful it acted as a catalyst to drive forward the early stages of the design and planning of the site. When the bid failed the city authorities decided to continue with the development and use it as a pilot for environmentally-friendly housing development in order to meet strong demand for new housing.

Setting targets for Hammarby Sjöstad

The design and development of Hammarby Sjöstad was overseen by two of the city authority departments, the City Development Administration and the City Planning Administration. They worked with a number of architecture firms and 40 building contractors to deliver the masterplan.

At the project's inception the land in Hammarby Sjöstad was privately owned. The area had fallen into disuse and had attracted a number of industrial squatters. The unregulated nature of this industrial activity had contributed further to the pollution of the site, which had reached such a critical point that the local eco-system was at risk of collapse.

'Closed loop' infrastructure

Following the purchase of the land by the city authorities a masterplan was drawn up which concentrated on the infrastructure for the project, including new public transport routes, district heating and cooling and an underground waste collection system for the development as a whole. The masterplan included some ambitious environmental targets, including average car ownership of only 0.5 cars per unit, and for the project as a whole to be twice as 'green' as other similar projects in Stockholm. The infrastructure systems put in place were designed as 'closed loop' systems for water, waste and energy which feed each other and therefore reduce the amount of energy and resources needed to run them. Particular elements of this infrastructure which helped the project to meet its environmental targets are:

  • two new bus routes (innercity buses are fuelled by bio-gas)
  • car sharing scheme (with 25 cars placed around the neighbourhood)
  • a free ferry service (Stockholm is built on 14 islands)
  • new tram line (which when complete will directly link to the centre of the city)
  • ENVAC waste system (waste is collected via a network of underground pipes to central points for collection)
  • many of the apartment blocks have solar panels or solar cells incorporated into their fabric
  • sewage from the apartments is converted into heat energy and bio-gas for use in district heating plants and public transport vehicles
  • solid waste resulting from the processing of sewage is composted and used in foresting
  • apartments are linked to the city's district heating (which supplies 80 per cent of the houses in Stockholm) and district cooling is offered to offices and stores
  • the road alongside the development has been lowered by two metres to reduce noise pollution
  • linear green spaces thread through the masterplan connecting the housing with a nature reserve nearby, providing a habitat for local wildlife
Turning targets into reality

The development used a total of 40 construction partners to design and build the individual apartment blocks. These developers were a mixture of privately and publicly owned companies who were building for outright sale and for rent into the future. In the first phase of development (of 1000 apartments) each contractor was offered a choice of buying the land for their individual plots at a reduced rate, after making a contribution towards the cost of the land remediation, or buying the land at the market rate after it had been cleaned. The contractors opted to make a contribution towards the clean-up and later to buy the land at a reduced cost.

Many of the apartment blocks that were built in the earlier stages of the project were experimental in their use of environmentally-friendly technologies, particularly solar panels and solar cells (in one case a fuel cell). In summer the solar panels can provide up to 50 per cent of the energy required for hot water heating in the block. The fact that there were 40 contractors involved in designing and building the apartment blocks helped to drive up standards, as each competed to produce the leading designs.

The City Planning Administration's initial forecasts, that many of Hammarby Sjöstad's residents would be older, proved to be wrong and instead most of the completed homes were taken by young families. The project partners responded to this by boosting the provision of schools and crèches. Other social facilities included units for shops, cafes and restaurants on the ground floor of many of the apartment blocks. Unusual in suburban blocks instead of commercial centres, this design feature was met with scepticism by many of the developers, but to date each unit has been rented by local businesses.

Behaviour change

Much of the high standard environmental performance of Hammarby Sjöstad is due to the design of the buildings and the provision of public transport. However in order to meet the targets laid out for the project there has still been a need for individual residents to change their behaviour. The project masterplan included an education centre, known as Glashus Ett (Glasshouse One) which is a showcase for environmental technologies and hosts regular exhibitions to explain and encourage pro-environmental behaviour by residents. This has led to some success, for example average water use in the development is around 150 litres, compared to a city average of 200 litres. Households in Hammarby Sjöstad are not billed individually for their water consumption and without the incentive to reduce their bills further reductions in water use are unlikely in the short-term.

Contextual differences between the UK and Sweden

There are a number of significant differences between the UK and Sweden which could have an impact on the likely success of replicating the approach taken in Hammarby Sjöstad in the UK, including:

  • until relatively recently Sweden was a largely agricultural society. It is only in the last century or so that significant numbers of people have lived in cities and therefore most people are used to living in apartments rather than houses
  • Sweden does not have a system of social housing. Families and individuals in need of support receive financial help directly from the state and are then free to rent accommodation in the same way that others do
  • in Sweden housing developers are either privately owned or publicly controlled. The latter operate in much the same way as private companies but a proportion of the seats on their boards are reserved for local politicians. Both types of company build property for rent. Property for sale is privately controlled
  • the publicly controlled property companies set their rents at an affordable level which, due to their market share of rental properties in major cities, tends to influence the levels of rent across the whole property market, keeping rent levels relatively low in Sweden compared to other European countries. However, this has not always been as effective in more recent times
  • apartment blocks are owned as associations in Sweden, where all the residents of an apartment block collectively own their whole block rather then their individual apartments. Individual residents are able to raise mortgages against their 'right' to live in the apartment
  • the city authorities did not undertake any in-depth consultation with residents as part of the development at Hammarby Sjöstad, though the development plans were publicly exhibited according to legislative requirements. This is partly because there were no existing residents on site at the start of the project, but also in part due to a different relationship between local government and the public in Sweden to that of the UK.
Key successes at Hammarby Sjöstad:
  • The city's authorities were proactive in their efforts to meet predicted population increases in Stockholm, and were thus able to bring high quality housing onto the market at a time when demand was increasing
  • The whole development in Hammarby Sjöstad was designed as a comprehensive infrastructure project, of which housing was just one part. The heating, transport and waste collection systems were intended to work in tandem with each other to reduce the amount of energy and resources needed to maintain them in the long term. The project meets high environmental standards in comparison with many developments in the UK
  • The thorough masterplan ensured high standards in both the design quality and the environmental performance of the buildings
  • Including retail space in many of the apartment blocks has proved successful. All the retail units have been leased and there are now cafes, restaurants and shops throughout the development
  • All planning applications in Stockholm are based on life-cycle cost analysis and it is therefore easier to justify higher initial investments in better performing building design. Half of the properties were also built by developers to rent in the long term, again helping to justify higher initial outlays
  • The city authorities were able to use the competition between the 40 contractors involved in the project to drive up standards across the development.
Challenges for the project:
  • The City Planning Administration predicted that many of Hammarby Sjöstad's residents would be older people returning to live in the city. When the apartment blocks were completed they found that most of the people moving in were in fact young families. They were able to respond to this by boosting their planned provision for local schools and crèche facilities
  • Some of the apartment blocks built in the earlier stages of the development were groundbreaking in their use of environmentally-friendly design. This same risk-taking was not apparent in some of the blocks built in later stages of construction, despite the high emphasis placed on environmental performance for the project as a whole
  • The development failed to meet its target for car ownership. However almost 80 per cent of commuter journeys are made by public transport, cycling or walking. Some of the practitioners involved in the project felt that it might have been more successful to concentrate on reducing car usage rather than ownership.
Transferable lessons for new communities

British and Swedish societies operate in different ways when it comes to the provision of housing and in the way local governments approach working with communities. However there are some lessons from the development of Hammarby Sjöstad that are relevant for housing developments in the UK.

Practitioners involved in the development of Hammarby Sjöstad thought that around 75 per cent of pro-environmental behaviour change came through design. Therefore it was important for planners, architects and contractors to make environmentally-friendly behaviour the obvious choice for residents through the provision and design of the development's infrastructure.

The remaining 25 per cent of behavioural change was thought to be influenced by individual choice, which can be helpfully guided through educational projects. It was also important that individuals were presented with an incentive to reduce their environmental impact by being billed for their utilities in proportion to their usage.

Using life-cycle cost analysis in planning decisions helped to justify the added cost of higher environmental design standards.

The city authority was able to use a strong confident approach to drive the project through, particularly when the Olympic bid failed. This remained the case even when different political parties have been in a majority in the city legislature.

The city authorities set high targets for the projects and used these to galvanise their project partners. They took a strong line overseeing the project from conception to construction. Most of the targets have been met, but where they have fallen short there has not been a culture of blame or failure for the project as a whole.

To read more see: Hammarby Sjöstad and CABE's case study

First & third image: ©Stockholm City Administration