Real cities Rick Pruetz

Ecocity Snapshots, Chapter 2: Stockholm, Sweden – Build the city inwards

Rick Pruetz
Written by Rick Pruetz

Stockholm’s won its position as a sustainability leader by starting early and never resting. The form of this city of 910,000 largely follows public transportation corridors, leaving large swaths of greenspace in between for the enjoyment of residents as well as wildlife. To retain this compact shape, Stockholm directs much of its strong growth pressure into brownfields and other redevelopment sites, experimenting with cutting edge environmental technologies and producing results, like Hammarby Sjostad, that serve as international models. Today, Stockholm is steadily decreasing its CO2 emissions using green transportation strategies, alternative energy and by continually expanding a district heating network that already serves 80 percent of the city. In recognition, Stockholm was named the first European Green Capital in 2010.

Ecocity Snapshots: Learning from Europe’s Greenest Places” is Ecocity Builders Vice President Rick Pruetz’ latest book, profiling 19 cities and their efforts to rebuild in balance with nature. We are publishing each chapter on Ecocities Emerging to make this important work available online. Visit Rick’s page for all chapters posted so far or get the paperback at Amazon.

In the 1950s, Stockholm responded to a surge in growth demand by building 25 communities with populations of about 10,000 each around its new metro system (Lantz, 2001). Stockholm has largely retained this regional form by keeping development within public transportation corridors and retaining the spaces in between them. In the 1990s, the Stockholm Regional Planning Office stressed the significance of these green wedges for biodiversity, outdoor recreation and other environmental benefits. Today, from 20 to 30 percent of these areas are protected in eight nature reserves. The remainder is under private or institutional ownership but designated as green wedges in the regional plan and in the plans of the region’s 26 municipalities. The 2010 regional plan advocates additional long term protection, with the goal of making the city “never far from nature”. On the theory that people will save what they love, planners also promote ways of improving public access to the green wedges on foot, by bike and using public transportation improvements called green hubs (Akerlund, 2011; Floater, Rode and Zenghelis, 2013; Lekberg, 2010; Nelson, undated; Office of Regional Planning, 2010).

Figure 2-1: The architectonic storm water system, and overall attention to desgn, make Hammarby Sjostad attractive as well as sustainable

Many of Stockholm’s green wedges extend into the city center, including the Jarva Wedge, home to National City Park (Lekberg, 2010). Established in 1994, National City Park is said to be the world’s first national urban park. It is home to hundreds of cultural and historic landmarks including four royal palaces. But it also goes by the name Ekoparken and provides habitat for old oaks and wildlife ranging from deer and rabbits to rare species. In total, Stockholm’s 1000+ parks and nature reserves occupy 40 percent of the City and shelter more than 1,500 species. Roughly 90 percent of the population lives within 300 meters of a green area (European Commission, 2010.)

To protect greenspace and create a vibrant, sustainable city, Stockholm aims to “build the city inwards.” The 1999 City Plan saw the Stockholm’s urban form as essentially complete and called for concentration of future growth in the city center and revitalized brownfields. A 2013 study by the London School of Economics found that Stockholm has been quite successful in containing growth within its urban core, surpassing the urban containment index of twelve comparably-sized cities (Floater, Rode and Zenghelis, 2013). Between 2000 and 2007, 30 percent of the growth in Stockholm occurred on brownfields (Berrini and Bono, 2010).

Stockholm’s most famous brownfield redevelopment is Hammarby Sjostad, on a lakeside site that was once occupied by small but highly-polluting industrial uses. The City proposed a model eco-village here in an attempt to win the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. Even though Stockholm lost that bid, they decided to build a state-of-the-art ecodistrict anyway designed to cut environmental impacts in half using closed-loop energy, waste and water systems (Floater, Rode and Zenghelis, 2013; Richelsen and Sohuus, 2010; Stockholm, 2015; URBED/TEN Group, 2011).

Hammarby residents themselves generate half of their energy needs. The 11,000 apartments here are served by a district heating and cooling system that partly uses energy extracted from treated wastewater and solid waste combustion, which is also used to produce electricity. The advanced wastewater treatment system creates a biogas that powers many Hammarby stoves and ranges as well as buses. Hammarby uses solar panels to heat water and generate electricity. Light rail, bus and ferry lines as well as pedestrian trails and cycle tracks make it possible for Hammarby residents to live car-free. In fact, 80 percent of Hammarby residents walk, bike or use public transportation (Floater, Rode and Zenghelis, 2013; Franne, 2007).

Figure 2-2: Light rail service to downtown helps Hammarby residents live car-free.

Attention to open space and design keeps Hammarby from seeming like a technology exhibition. The storm water management system is referred to as “architectonic” because of its aesthetic as well as practical benefits. Storm water is partially retained by green roofs and the residual is channeled into small canals lined with plants that create a landscaping feature while also treating contaminants. Fingers of greenspace reach into every part of Hammarby and link to a nearby nature reserve using a landscaped viaduct called an “ecoduct”. Experts, including the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development, recognize Hammarby as a model ecodistrict (OECD, 2013). It has also become an economic development tool, attracting 10,000 visitors every year and creating an international clientele for the architects, contractors and technicians who helped build it (Floater, Rode and Zenghelis, 2013; Franne, 2007).

Stockholm wants to top the accomplishments of Hammarby Sjostad with its Royal Seaport ecodistrict, which will transform 236 hectares of former harbor, oil and gas facilities into a mixed-use complex combining boat terminals, offices, retail, green space and 12,000 residences. Royal Seaport will serve as a laboratory for sustainability innovations involving closed-loop systems, climate change adaptations and alternative energy technologies, including district heating and electricity powered by biofuels. The Royal Seaport is one of 18 projects in the world to receive funding from Climate Positive, a joint program of the Clinton Climate Initiative and the US Green Building Council. Upon its scheduled completion in 2030, Stockholm Royal Seaport aims to be fossil fuel free (Floater, Rode and Zenghelis, 2013; Stockholm, 2016).

Stockholm gets high marks for cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that produce climate change. Between 1990 and 2005, Stockholm reduced its per-capita CO2 emissions by 25 percent. Much of the credit goes to Stockholm’s district heating network, which the City launched over half a century ago. In 2008, 70 percent of the City was served by district heating and 70 percent of district heat was generated by renewable fuels including biogas from wastewater treatment plants. District cooling systems also contribute an annual reduction of 60,000 tons of CO2. Stockholm is continually expanding its district heating and cooling system. In fact, by 2015, Stockholm reported that 80 percent of all buildings were connected to district heating (Berrini and Bono, 2010; European Commission, 2010; Stockholm, 2008; Stockholm, 2015).

Stockholm also put its transportation system on a CO2 diet. Roughly 90 percent of Stockholm residents live within 300 meters of public transportation.

Figure 2-3: National City Park, part of the 40 percent of Stockholm in greenspace.

To instill confidence, Stockholm pays for a taxi if your bus or train is delayed more than 20 minutes. As an added incentive to use public transportation, Stockholm imposes a congestion charge on vehicles entering or exiting the inner city zone on weekdays. Since instituting the congestion charge in 2007, city center traffic has dropped 20 percent and public transportation ridership has increased by seven percent. Stockholm estimates that the congestion charge alone has annually reduced CO2 emissions by 10 to 15 percent, resulting in 30,000 fewer tons of CO2 emission per year (Floater, Rode and Zenghelis, 2013; Richelsen and Sohuus, 2010; Stockholm, 2008).

Despite its harsh winters, Stockholm doubled bicycle use between 1990 and 2008. Stockholm motivates cycling by offering more than 760 kilometers of bike lanes, which on a per-capita basis is higher than Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Even when bike lanes are not available, Stockholm promotes cycling by enforcing a 30 kilometer per hour speed limit on local streets (Berrini and Bono, 2010; European Commission, 2010; Stockholm, 2008).

Stockholm proves that a city can grow its population and economy while simultaneously weaning itself from fossil fuels (OECD, 2013). Furthermore, a study by the London School of Economics found Stockholm to be one of the world’s leading cities in the development of ecodistricts and green solutions, expertise that can be marketed internationally and used to attract investment, innovators and skilled professionals in a “…virtuous cycle of green growth” (Floater, Rode and Zenghelis, 2013 p38).

Most importantly, Stockholm’s sustainability goals are becoming even more ambitious. When it was named Europe’s first Green Capital in 2010, the City was aiming to be fossil fuel free by 2050 (Stockholm, 2008). When it submitted its five-year follow-up report in 2015, Stockholm had moved that deadline forward, committing to be fossil fuel free by 2040 (Stockholm, 2015).


Akerlund, Ulrika. 2011. Stockholm’s Green Wedges – Concepts, learning and collaboration on urban and peri-urban forestry. Stockholm: Boverket – Swedish National Board of Housing, Buildings and Planning.

Berrini, Maria, and Bono, Lorenzo. 2010. Measuring Urban Sustainability: Analysis of the European Green Capital Award 2010 & 2011 Application Round. Brussels: European Commission.

European Commission. 2010. Stockholm: European Green Capital 2010. Brussels: European Commission.

Floater, Graham, Rode, Phillip and Zenghelis, Dimitri. 2013. Stockholm: Green Economy Leader Report. London: London School of Economics and Political Science.

Franne, Lars. 2007. Hammarby Sjostad – a unique environmental project in Stockholm. Stockholm: GlashusEtt.

Lantz, Gunnar. 2001. Stockholm City Plan 1999: The City of Stockholm. Stockholm: City of Stockholm.

Lekberg, Asa. 2010. Dense and Green: The Stockholm Region’s Ten Wedges – as they will be preserved, improved and made more accessible. The Region of Stockholm: Extracts from the Office of Regional Planning’s Magazine. Stockholm: Office of Regional Planning.

Nelson, Alyse. Stockholm, Sweden – City of Water. Undated. Retrieved on May 22, 2016 from

OECD [Office of Economic Cooperation and Development]: 2013. Green Growth in Stockholm, Sweden. Paris: OECD.

Office of Regional Planning. 2010. RUFS 2010 [Regional Development Plan Stockholm]. Stockholm: Office of Regional Planning.

Richelsen, Anders, and Sohuus, Martin, Eds. 2010. Catalogue of Best Practice – Urban Sustainability – Learning from the Best: European Green Capital Award 2010 & 2011. Brussels: European Commission.

Stockholm. 2008. Application for European Green Capital Award.

Stockholm: City of Stockholm.

Stockholm. 2015. Stockholm – The First European Green Capital [Five-Year report]: Stockholm: City of Stockholm.

Stockholm. 2016. Stockholm Royal Seaport. Retrieved on May 21, 2016 from

URBED/TEN Group. 2011. Learning from Helsinki and Stockholm. London: URBED [Urban and Economic Development, Ltd].

About the author

Rick Pruetz

Rick Pruetz

Ecocity Builders Vice President Rick Pruetz is a planning consultant and the foremost national expert on transfer of development rights (TDR). He is the author of “Lasting Value: Open Space Planning and Preservation Successes (APA 2012).”

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