How to: Sustainable Neighborhoods

Spending the Fourth of July in a foreign country is a bit of a different experience than it is in the States. I’m not gonna lie, I was craving a nice burger, potato salad, and cold beer. While we didn’t quite get there, we had a great day, both learning and just spending time together with the fam 🙂

Have you all heard about the sustainable development that is going on in Malmo?? If you aren’t familar with Malmo at all, this is the city with the Turning Torso (which is kinda cool, but not my favorite bit of architecture…. I get the feeling it would also be somewhat difficult to get used to the slanted windows form the inside!). There is also a long bridge, the Oresund Bridge, that connects Malmo to Copenhagen, but more on that in the next post 🙂


Turning Torso in Malmo, Sweden

Anyways, we got to see two of the more famous developments in Malmo. First up, the Western Harbor district. I could bore you with lots of stats, but if you are into sustainable practices in development, chances are you have already heard of this place. Everywhere we turned, there were new things that encouraged (or demanded) more environmentally friendly practices, such as lower electricity use, less dependence on vehicles, and increased recycling. Some of the highlights, in addition to the features shown in the pictures below, include:

  • beginning as part of the Bo01 European Housing Expo of 2001. For the expo, dozens of different architects and developers were used to showcase the diversity in design and construction of sustainable housing. This means that there is nothing “cookie cutter” here. Everything is unique, which makes each corner exciting.
  • storing energy for heating and cooling in aquifers nearly 90m deep. We only heard a brief talk on the subject, but it is one that I would love to discuss with some of my professors.
  • green roofs. I’m not sure what the percentage is exactly, but it seemed like more than half of the roofs were green. I understand what exactly it means in terms of total runoff when I hear that these roofs can retain 50% of the rainfall they catch (remembering all those tables of coefficients in hydrology!)
  • 0.8 parking spaces per home (now down to 0.6 in the newer portions of the Western Harbor). WHAT??? How can they get away with it? It’s just part of the encouragement to use other modes of transportation from homes to transit.
  • a stunning waste/recycling removal system. Once again, I didn’t learn enough about this on site to satisfy my curiousity, but the gist is that there are central collection tubes throughout the development that people dump into. Trucks then “vacuum” the waste out of the tube from outside the development, which keeps large garbage trucks outside the development.

Solar tubes for heating water on the roof (not solar panels)


Waste removal in the dense development so that garage trucks don’t have to come into the center


Green roofs!


An example of a “road” shared by cars, bikes, and pedestrains


Canal through the center of the West Harbor district for primarily aesthetic appeal, though some of the runoff is managed with the open canals


Shift from residential to commericial

Even as cool as many of these techniques were, many of us found a few critiques. There wasn’t any space dedicated to urban farming, though some homes had private spaces to grow food. The most bothersome piece was the single socio-economic class represented, which was the upper class. We got into a great discussion about the cost of building more sustainably, which means that these projects are just naturally pioneered by the wealthy. There was not a lot of diversity in the people that we saw, which made it feel almost a bit eerie to me.

Obviously, there were tons of excellent and sustainable ideas in the West Harbor development, but to me, an engineering student, the second development was even more fun…. Hydrology everywhere! I recorded as many quick facts and figures as I could, so this is accurate to the best of my knowledge, but you should look at Malmo’s Augustenborg neighborhood if you want more information!

The neighborhood, which was orginally built as affordable housing, had developed a bit of a reputation for smaller crime. It was dirty, no one wanted to live there, and the basements were constantly flooding. In the late 90s, the city renovated the neighborhood, starting with the drainage system, which has boosted the neighborhood socially, economically, and aesthetically. Some of these changes include:

  • installation of green roofs on many buildings to reduce the overall runoff.
  • using open channel systems to reduce the cost of maintainence and repair to the system.
  • placement of overflow ponds and wetland plants to store excess water.
  • sizing the system for 100 year storms rather than 15 year.
  • installation of water-conserving washers in the buildings.
  • recycling sheds to assist residents in proper recycling procedures.
  • distribution and installation of free cupboard hangers for recycling in individual homes.
  • dedication of space to urban farming.

Bumps in the ditches to slow down the water during rainstorms and prevent erosion


Once the canal fills up, the water drains into a pond with wetland plants for treatment and detention!


This whole area can (and has been) flooded during rainstorms


Urban farming is, of course, one of the staples in the ecocity

There were a lot less critiques for this second neighborhood! It was a great example of how to improve specific things in a community that make it more sustainable, but also more inviting. It is also worth pointing out that we were really nitpicky at the first development… These neighborhoods are places that we woud be lucky to have in the States, even with their few downfalls.

All in all, it was a great day in Malmo. The weather was beautiful and we got to have a “family dinner” for the Fouth (no BBQ, but some cold beers can go a long way!). Next stop, Utrecht, Holland!


Back to the coast

After our AMAZING day biking through Denmark from Copenhagen to Helsingor, I am going to admit, I was more than a little concerned about another very long bike ride from Helsingborg to Lund in Sweden. This bike ride was going to be longer, the weather was looking dreary on Sunday morning, and I was a bit sore from the collision the day before (though my bruises still have nothing on Cassie’s!). However, my 40 mile bike ride was cut short in the middle…. Due not at all to biking, but a random nectarine!

If, somehow, somewhere, you get a chance to bike in Sweden, go ahead and take the opportunity. The entire class brought our bikes over to Helsingborg on the ferry. Half the class opted to take the train down the coast to Lund, but since I have a stubborn streak a mile wide and don’t like to back down from a challenge, I decided to take to the countryside (after, of course, a brief visit to yet another castle… no city seems to be without one here!)


Karnan fortress from the bridge overlooking Helsingborg


The city from that same bridge


Up close and personal the fortress (unfortunately, due to time, this was as close as we could get!)


Another picture of all our bikes, spread out across another square!

Even though the clouds were coming in strong over Helsingborg, they cleared up just after we left the city and headed south. The first half of the ride took us through much more of a rural countryside than I had biked through yet. Eventually that gave way to a sandy bike and pedestrian path along the coast that dumped us into a nice fishing marine, which turned into another trail along the coast, and finally a full separated bike lane along a “busy” road before the halfway point of Landskrona.


Random stop in the countryside



Beautiful marina along the coast


The gang waiting for me when my chain fell off my bike on a hill


Another random beautiful building


I took a nap here on the edge of the ocean… it was a great thing

While it might seem like I bring all this up just to share some of the pictures that I managed to take (which might be partially true  ), the major point I am trying to make is that Sweden took us through almost any type of bike facility that you could dream up in about 20 miles. The ride itself was very pretty, as I already said, but it felt much different than the ride the previous day through Denmark.

If our guide, Adam, hadn’t been within sight, I certainly would have gotten lost on my way through the countryside. Wayfinding was a bit difficult. The routes were marked only with the name of the next town, not matter how small. Without a map denoting the smallest of those towns, it would have been really easy to take the “extra scenic route” (which may or may not have happened to Marc and Mindy!). Within the city of Copenhagen, I wasn’t really concerned with wayfinding, simply because everywhere we rode was either a separated bike facility on a street or a trail that followed a major road. I must admit, I wasn’t looking specifically at that between Copenhagen and Helsingor, but I don’t remember thinking how lost I felt either.

As I said earlier, the facilities varied quite a bit as well. There was a short stretch where we biked along a rural road, which is where I felt the most uncomfortable. However, compared to how I feel sharing the road in the States, I wasn’t worried at all. Drivers seemed to be very aware that bicyclists were likely to be on the route and weren’t traveling fast at all. The separated trails were really nice as well. Our route was not along an extremely busy highway, but just through the countryside. It was quiet enough to ride along next to someone and chat about anything, whether it be our views on biking infrastructure in the States or our favorite movies. The change in facilities and the overall peacefulness of the bike ride made it an excellent way to spend the day. If biking in the States was like that, I could see so many more people biking around just for fun on a Saturday.

Despite my intentions to do another 15 or 20 miles to the next city, I ended up having an allergic reaction to a nectarine when we stopped for lunch. (After some light internet research, I think I am allergic to the pollen that is in the air during the season for nectarines, peaches, and a bunch of other delicious fruits 😦 ) Three of my classmates and I ended up taking the train from Landskrona to Lund so I could get some Benedryl from another classmate in Lund.

We soon found out that multimodal trips are not quite so simple in Sweden as they were in Demark. In Copenhagen, 18 of us took our bikes on a commuter train shortly after rush hour and caused no issues, even though our bikes were overflowing into the pedestrian space on the train. When the four of us tried to board in Landskrona, we were denied entry to the first train that came due to lack of space (though it looked far from capacity where we stood on the platform). When we finally got on the second train, it was a very unpleasant journey. The car was crowded and people seemed annoyed that we would attempt to bring just four bikes into the car. When we finally caught up with the first half of the class in Lund, we learned they had just as much difficulty bringing their bikes on the train in Helsingborg.

Moral of the story: bike across the countryside in Sweden. It is gorgeous! Just make sure you know your route and don’t add a train trip unless you really need to.