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!