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Sustainable Homes in an Urban Future

Until recently most of us could take it for granted that we would have somewhere to live, a place to call home. We had shared ideas about how that home would look – perhaps a large-windowed apartment downtown or a small timber-framed house in the suburbs, with a lawn and obligatory trampoline. We looked forward to getting to know the neighbourhood – to “putting down roots”.

In just a few years, the situation for those of us who live or want to live in cities has changed dramatically. The rapid influx of people in to cities has created a new reality leading us to question what home is – and explore new possibilities for what a home might be.

“Don’t look to Stockholm!” the poster cries “21,000 people are already looking in vain for homes”.
“Don’t look to Stockholm!” the poster cries “21,000 people are already looking in vain for homes”.

Some of the issues are deeply challenging – a lack of housing stock in cities, housing (un)affordability, the renovation of ageing housing stocks, unsustainable profit-driven development, social alienation and the breakdown of neighbourhood….  At the same time, shoots of possibility are starting to push through, a new openness and curiosity, allowing us to explore different ideas about what a home could be.

Over the next few weeks the Centre blog will highlight some research themes around “homes” and “housing” emerging at KTH. The Sustainable Homes Focus Area being developed by the Centre provides a platform for exchanging and developing ideas around this theme.

We start off talking with KTH architect Erik Stenberg about his work on the renovation of post-war housing in the Stockholm region. With PhD student Pernilla Hagbert we discuss alternative ideas about home that some people are beginning to practice, before examining new types of home ownership with KTH real estate economist Kerstin Annadotter.*

First, some basic background information on the situation faced in Stockholm (and mirrored in many other urban centres). It is estimated that the population of the Stockholm region will grow from 2.2 million today to 3 million over the next 30 years. This growth will come primarily from rural depopulation and immigration to Stockholm from outside Sweden.  Plans are underway to build 140,000 new homes in and around Stockholm to accommodate the influx. At the same time, almost 1 in 4 homes in Stockholm require renovation, if carbon dioxide outputs (mainly from heat waste due to poor insulation) are going to reach European targets. Property prices in the capital are at an all-time high and the waiting lists for rental properties are measured in decades. The situation, clearly, is acute.

Despite a building boom, many struggle to find a home in Stockholm.
Despite a building boom, many struggle to find a home in Stockholm.

Sixty years ago, as Europe raised itself out of destruction wrought by the Second World War, people likewise rushed in to Stockholm. The poster above, plastered up on railways stations and small town notice boards across Sweden, told them to go home. Today we’ve learned to see the potential in big cities – and have become dependent on the creativity and productiveness of our urban economies. We can’t and don’t want to go home. Our challenge, then, is to understand what “home in the city” is and how we can deliver viable homes to all of our city’s residents.

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