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DIY Urbanism: building up Swedish pedal power

In this second blog post from the KTH Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment we pick up the theme of DIY Urbanism recently kicked-off, this time looking at what’s happening in Sweden.

Is DIY Urbanism taking root in Sweden?

“Sweden” Karin Bradley KTH researcher reflects in her campus office, “hasn’t been an early adopter of DIY urbanism – but is making up for it now.” A large and relatively competent public sector has meant that many Swedes have had their urban needs addressed; when this is coupled to a strong history of bottom-up initiatives such as “koloniträdgårdar” – city allotments – there haven’t been the same urban challenges or “urban gaps” that DIY initiatives tackle. Over the past decade, however, the situation has changed and now a wide range of DIY projects can be found across Sweden.

What sorts of DIY Urbanism projects are thriving in Sweden?

Hundreds of DIY projects are blossoming, especially in the communal gardening and food areas. Karin, however, draws our attention away from vegetable plots towards the urban transport sector and the role that DIY bike schemes are now playing in changing the options that people, especially people from disadvantaged backgrounds, have for moving around the city. Access to affordable transport directly affects the access, indeed freedom, people have in the city for both work and leisure.
The Malmö Bike Kitchen. Photo from

An initiative Karin finds particularly inspiring is Cykelköket. Cykelköket translates literally as the “Bike Kitchen” and is a global movement that supports people to set up their own DIY open repair centres in their cities. Whilst a global movement, people in different cities can tailor the Bike Kitchen to the particular character and needs of their city. “There are parallels with the Open Source movement in computing,” Karin Bradley adds, “An initial idea is developed, it is then made public, open, free to copy, so that other people can take it forward and adapt it to their needs”.

In Sweden the Malmö Cykelköket, in the south of the country, has set the pace.

A short film on the Malmö Cykelköket – in Swedish but you’ll understand the pictures in any language.

Its been in operation since 2011 and is not a bike shop or a bike club but a bike repair workshop where people can bring a bike themselves and loan tools to mend their own bike collaboratively.

The initiative is about spreading cycling and the know-how about bike maintenance that will support more people, especially people from poorer backgrounds, to take up cycling. It’s a direct challenge to the commercialization of cycling that’s taken place in recent years, asking and enabling people to repair and reuse bikes rather than buy new. The Malmö Bike Kitchen also receives bikes that have been officially declared “dis-guarded”, striping them down for parts that other cyclists can use to repair their own bikes.

Mending your bike. Photo from regionskå

What Karin Bradley likes about the Malmö Bike Kitchen in particular is the way in which it works with the community, unemployed and recent immigrants to Sweden. The Kitchen has a volunteer system that is open to newcomers to take part, becoming expert volunteers themselves eventually. The Kitchen, Karin notes, “provides a meaningful base for people, especially whilst they are having their official papers processed and are unable to apply for formal work. It means they can start to learn Swedish and begin to feel part of a community”.

Where else is this happening in Sweden?

The Malmö Bike Kitchen is part of the multi-purpose makerspace organization STPLN also located in Malmö (Karin comments that STPLN has recently had its public support funding removed, making its future uncertain). Several other Swedish cities including Gothenburg, Jönköping  and Solna now also host Bike Kitchens and temporary initiatives are also popping up elsewhere.

Can I get involved?

Peddle on. Photo from
Pedal on. Photo from

All Bike Kitchens are open to volunteers; make contact via the websites above. Want to start a Bike Kitchen yourself – an open source handbook can be found here.

And the effect?

Urban transport options are evolving rapidly in Sweden, as elsewhere. Whilst we are familiar with top-down investments in public transport networks, its interesting to see new, bottom-up, DIY players becoming a force, from Uber to Bike Kitchen. The challenge will be to see how well these different initiatives, with their different organisational forms and aims, can support and reinforce each other.

In the next blog Karin Bradley will introduce us to what’s new around the world in DIY Urbanism.

The feature image at the top of this post is from @allaheterglenn