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

The Do-It-Yourself Urban Future

This week the Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment at KTH introduces a new blog theme – DIY Urbanism. Curious? Then follow the blog over the next four weeks as we explore the theme from different angles in the company of Karin Bradley, Associate Professor at KTH and engaging thinker on the future of the city.

So, what is DIY Urbanism?

Are you passionate about changing your city? Are you willing to get your hands dirty? How about strike up conversations with a stranger from down the road? More and more people are answering “yes” to these questions. Rather than waiting for local municipalities to improve their neighbourhoods, people are starting initiatives themselves. Vitally, these people are not acting alone or on behalf of their own interests; instead they are collaborating with other people, locally and internationally, on projects that make neighbourhoods better, meaning friendlier and more sustainable places to be, especially with regard to the environment. This is Do-It- Yourself (DIY) Urbanism and together with its close cousins, “tactical urbanism” and “guerilla urbanism”, it will be changing a city near you shortly.

“Local planners”, KTH researcher Karin Bradley comments, “have engaged the public in planning decisions for many years now. DIY Urbanism is different. It’s about a new wave of urban initiatives that have their origins in society, which come from people, rather than from the municipality”.

Karin Bradley, Associate Professor at KTH

Karin Bradley, Associate Professor at KTH

This global movement is in part is a product of dissatisfaction with traditional top-down urban planning, especially its struggle to respond to environmental challenges and a lack of high quality public spaces that support a feeling of community. It also reflects a wider change in society with people now re-casting themselves as active “prosumers” who contribute towards what they need rather than passive consumers of items produced by other people.

“Before” Karin Bradley comments “people read a handful of newspapers and these were written by experts, journalists. Now there are millions of bloggers using the internet to write and share stories that they think are interesting. The same thing is starting to happen in urban planning; the agenda is being shaped from the bottom-up and this is releasing an unprecedented wave of community creativity and engagement.”

Whilst positive towards this development, Karin thinks we should also question it, “There are issues about accountability, representation and the role of public authorities in these bottom-up processes that we still need to understand, reflect on and develop.”

Exploring DIY Urbanism

Over the next few weeks this blog will look at DIY Urbanism in more depth. What sort of activities are DIY urbanists starting? What are the strengths of these? What issues do these types of activities raise for society more widely?

What do DIY Urbanists do?


A park created temporarily in a parking space in San Francisco. Photo from Park(ing)

As a first stop-off point on the journey Karin directs us towards the Park(ing) Day movement started in San Francisco by design-art-activist group Rebar that’s about transforming car-parking spaces in to community parks, often on a temporary basis. In 2005 Rebar created its first urban park by hiring a car-parking space for two hours and transforming it for those hours into a miniature urban park that included grass, a tree, a park bench and a “Park Open” sign.

Is DIY Urbanism really changing anything?

Park(ing) Day celebrated in Singapore

Park(ing) Day celebrated in Singapore. Photo from Park(ing)

Whilst Park(ing) Day is a clear example of citizen-led urban intervention, what makes it especially powerful, Karin reflects, is the way in which Rebar uses open-source tactics and the internet to enable the initiative to go global. As of 2011 Park(ing) Day has spread to 162 cities in 35 countries.  Rebar’s “how-to” guide to making your own Park(ing) Day is open to anyone to download and act on – or improve. One Park(ing) Day initiative is interesting, hundreds of such days spread over the world is an urban movement capable of creating change. Park(ing) has been established to share information and they even have a Facebook page. In case you are interested, global Park(ing) Day is held the third Friday in September each year.

Park(ing) Days organised in North America and Europe in 2014. From Park(ing) Day .org

Park(ing) Days organised in North America and Europe in 2014. From Park(ing)

And things have changed, notably in public planning authorities. The San Francisco Planning Department now supports the creation of temporary parks seeing them as a civic asset that challenges the car-culture of the city. They have minted a new typology term the “parklet” and created a process that allows people to apply to create one. By 2013, 40 parklets had been launched in the city and a further 40 are under development.

Park(ing) Day projects are getting bolder and bolder. In 2014, a cinema parklet was created in Vancouver by the Vancouver Public Space Network.

A cinema created in a car park in Vancouver for Park(ing) Day 2014. Photo by Chris Bruntlett.

A cinema created in a car park in Vancouver for Park(ing) Day 2014. Photo by Chris Bruntlett.

Next week the blog will look in more depth at some Swedish DIY Urbanism initiatives.



There’s no place like home: can reimagining our concept of the “good home” help us reach sustainability goals?

Close your eyes and imagine a good home. What do you see – a house in a garden, a cottage by the sea, an apartment, high up, in the city? Who lives there? Go inside – what do the rooms you walk through look like? How does it feel?

As KTH architect Erik Stenberg’s blog showed, urban planners and architects had a clear set of answers to these questions when they started building mass public housing in Sweden during the 1960’s – the so-called Million Homes Programme era. They saw bold, modern apartments set admits nature and connected to the city by sweeping roads. These apartments were inhabited by Swedish nuclear families, each with 2.7 kids.

Time and changing circumstances have shown how transitory this image of the good home and its inhabitants really is. We have moved on, become different and more diverse. The apartments built during this period however remain, sustaining in weather-bleached concrete a fading ideal of the good home.

The Ideal of Home

The research of Pernilla Hagbert, a doctoral student associated with both Chalmers and KTH, is deepening our appreciation of the powerful role that such ideals of the good home play in our personal living decisions, as well as in the development of housing market more widely.

“Today’s media presents us with a clear but limited set of images of what the home looks like,” Pernilla comments. An owner-occupied detached house sits proudly in a well-maintained garden plot – or the childless residents of an apartment look out through floor-to-ceiling windows over the lights of the city. “These norms are attractive and work for many people,” Pernilla continues, “however, in an increasingly diverse society, there is a clear need for alternative ideas about home, particularly ideas that make more effective use of our limited resources.”

Pernilla’s work has led her to explore contemporary collaborative housing initiatives, sometimes called collective housing initiatives in Sweden – though Pernilla warns that the word “collective” comes with outdated associations that can hinder discussions and exploration of this form of housing.

A collaborative house development in Sofielund in Malmo opened December 2014. Image from Pernilla Hagbert.

“In a contemporary collaborative housing initiative”, Pernilla continues, “a group of people take decisions about how they can live better through sharing certain resources and facilities.”

Contemporary Collaborative Housing Initiatives in Sweden

Pernilla gives an example from Sofielund in Malmö where a community of residents has worked together with the local housing authority, MKB, and developers NCC to deliver a diverse set of homes that make different use of shared facilities. One-person homes have a private living area but share facilities for making food and socialising. Larger units provide a home for example for small teams of single parents who share social spaces, this allowing them to support each other with childcare. “These homes challenge norms about the good home, allowing us to become more creative and responsive to the real needs of our lives,” Pernilla reflects.

Pernilla is especially interested in the role that new ideas about the good home can play in helping us live more sustainably. “Collaborative housing allows us to live smaller and share, using less resources,” Pernilla comments. She draws attention to the work of architects such as Hauschild Siegel who are re-thinking the detached suburban house in a compact urban form – that still manages to capture the ideals that led homeowners to seek a property in the suburbs such as access to a garden and individualised design choices – whilst (at least in theory) aiming to limit their environmental footprint.

A multi-dwelling in Malmö by Hauschild Siegel. Image from

A multi-dwelling in Malmö by Hauschild Siegel. Image from

 Utopia Architects in Stockholm have put forward a collaborative housing proposal focused on younger city residents called KomBo  that outlines a plan for a housing block with a mix of private and shared facilities. The goal is to speed up the provision of housing to this vulnerable group as well as establish a sense of friendship and community.


Drawings of how the KomBo development might look in plan. Images from Utopia Architects.

Drawings of how the KomBo development might look in plan with shared and private spaces. The image above shows the outside of the building. Images from Utopia Architects.

Architects Paradiso in Stockholm and OkiDoki! in Gothenberg are also producing cutting-edge work exploring new combinations of housing forms that make less use of resources.

Building with Flexibility in Mind

As earlier blogs in this series have shown,this re-thinking isn’t only about new housing. Existing housing can be renovated and repurposed to permit greater diversity and resource sharing.

Pernilla and many others at KTH argue that any new building unit conceived today should be designed with flexibility and repurposing in mind; our ideals, needs and resources change over time and the built environment must be designed to adapt effectively.

Looking forward, the main challenge – and opportunity – Pernilla identifies to the acceptance of new ideas about the good home is amongst housing policy makers and other actors in the traditional housing market. “The system today is designed for an idea of the good home that is standardized,” Pernilla reflects. “Many actors are interested in exploring alternative models, however, it is challenging to move these in to the mainstream when, for example, it is difficult to get bank loans for collaborative housing initiatives.”

Pernialla Hagbert can be contacted here: 



Securing homes for all

Without a home, who would you be? Having an address solves many practical challenges like getting a bank account or having post delivered. Home is far more than address. Alongside physical shelter, a home provides emotional shelter, providing a secure base from which we can build our lives and connect to society. And that, KTH researcher Kerstin Annadotter argues, is why homelessness is such a corrosive phenomenon. People without a home lack one of life’s fundamental sources of personal security, not simply an address.

Kerstin’s research focuses on sustainable housing strategies, especially strategies that support the more vulnerable members of society to get and keep homes. She is passionate about the interwoven issues of social and economic sustainability in housing and the contribution they make to an inclusive, just society.

Kerstin Annadotter reminds us to see homes and people where we sometimes see only housing blocks and problems

Kerstin Annadotter reminds us to see homes and people where we sometimes see only housing blocks and problems

“Whilst Sweden has had a reputation for providing housing for all” Kerstin reflects, “increases in income inequality combined with short-sighted housing policies and cuts in the welfare system affecting the rental sector in particular, mean that more and more people face a genuine threat of not finding a home. The current market situation doesn’t help with a severe lack of rental housing for all potential tenants”.

Is it your fault?

Whilst individuals who find themselves in these types of situation often balm their own actions or lack of resources, Kerstin argues that housing policies and social changes, in fact, have a far greater impact.

Kerstin’s work examines the practices of housing companies in Sweden and the social and economic consequences these have – for residents, for the housing companies themselves and for society in a broader sense.

“Most housing companies,” Kerstin continues “have created criteria for those  who want to rent their properties that are simply impossible for the more vulnerable members of society to achieve –such as having a salary at least three times the rent.” Kerstin’s research helps make the criteria housing companies use to judge prospective tenants explicit, as well as the consequences of using these criteria.

Sometimes the renovation of social housing is used to displace current residents and leads to rent raises that mean they can never return.

Sometimes the renovation of social housing is used to displace current residents and leads to rent raises that mean they can never return.

Kerstin is also interested in the topic of “renoviction” – when housing companies, accidentally or on purpose, use the renovation process to displace residents from their homes on a permanent basis. The supposedly good act of renovating an apartment thus can have the perverse effect of breaking down the personal security and sense of community that underpin social sustainability.

Renovating at a human scale

“Together with colleagues, I champion a more incremental approach to renovation” comments Kerstin. Rather than a whole residential block being renovated at one time and to a single level of quality, Kerstin recommends that a housing company renovate to variable levels that existing clients can afford. Different quality mean existing tenants can return to their homes and, as homes become available, a diversity of new tenants can be attracted at a range of rental levels.

“We can tackle this challenge humanely and in an affordable manner if we tackle it early” Kerstin argues. “Helping people get in to a home and then stay in that home is far more affordable that dealing with the dreadful social and economic costs of homelessness”. She admires the policies of one municipal housing company in Uppsala that has no income criteria for accepting tenants and, with minimum resources, helps vulnerable tenants managing their finances so that they can stay in their home.

Looking forward, Kerstin wants to explore the neighborhoods around housing blocks more deeply, examining the type of investments that different actors make (or don’t make) in neighbourhoods today and how these also affect economic or social sustainability.

Kerstin Annadotter, KTH

Kerstin Annadotter, KTH

If you’d like to find out more about Kerstin Annadotter’s research her profile page at KTH takes you to several links.

Kerstin Annadotter is part of the Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment working group.

An Incremental Approach to Re-Making the Million Homes

In this week’s video blog, KTH architect Erik Stenberg discusses the contribution research can make to the renovation of Stockholm’s “Million Homes” housing areas that were built during the 1960’s and 70’s.

An Incremental Approach

Erik’s research on the original plans for the Million Homes housing blocks helped him appreciate how apartments could be re-shaped through, for example, joining two or more apartments together. “The modernist, modular design of the blocks makes them surprisingly flexible” comments Erik. “It is relatively straightforward to identify the limited number of load-bearing elements in each housing block – and thus – the other elements that can be changed to adapt to today’s needs”. Some families need more bedrooms; some elderly people now prefer a smaller apartment.

Today, using the research arena provided by the Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment at KTH Erik is able to combine his research with that of other researchers such as specialist in building materials, civil engineering, energy management, real estate economics and urban planning to generate fresh, multidimensional thinking.

“Beneath our variety of skills, we share an incremental approach to renovation” comments Erik. “It’s a more gradual approach, based on apartment-by-apartment renovations that adapts to specific circumstances and evolves over time. Hence, it’s more sustainable – in economic, social and environmental terms – than more radical approaches. These often require an entire housing block to be emptied during the renovation process, destroying communities and creating a risk of a “one size fits all” solution”.

Architecture for a Circular Economy

“I hope, also, that this incremental approach inspires the architects we are educating today to reflect on their own practice” Erik adds. “We must be as humble as some the original architects of the Million Program housing areas who appreciated that we can’t envisage the needs of tomorrow’s societies. What we can do instead is leave a level of flexibility, adaptability or sufficient “possibilities” in the morphologies of our buildings so that when inevitable social changes take place, future architects and communities are able to adapt their buildings to their realities with a minimal use of new resources”.

Buildings, like other goods, can be part of the “circular economy”. They should be designed with the re-use of all their elements in mind. “This is a fantastic challenge for young architects to take on – and how our architectural era will differentiate itself from those that have gone before” concludes Erik.

Erik is currently leading a cross-KTH project called BoStad, championing an incremental approach to the renovation of housing in Stockholm. As well as working with owners of housing areas in the Million Homes areas, BoStad is being developed in cooperation with KSL, an organization established by the different municipalities (kommuner) of Stockholm to advance and collaborate on good practice. You can find out more HERE.

In next week’s blog, KTH real estate economics researcher, Kerstin Annadotter, takes up the issue of Swedish apartment rental policies, arguing that these too should be used to support an incremental approach to renovation. To make sure you get this post, subscribe to the blog by entering your email in the field on the right hand column.

You can view Erik Stenberg’s first film introducing the Million Programme era HERE.