Kiruna is Sweden’s northernmost city, and it’s also its most mobile one. Soon, it’s about to pick up and move two miles to the east.
The city grew around the world’s largest iron ore deposits. As the mines that exploit them grow, the city itself is cracking and sinking. Now, the mining company that first brought people to the area will buy up the entire city center, knock it down, and rebuild it three kilometers away. The final cost is unknown, but the city of Kiruna says that the company, Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag (LKAB), has already designated 6 billion Swedish Kronor (around $700 million) for the project.
Most of Kiruna’s buildings will just be replaced with new ones, including 3,500 to 4,000 apartments. But 21 will be transplanted to the new town. These include the city hall and the Kiruna Church, which looks like it already sunk up to its roof. The wooden church will be taken apart and rebuilt in the new center, not unlike a piece of furniture from that other Swedish landmark, Ikea.
Not all of Kiruna will move, though. The eastern part of the city, which lies between the old center and the new, will remain.
There are concerns. Despite promises that the newly-built apartments will be rent-subsidized for the first five years, Kiruna’s citizens worry that the costs will be too high. They’re also concerned that falling iron ore prices will mean that LKAB won’t finish the new buildings, even after the old ones have already been destroyed. And in a town as small and isolated as Kiruna, where does one go if the rents are unaffordable?
But rebuilding a city from scratch has advantages, too. The new plan by White Architects (called “Kiruna 4 Ever”) puts environmental concerns at the center. The new city will use wind power, as well as “harnessing the enormous amounts of waste heat generated by the mining activity.” The radial design of the city will poke “urban fingers,” into the surrounding arctic landscape. This is intended to ensure that nobody is ever more than “three blocks away from nature,” but as the sun doesn’t rise in Kiruna for much of December and January, and temperatures average -17˚C (1˚F) in February, maybe the proximity of nature isn’t all that important.