Nearly two month ago we moved to Malmö, probably one of the best-organized cities in the world. Malmö is Sweden’s third city; nearly 300 000 people live here. Famously it is connected with a bridge to Copenhagen. Malmö Stad, the municipality of the city, is active, structured, responsive, ambitious and has a reliable budget. My brother in law describes Sweden as a very friendly police state and I tend to agree. My personal ID number legitimizes and systemizes my comfortable existence here. In addition to further systemisation, I observe how Malmö Stad embraces informality as a matter of approach, to reach its goals.
In some cities informality allows people to house themselves, in Sweden the government provides. However with a shrinking municipal budgets, a vision of a cultural city and a participatory democracy; I notice how Malmö Stad capitalizes on the informal activity in the city as a way to deepen the democratic process, its efficiency and increase its livability. Malmö Stad is very good at reining in the informal into the formal systems. After some research I find out that the formal sector here sees informality as public engagement. (1)
If I reflect back on the statement from my entry Valuing the Urban Dichotomy (2) where I write that “.. informal urbanity is what reaches and finds opportunity where the formal can’t. The informal solutions, as opposed to the formal solutions, are always dynamic, always effective and always respond to a real need.” I gather that the local need here in Malmo fulfilled by informal activities largely lie in artistic expression, activism and the desire for non-commercialized spaces as part of the trend against our cities becoming purely places of production and actively excluding activities that are of no ‘use’. The government has no issue with the trend of people taking matters into their own hands. Instead I see how Malmö Stad aims, and more than often succeeds, in partnering with the people’s initiative.
I went for a stroll through my new home town.
Much street art and activisms sit comfortably within the formal systems. Inserted is a photo of one of government-endorsed walls for graffiti. It is well used and you will notice how on kept within the permitted space, another artist hung his/her paintings on the non-permitted space. The municipality allows this. Swedes are largely conformist, like predictability and will follow the rules, still artists are given space!
I crossed the road curious to find out what this is … only to find out that the municipality’s housing corporation MKB uses a pop-up swap shelf as a way to advertise their new housing block you can see being built behind the wall.
This is Pildammparken is one of Malmo’s numerous public spaces. Maybe the provision of plenty of un-programmed spaces in the city satisfies?
In largely informal cities, the streets are shared between people and maybe even animals doing their thing; walking, cycling, driving, selling, eating, loitering, etc. though not as a matter of policy. (3) (4) Malmö as other cities around the world are catching on as a matter of policy! Here a controlled informalisation of certain inner-city streets is now a formal solution. The deliberate undoing of assurance induced by official traffic rules the users of the streets must interact and negotiate their space and passage, held in check by the authorities of course like Claesgatan pictured not far from where I live.
There is other ways highly technocratic cities like Malmö are using informalisation to reach their goals. Malmö Stad together with many city authorities in the more formal countries rediscovered the market a while back. Markets made cities more livable by allowing people, among other things, a more human shopping experience. But this didn’t cut it, , so Malmö Stad has started to wave some of the bureaucracy and even hard regulations to start a restaurant, even the foodvans are back on the streets this year after being banned completely nearly 10 years ago. “Open a restaurant for a day” (5) was brought to the city by the municipality some weeks back and the Malmöbo (people living in Malmö) cannot believe it! Really, the government will not hunt them down for cooking and selling the food that they cook at home, without paying tax, inspections or permissions, albeit just for a couple of specific days a year? *
(1) Citizen dialogue in planning and the delicate balance of formality and informality, Pål Castell, 2013 http://publications.lib.chalmers.se/publication/191038
(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_street – Malmö offers the illustrative photos here!