I don’t know how many people are with me here, reading this blog. I’m pretty sure we’re a very small, self-selecting group. I wouldn’t want to spread this next information too wide, but I do appreciate the few readers I have, so I’ve decided to let you into a secret.
It’s about ‘the new Kiruna’.
There’s been quite a bit of publicity lately about the new town – the first spade of building has been dug in for the photographers several times over the last few months. Word is spreading fast. I was in Stockholm last week and there I could have attended a lecture on how the new Kiruna will look and how exciting it all is. I even found the story on the front page of an English newspaper, complete with the architect’s glittering illustration – town hall, rows of shops and businesses, nearby flats and houses, all glowing under the northern lights, while local people go shopping on skis, as we do. (Well actually we don’t, but it’s a nice idea.) Apparently the architects who won the design competition have taken on the services of a social anthropologist to analyse how local people feel about losing their town, which is very reassuring for us all, don’t you think?
The site of this architect-planned wonder, ‘the new Kiruna’, is east of town, alongside the E10 road. Driving past the large billboard by the roadside you can see that shrubbery has been cleared, revealing early excavations, and that the remnants of some industrial buildings have been demolished. Something, of sorts, is happening then.
Now, forgive me for a short digression. I’ve learnt there’s nothing new on this earth, just repetitions of something someone has done somewhere else. I was in Bali, Indonesia, long ago, where I saw that local people had solved the problem of tourists wanting to witness their local rituals and culture when they themselves preferred to keep it private. The answer they’d come up with was creating two versions of everything. There was a funeral for the tourists, and then there was a secret, real funeral for locals. There was the advertised celebration of the rice harvest for the tourists, and elsewhere, the secret real celebration for them. Clever.
There’s been lots of talk about what ‘the new Kiruna’ will look like. However, at the moment there’s nothing there. There will be though, soon, our politicians assure us, and first they’re going to build a new town hall. There’s been a competition for its design (of course) and the winning design is – well, rather space-y, way over budget, and called ‘The Crystal’. It’s a start, certainly, but a new town hall does not make a new town and so far they haven’t persuaded any local shops or businesses to build or move to join it, and that’s a problem. Everyone’s been invited to the party, but no-one’s showed up on the doorstep. You can understand the hesitation. Why would anyone want to move their business to an empty site where no-one goes and no-one lives? And yet, in all discussions or reports of the new town, the spotlight is all on this empty, muddy tract of land.
Meanwhile, just down the road from us there’s a lot of new development going on around an existing ‘out of town’ supermarket. Business units, warehouses and new shops and cafes are springing up there every month. It’s a handy place. It’s not too far from the existing town, and there’s a supermarket, Coop Forum, that people go to already. Since the current town is going to be emptied over the next 10 – 20 years, shops there are looking to relocate, and down here by Coop Forum looks like a good bet.
It’s an unassuming sort of area, off a roundabout out of town, with no proclaiming billboard or architect-designed spaces. It’s not especially attractive, or unusual, for an edge of town shopping centre. There are no cable car fantasies or buildings looking like spaceships. Just a huge car park, and lots of people going about their business, as they always have done, but in a new place.
You won’t find it written about in the newspapers, featured in academic reports, or discussed in architects’ workshops. People won’t come to the Coop Forum site to study how the town is being relocated. As new buildings spring up every month around the Coop Forum shopping centre there won’t be photos taken there of ‘the first spade’, and it won’t be the focus for analysis of how the process of moving the town is being managed. You won’t even find local politicians admitting to knowing the new shopping area exists – though you’ll certainly find them shopping there.
But don’t let on that you know. It’s a secret.