A Story Of A Transit-Oriented Suburb In Stockholm, Sweden

Colin Poff, Land Use Planner at AHBL

Urban planners often look to Scandinavia as a premiere model for sustainable development. Last fall I was awarded the opportunity to undergo research in Stockholm as part of the Valle Program. If I were to be looking through the lens of a tourist, I might have only had time to walk around the old town. However, as a researcher, I was able to focus my studies on the greater metropolitan area, and what I found is that Stockholm’s planning story is best told when its suburbs are included.

Many of Stockholm’s suburbs were built in the 1950s as “new towns,” an outgrowth of the garden city movement. Planners of the time had utopian visions of these places as self-sufficient units; each one equidistant from Stockholm’s center and consisting of about 25,000 people and an equal number of housing units to jobs. The ambition was to balance physical form, social relationships, and an economic base in one ideal suburb. The “new towns” were built along the expansion of Stockholm’s subway line, and were Transit Oriented Developments before they even realized it. They had great promise, but the over-planned, idealistic vision of being self-sustaining has met reality. They have since taken new forms and identities within Stockholm’s larger metropolis.


 Stockholm Suburbs built as "pearls on a string" around the radial subway network.

A model for Stockholm's "New Towns" in the 1950's, showing highest densities, commercial and civic uses surrounding the central station, and row housing skirting the outside.

The “new town” which received most of my focus was Farsta, about 6 miles south of Stockholm’s center. Farsta is a popular regional hub, but has some room for potential. The shopping center is surrounded by large parking lot, and gets little use after hours. Modernist “towers in the park” are not part of a cohesive urban fabric. Wide roads are designed for automobile circulation, rather than the kind of multi-purpose streets that are safe, active, and attract residents. Telia, Sweden’s telecommunications company, has announced plans to move its headquarters out, increasingly turning Farsta into a dormitory suburb. 

Farsta's innaguration was a big deal

Farsta's center, like many Stockholm suburbs, has great public space

"Towers in the Park"

Despite this, Farsta has been chosen as one of Stockholm’s suburban “tyngdpunkts,” or nodes. The fact that it has such potential for development is largely due to the merits of the initial new town concept, which included highly accessible transit, a commercial centrum, office space, and everyday services. The main strategy includes increased new housing options around the center, and the creation of “urban corridors” that extend out in a radial fashion, turning Farsta’s wide roads into urban, wealth-creating streets.

Vision for retrofit of Farsta to include "urban corridors"

A future version of Farsta with infill around the transit station

The evolution of Stockholm “new towns” over the last half century has been fascinating, and even has lessons that can apply to an expanding Seattle metropolitan region and transit system.  As suburban nodes are intensified around future transit stations, the following should be kept in mind:

  • A cohesive regional system makes it work: During rush hour, Stockholm’s subway has up to a 70% share of ridership. This is made possible by a hierarchy of transit connected suburbs, rather than a few scattered transit oriented developments.
  • Transit suburbs require supportive design: The potential for adaptation and growth of Stockholm’s “new towns” is due to their urban structure, such as a threshold density and multiple uses within walking distance of the center.
  • Don’t forget place making: Transit alone will not guarantee vitality in a suburb – a sense of place and identity is needed. Finer grain urban fabric with pedestrian amenities and a neighborhood feel will increase the desirability of suburban nodes.

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