19 October 2016

RiverCity Gothenburg: A City Built On Inclusion

This article from the Gothenburg City Council is the third in the UNAI START series that looks at Sustainable Development Goal #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. UNAI member institutions as well as government leaders and policymakers were asked to submit articles highlighting research and policy development and implementation relating to the design and construction of more resilient and sustainable cities for the 21st century, and to showcase the importance of addressing urbanization in achieving the 2030 Development Agenda. Please note that the articles are for discussion, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.

The Gothenburg City Council has adopted a vision for the expansion of the inner city by transforming the adjacent former port, industrial and logistics areas, located along the river Göta älv. The RiverCity Gothenburg Vision aims to strengthen social cohesion, reduce negative impacts on the environment, adapt to climate change and promote diverse economic development. The vision was created before the UN Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) were adopted; however the vision and the work to implement it address and illustrate many of the issues relating to SDG # 11: “Sustainable cities and human settlements - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

This article aims to showcase the RiverCity Gothenburg project with a specific focus on inclusivity.

A regional perspective

Gothenburg is at the centre of a functional region that has more than 1.1 million inhabitants. The population is increasing by 1 to 1.5 per cent  per year through a combination of natural growth and net migration (mainly immigration). The economy, previously based on manufacturing and trade, is presently more diverse and knowledge based.

Swedish municipalities have a strong mandate for planning and land use issues. The city of Gothenburg co-operates with surrounding municipalities on a consensus basis in order to develop regional goals and strategies. This co-operation has led to a number of general goals, one of which is that the regional core should be reinforced. A second is that the increased need for travel should be managed by public transport. An infrastructure package that has been negotiated with the national government is helping to turn these goals into actions.  One of the main investments is a new railroad tunnel that will increase the capacity of the regional commuting system. Congestion charges have been introduced to reduce the impact on the environment, and to help fund needed  investments.

Create a city for all

Based on these regional goals, the City Council initiated a broad visioning process concerning how the under-used areas along the river could be transformed into attractive urban environments. The process involved not only national and international expertise, but also the Gothenburg community,  citizens, NGOs and businesses. The process to develop the vision included workshops that investigated different perspectives on sustainability, a comprehensive workshop with ten teams of international experts on urban development and, perhaps most importantly, a comprehensive citizen dialogue. The outcome of these activities was discussed and evaluated by the City Executive Committee and a consensus emerged on the manner in which the areas should be developed, namely:

  • Make use of the features offered by the river and the water as well as the historical heritage;
  • Create an urban environment that is accessible to everyone, is designed with meeting places that vary in nature and promotes activities in many forms;
  • Involve citizens and let them take possession of their city and influence the way in which it is designed and used.

The resulting vision statement is: “RiverCity Gothenburg – open to the world; inclusive, green and dynamic.” A number of strategies have been developed to realise this vision. One of the three main strategies - connect the city – is expanded upon in this article. Gothenburg today is a socially fragmented city as are many other cities in the world. The intention is to create a city for everyone; a city with a wide variety of places, architecture, homes and the space for people to express themselves in socially and culturally diverse ways; a city where everyone has a sense of belonging. Through an ongoing dialogue, citizens will be given opportunities to be continually involved in the planning and implementation.

Housing for all

The vision states: “We should work to ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to live in the RiverCity Gothenburg area. Socially mixed housing creates a varied city life and a more interesting range of services.” This is problematic as Sweden has not applied for exemption from the EU legislation covering ”services of general economic interest” (SGEI) which prevents social housing subsidies.  Sweden has no alternative system in place that can guarantee housing for all.

When the implementation of the vision in Frihamnen, one of the six large development areas within RiverCity Gothenburg, began, a main challenge for the developers was to provide affordable rental housing. The selected developers have all agreed to challenge the established utility-value based system by allowing for rents in the new housing to be based on the negotiated rents for similar housing in surrounding areas. They have agreed to produce 25 per cent  of units at an annual rental cost of 1,000 SEK per square meter, a further 25 per cent at 1,400 SEK, 25 per cent at the utility-valued level and the last 25 per cent with no restrictions. (1,000 SEK equals €105).

The intention is clear. The intention is to create income and socially mixed housing in RiverCity.  However, will the City of Gothenburg manage to introduce a new system for the rental sector that makes provision for affordable housing?

Co-creation in an open process

The citizen dialogue highlighted the importance of green areas, safe and attractive public spaces and access to water for all.  Consequently, a Jubilee Park will be created in Frihamnen. The first sections of the park are already completed and the process has involved both citizens and professionals in a step by step process. In the future, the park will be a focal point in a new urban district comprising more than 15,000 inhabitants and 15,000 work places. By 2021 when the city celebrates its 400 year anniversary, the area, with a magic touch from plenty of water and sky and a late afternoon sun, will be a significant part of the Jubilee Park. Thus far, facilities such as a swimming pool, sauna, play sculpture, roller derby arena and urban gardening have been created.

The implementation process is based on active openness. As the vision states: “We should all be able to follow what is happening in our city. We should be able to become involved in issues that affect everyone. RiverCity Gothenburg affects us all.”


About the Author

Bo Aronsson is a Senior Advisor in the City of Gothenburg, Sweden. Aronsson has a background as a consultant architect and planner and a chief architect in a private company. Since 2000 he has worked in a leading position at the City Planning Authority in Gothenburg and later as the Head of Regional Planning in the Gothenburg Region. He has led the work with the early phases of the RiverCity Gothenburg project, probably the largest urban development project in northern Europe. He now coordinates a number of projects regarding sustainable urban development within the partnership between Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (South Africa) and the City of Gothenburg. He also runs his own business and supports other Swedish cities as an advisor in larger urban development projects.