How Swede it is
Navigating Stockholm's Green Scene is easy, thanks to Max Goldstein and the Green Map System.
by JIM HACKLER
A DANCE PARTY ON THE SITE of a former prison quarry doesn’t sound very environmentally responsible. But dancing feet, pounding the ground for hours, can help create the ideal habitat for sand dandelions to grow on the island of Långholmen in Sweden.
This quirky bit of information is one of the tips featured on the Stockholm Green Map. “In other more lush areas, the sand dandelion gets outcompeted by normal dandelions, but thanks to the conditions in the quarry, it has a chance to bloom,” says Max Goldstein, a Stockholm native and the man behind the city’s Green Map. He says he got the idea of creating it when he stumbled across the Portland Green Map while in Oregon.
“In the years I had been living abroad, my interest in sustainability had grown considerably,” says Goldstein, who recently earned a master’s degree in urban planning. “Although I knew my city well, I was less aware of its environmental features, and thought that a Green Map like I had in Portland would be really handy.” His commitment to making the project a reality included volunteering in New York, where the Green Map System (www.greenmap.org) began in 1995. Since then, it has grown to 400 registered maps in 51 countries.
Goldstein launched the Swedish capital’s first Green Map (www.stockholmgreenmap.se) after creating the nonprofit organization Stadens Eko. “We had several people work with us as volunteers, but the main group was myself and my friend Thérèse Kristiansson,” said Goldstein. Of course, Goldstein also looped in city planners, many different environmentalist groups, birders, geographers, ecologists, small business owners and others during the process. “Seeing how passionate all these people were about the urban environment was the most exciting aspect of the whole mapmaking process,” he says.
The Green Map System leaves it up to local groups such as Stadens Eko to establish their own criteria for what to feature. Goldstein says the process was fairly open, and a large grant from the city of Stockholm provided the funding to research what the city had to offer (as well as to publish the map).
Using a series of symbols created by the Green Map System, the Stockholm version highlights the remarkable diversity of the city’s ecology. Dominating the map is the extensive network of waterways that account for the city’s nickname, “the Venice of the North.” Stockholm is spread out over 14 islands that are nestled between the Baltic Sea and Lake Mälaren—but here, in contrast with Venice, you can safely fish or swim just steps away from the heart of downtown.
Stockholm is an international leader in water treatment technologies, and it plays host to the annual World Water Week (August 17–23, 2008; www.worldwaterweek.org) that’s become one of the top conferences of its kind in the world, with professionals coming from around the globe to share ideas on water quality and conservation. The commitment to clean water is just one of the reasons Sweden is ranked No. 3 on the 2008 Environmental Performance Index, a global rating of countries developed by Yale and Columbia universities. (Switzerland and Norway are ranked first and second; the United States, 39th.)
“Stockholm has a long-standing environmental policy for the city,” says Katarina Eckerberg, deputy director of the Stockholm Environment Institute. She says the city met 80 percent of its environmental targets under its recent four-year program—and it has set an ambitious goal of becoming free of all fossil fuels by 2050. Stockholm has already successfully put in place a congestion tax that charges motorists entering and exiting the central part of the city during rush hour. It’s led to a surge in the purchase of alternative-fuel vehicles, which are tax-exempt. And there’s been an increase in the use of public transportation, which includes Stockholm’s Tunnelbana subway; the system is incredibly clean, and a great way to meet some of the locals who are genuinely friendly and happy to help you figure out which of the 100 stations is your goal. The stations themselves are attractions, featuring extensive installations of paintings and mosaics.
But you may find you don’t really need to use the subway, because Stockholm is compact and perfect for wandering around on foot or on a bicycle. A number of bike-rental shops are listed on the Green Map, but the newest and easiest option is Stockholm’s City Bikes (www.stockholmcitybikes.se/en). It’s a bike-sharing program: Unlock one of the distinctive blue-and-white bikes parked around town, using a special key card, then drop it off at any of the appropriately marked bike racks when you’re finished with it.
A bike is the best way to take in Stockholm’s Ekoparken, the world’s first National City Park, which threads through the city’s central districts. It gives you a sense of Swedes’ strong connection with nature and being outdoors. Eckerberg says a great way to share the locals’ love of a warm summer evening is to eat in the Djurgården section of the Ekoparken, where the cafe in the Rosendals Trädgård serves organic food in its garden. “Organic used to be rare, but the number of restaurants is rapidly increasing due to the rising awareness that our eating habits have a tremendous impact on the environment,” she says.
New organic restaurants can also be found in Stockholm’s historic old town of Gamla Stan, along with designer fashions at Ekovaruhuset (www.ekovaruhuset.se/stockholm.htm) on Österlånggatan. “Their mission is to get rid of the patchouli-scented perception of organic and fair-trade fashion through cutting-edge European collections,” says Goldstein. “It’s rather luxurious, but then again, you are supporting small-scale, local production that is free from harmful chemicals and animal cruelty.” To help you figure out which products are Green, many items in Sweden carry the Nordic Swan Ecolabel—a certification for environmentally friendly products and services, including hotels. Among the most stylish of these are the Nordic Light Hotel and its sister property next door, the Nordic Sea Hotel, where the trendy Icebar—open year-round—stays at minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 F), and all the glasses and furnishings are made of 100 percent clear ice from the Torne River in northern Sweden. For information on Delta service to this and other great destinations, visit delta.com.
In stark contrast to Gamla Stan’s medieval charm is the sleek and modern look of Hammarby Sjöstad (www.hammarbysjostad.se), a quick subway ride from downtown. The contemporary district on the south side of Stockholm is committed to meeting strict environmental regulations to cut harmful emissions by 50 percent in all its new buildings, technical installations and traffic patterns. The plan it’s following is called “The Hammarby Model,” and it’s successfully demonstrating renewable fuels, biogas products and clever reuse of waste heat that’s routed into the area’s commercial and residential buildings. You can see all these Green technologies in action at the GlashusEtt, the district’s environmental communication center. If you’re a techno-geek like me, be sure to check out Sweden’s first high-temperature fuel cell that’s powered by biogas from the local sewage treatment plant.
The Stockholm Green Map lists dozens of other intriguing things to see and do in the city—but it’s also a good idea to ask the locals what places they like. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an invite to a kräftskiva, the Swedish version of a crayfish boil, held outdoors during the month of August. While the Swedes are as passionate as their Louisiana counterparts about eating crayfish, the flavor is different here because they use lots of dill. And they wash their crayfish down with schnapps, which makes it a little less embarrassing to wear the traditional kräftskiva paper hat while attempting to sing Swedish drinking songs. The parties can last until the early morning hours, when it’s time to go jump in the nearest lake or river—and, since this is one of the Greenest places in the world, it’s perfectly safe to do so.
Sky Contributing Editor Jim Hackler is an Atlanta-based writer. To read his personal take on navigating the challenges of living Green, go to www.TheUrbaneEnvironmentalist.com.