Sunday, March 15, 2015

Kiruna, on the Move

 Kiruna, the Swedish mining city above the Arctic Circle, will soon begin its move to a site some two miles away from where it is now. The BBC magazine has the details of what will be an unprecedented, epic displacement and a chance to create a whole new city. A few historic buildings, like the famous church from 1912 pictured below, will be taken to pieces, transported, and reassembled, but most will simply fall to the wrecking ball. Nearby, a new complex of apartments, office buildings, schools, and train station will come into being. It's going to be an enormous undertaking, full of challenge and loss.

This news is not news, in a way. Ever since it became obvious in the early 2000s that the iron ore mine was impinging on the city, it's been obvious that something needed to be done, and equally obvious that the mine was not moving elsewhere. Residents have been coping with cracks in the streets and some buildings from the underground blasts. The last time I was in Kiruna, in 2005, I could hear the noise and feel the shaking for myself. In ten years, it's gotten worse.

Kiruna is only about a hundred years old. From a ramshackle bunch of shacks made from packing crates where the miners spent freezing winters and  muggy summers, two little towns grew up. One architect-designed housing community was created very near the mining operations, at the base of the mountain of Kirunavaara. The other community was built across a lake on another hillside. This became the center of Kiruna, designed as a kind of utopian hill town, with a mix of wooden houses, winding streets, and stairways. Some of those utopian ideas didn't work out and already, with the advent of car and bus traffic, the growing city did away with some of the winding streets and built more typical, boxy and utilitarian mid-century sports halls and city buildings. Still, the city has been an interesting mix of old and new. From this spring, however, as a new Kiruna rises two miles away, the old Kiruna will begin to be abandoned.

You can read more about Kiruna's architectural and social history, the iron ore mine, and my travels to the city and inside the mine in my book, The Palace of the Snow Queen.

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