• Swedish residents are being looped into plans to improve their local communities, with the aim of enabling people to access most facilities they need within their own neighbourhoods.
  • Pre-built furniture units are being used to replace parking spaces with tables, chairs and plants.
  • Under a similar idea in Paris, authorities are aiming to scrap 70,000 parking spaces as part of a drive to make the city greener.

Across Sweden, city dwellers are getting the chance to help redesign the urban spaces right outside their front door. Using pre-built furniture modules, parking spaces are being replaced by tables, benches and plants. It’s all part of a government plan to help people improve the immediate environment around their homes.

Built from wood, the units are designed to occupy a single street-side parking space. Once installed, they effectively remove space for one car and replace it with something for people.

The plan is that a range of modules used in different configurations could provide things such as places to sit and eat, urban gardens, playgrounds, outdoor gyms, bike storage, and electric scooter charging points. They are also built to interlock, so that multiple units could be deployed along a length of curb-side street.

Consultations with local communities are used to determine the use and configuration of the units, which are in use in trial installations in Stockholm, the nation’s capital. Further sites in Gothenburg, Helsingborg, and Malmö are in different stages of completion.

image of a parking space in Stockholm which has been converted into a meeting place
The Street Moves units could have many possible uses.
Image: LundbergDesign/ArkDes/Elsa Soläng

Quoted in a feature on Bloomberg, Dan Hill, director of strategic design at Vinnova, the government agency responsible for state funding of research and development, said the unit design: “Draws inspiration from things like LEGO or IKEA — or Minecraft — where you have a consistent system that can be adapted or hacked, remodeled, added to.”

More facilities, more local

This hyperlocal approach to planning is built around the concept of the one-minute city, a movement that wants people to make small, achievable differences that will all add up to something bigger.

It is a spin on a similar 15-minute-city concept popularized in Paris, under which the government has plans to scrap 70,000 parking spaces in favour of making local neighbourhoods greener and more liveable. French authorities hope the initiative will also help encourage Parisians to walk and cycle to get around as part of a city-wide effort to reduce congestion and limit carbon emissions.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the future of cities?

Cities represent humanity's greatest achievements - and greatest challenges. From inequality to air pollution, poorly designed cities are feeling the strain as 68% of humanity is predicted to live in urban areas by 2050.

The World Economic Forum supports a number of projects designed to make cities cleaner, greener and more inclusive.

These include hosting the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization, which gathers bright ideas from around the world to inspire city leaders, and running the Future of Urban Development and Services initiative. The latter focuses on how themes such as the circular economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be harnessed to create better cities. To shed light on the housing crisis, the Forum has produced the report Making Affordable Housing a Reality in Cities.

The one-minute city project - dubbed Street Moves - is being driven by a partnership between the Swedish government and the private sector. Vinnova has teamed up with the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design (ArkDes) and LundbergDesign, a design and strategy firm from Stockholm.

Street Moves and the ethos of the one-minute city doesn’t seek to solve multiple, complex urban problems in the way the 15-minute-city initiative does. There are no undertakings to improve access to public transport, for example. Instead, the focus is on giving defined areas of space back to people who will most benefit from it.

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a rise in the number of people shopping closer to home and using local services - a trend which many people say they will continue even as things ease.