While the sound of explosions and rumblings in the world’s oldest underground mine has been a part of everyday life for inhabitants in Kiruna, northern Sweden, for more than a century, the mine is now about to destroy the town – and thousands are moving.
- The social transition will continue to at least 2035, however, we have already moved houses and more than 200 families have relocated. Soon, the new Kiruna Town Hall is ready, as is most of the new housing as well as new roads and railways, says Communication Advisor Erika Lindblad for LKAB Societal Change in Kiruna.
SEK 17 billion
Ore exploitation in Kiruna started in 1899. Housing construction near the workplace was an obvious choice, and no one had the faintest idea that 100 years later, iron ore would be extracted more than a kilometer down and that the mining town would gradually start sinking.
The relocation of the town has a cost frame of some SEK 17 billion and is planned as a soft transition for those who have to relocate, and with the highest degree possible of inhabitant participation.
- During some periods, the process goes according to plan, and at other times it takes longer than intended, says Lindblad.
Because if there is no mining, there is no town. The LKAB mining corporation is mainly buying properties from private persons at a price equal to the cost of an equivalent property and house.
- Some 6,000 people have to move and 3,000 houses are affected in relocating the town. The majority of the population is positive to this, and most of those who perceive this as a negative thing nevertheless accept that changes happen, she says.
Feelings and respect
The biggest challenge in relocating the town is not the moving process of leveling buildings and constructing houses in and of itself, but rather lies in seeing people who are affected.
- The challenge lies in meeting each individual person with respect, answering questions and acquiescing any disturbances that may arise, Lindblad says.
It is demanding when rational issues and questions face strong feelings. Breaking up from once place to start over in another may be a heartbreaking process, even though the foundation for the decision to do so may have to do with security and a future for Kiruna, based on continued mining.
- It is challenging when habits, traditions and feelings face new thinking and visions. Having to move represent a major transition in a person’s life, especially when their old house or even block will be gone for good, Lindblad says.
Never before has such a modern society been relocated. The cooperation project involved architect offices in many countries in collaboration with Kiruna municipality.
- The relocation of Kiruna is unique, and never before has such a modern and well-developed society been relocated. And yes, I do believe Kiruna will prove to be a pilot for other places that will al so have to undertake major relocations in the future – whether for climate or other reasons, says Lindblad.
Houses that cannot be moved and re-used are sent to recycling.
- We tear down old buildings that cannot be re-used, and our ambition is to recycle as much materials as possible from them, Lindblad states.
In addition, the processes are communicated on an on-going basis. It is important that those living in Kiruna know what is happening and what will happen later.
- It has been known for a long time that the town has to be relocated, however, it is important to continually communicate what is going on, she says.
- Kiruna is the northernmost and area-wise biggest municipality in Sweden.
- Kiruna has 23,000 inhabitants and some 18,000 live in the town itself
- The town started growing in 1900, when the railway between Kiruna and Narvik (Norway) shipping port opened
- Some 10 percent of its inhabitants are employed by the LKAB mining corporation. Other major industries include tourism, space research and satellite activities
- LKAB means Luossavaarakiirunavaara AB and is a wholly state-owned corporation
- The company extracts and refines iron ore for the global steel market, and also operates in industrial minerals, drilling systems, train transport, mountain drilling technology as well as housing
- In 2004 it became public knowledge that cracks and deformations around Kiruna would lead to parts of town having to be leveled and relocated
- About a third of old Kiruna will be preserved and relocated
- The new town center is built some 3 kilometers east of today’s center.
- In the summer of 2018, the old Town Hall is shut and the municipality council is moving in to the newly constructed building ‘the Crystal’
- The new Kiruna town center is scheduled to be ready in 2022