The City Now Arriving at Platform One…

A railway interchange south of Stockholm is getting a new lease of life

May 2018

In Hemfosa, every third resident is a horse. It is home to around 100 humans, a riding centre for Icelandic ponies and very little else. What it does have is a disproportionately well-served train station. Hemfosa only exists because that’s where the two-line railway from Stockholm drops down to a single track, and so every single train to and from the Swedish capital stops there. 

“In the 1990s, there was a debate about whether they should stop the trains there at all,” says Fredrik Reinius, a spatial planner at WSP in Stockholm. “From an economic point of view, you would say just don’t stop there, go where there are more people. It holds up each train for two minutes. But then if you turn it around, the train stops there — that can be a motivation for something …”

Hemfosa’s moment seems to have finally come, as part of the Swedish government’s plans to build at least nine new sustainable cities. Haninge municipality, in which Hemfosa lies, has agreed to build 12,000 homes there in return for additional investment in its infrastructure — in this case, a new road to connect Hemfosa to the motorway. If that doesn’t exactly sound sustainable, without it nothing else can happen: “You can’t bring all the construction materials by train, so unless there is a road, you can’t build 150 villas, let alone a city,” says Reinius.

Haninge municipality was already aware of WSP’s work with Skanska, Scania and MTR to develop a new city concept, dubbed ABC-city 2.0 and intended as a genuinely sustainable successor to the ABC cities built in Sweden in the 1950s. When it suddenly needed to draw up a detailed plan for expanding a tiny hamlet into a fully functioning urban centre, it appointed WSP to explore the options. Reinius led a team of between five and 20 experts in disciplines ranging from architecture and transport planning to demographics and market forces. This plan formed the basis of the agreement between the municipality and the government, and will now inform the future development.

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They came up with a four-step plan to densify and eventually urbanize Hemfosa. “Right now, it’s very sprawly with small villas,” says Reinius. “We knew we couldn’t start by building high-rises, we needed something smaller to attract families to move there.” Instead, they proposed starting with terraced houses — “something slightly denser than what there is now” — and progressing to two and three-storey buildings. The final step would be to move the station and construct a new urban centre, with larger numbers of homes creating demand for shops and restaurants. “The station is very near to the existing villas and it’s hard to densify there because we can’t tear all that down. If we built a new central station, you could build more freely and there could be taller buildings.”

They also considered how to create a city rather than just a collection of houses. “There’s the question of identity — you need to invest in some kind of culture. We talked about moving part of the university or establishing an industry, perhaps a timber housing factory — something to make people proud that they’re from Hemfosa.”

Part of the role was also to help the municipality understand potential demand for new amenities as Hemfosa grows: “You need things that you don’t think of normally because projects are a little bit smaller. We thought, 20,000 people is pretty big — maybe we need a new cemetery. Do we need a hospital? Maybe not here, but in the region. The scale of this is so big, we need to take all of these things into consideration.”

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