Malmo – “a sustainable city of tomorrow” Part 1

Across the spectacularly long Oresund Bridge from Copenhagen via the dozens of spinning wind turbines in the sea lies the impressive Swedish city of Malmo.

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Our focus here was on the sustainable redevelopment of the Western Harbour, an old port made into one of the best sustainable urban developments in the world.

Visiting this extraordinary area has been a huge highlight because it is the best new urban development I have seen anywhere in the world – so far.

It really is a development that does it all – affordable housing, great innovative public spaces, design for climate, low carbon, sustainable waste, amazing architecture.

I want to go into a bit of depth over what Malmo has done on this former industrial site as I think there is an opportunity for Fremantle to take some elements form this and do a West Australian version of a carbon-neutral sustainable development on our soon to be redundant depot site on the corner of Montreal and Knutsford Streets.

What is it?

The Western Harbour is a reclaimed 180-odd hectares of port land that was a ship building area and briefly a SAAB factory. When SAAB was bought out by GM and the Malmo plant closed down it resulted Malmo thrown into an economic crisis.

The closure of SAAB factory on the Western Harbour inspired Malmo officials to move the already planned European Housing Expo to that area to kick off the area’s revitalisation. First stage opened in 2001 called Bo01. This was a demonstration project which our guide called “the first sustainable welfare society in the world”.  At the heart of the project was that it was to be a full sized model of “a sustainable city of tomorrow”

As Persson and Rosberg write in A Book About the Western Harbour Bo01 was a pioneer in ecologically sustainability in a dense  urban environment  …” a sustainable area where residents ned not be aware of their resource-efficient living. The sustainable district was to be just as comfortable, appealing and picturesque as the unsustainable, only then would it become the obvious alternative for the modern urban citizen … it would be both fun and comfortable” (pg 14)

It is a mixed-use area with a university, schools, office and a large residential component. It is mostly medium rise development  (2 – 7 floors) although the Western Harbour is defined in part by the landmark Turning Torso which at 190m tall (54 floors) is the sculptural centre of the Western Harbour. Interestingly it was first building in Sweden to have LED lighting which saves 90% compared to traditional lighting. Now ten years on a mainstreamed technology.

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So what makes it so great?

Putting it simply, it is not a one trick sustainability pony but a fully integrated development that integrates community, liveability, low carbon, sustainable and ultimately a beautiful development together. This really is the future of sustainability – a better, more liveable city that also uses less resources.

Design for climate and people

This was one of the most impressive parts of the development. Bo01 diverts from the standard grid pattern of square city blocks to a more organic but equally permeable built form – permeable unless you are a large vehicle that is.  The intricate and enclosed built form means that the internal space is sheltered, a series of cosy outdoor rooms. In fact, it is designed to for Malmo’s climate to protect against the cold artic winds and enable maximum solar access into the heart of the development. Cars can access most parts of the core but only at very low speeds and is really only for those local residents that have internal car bays with their homes to park. The result is a neighbourhood core that is a wonderful pedestrian focused environment that goes from narrow lanes to open courtyards with charming water features and linger nodes. A place where children can and do play on the streets and neighbours gather.


While the development is not car focused many people still have a car but they are often parked in the multi-storey carpark a few hundred metres away outside the neighbourhood core. This is largely because they are not needed on a daily basis with walking, cycling, and public transport making up most trips.

Innovative solutions for waste

The above design also means that garbage trucks are also unable to enter the neighbourhood centre. Most people don’t realize it, but much of Australia’s suburban and urban form is based around the clearance and turning circles needed for garbage trucks! Bo01’s intimate design meant that these trucks are confined to the outside of the neighbourhood centre.

Rubbish and recycling is instead placed in two separate shoots and is sucked underground to the edge of the neighbourhood where is it picked up by the trucks.

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The vacuum garbage disposal system then takes the separated food waste off for composting and biogas. Extraordinarily the biogas from the Western Harbour now runs the entire Malmo bus fleet!

This innovate waste system is no being rolled out across  other suburbs in Malmo and in latter stages of the Western Harbour precinct food waste grinders are automatically installed in every kitchen.

End of Part One. In Part Two I will look at its diverse architecture, zero carbon, ecological, and affordable housing outcomes. Yes it really does it all!

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

8 Responses to Malmo – “a sustainable city of tomorrow” Part 1

  1. freoview says:

    Sounds absolutely great, Brad and much of it could be implemented in Fremantle, even a stunning tower at Knitsford Street.

    Roel Loopers

  2. Rhiannon B says:

    You are giving me the travel bug! Toured Western Harbour a couple of years ago during the Earth Hour conference. Sounds like you love it as much as I did! On speaking to some locals there were concerns it had become very ‘exclusive’ (as these developments often can). I’m interested to read part two to see if this has been addressed in any way as you mention affordable housing… Enjoy!

  3. Tommo East Freo says:

    I think fremantle needs to be careful with any selection of LED lighting. It would be a huge shame to have so many old heritage buildings and then light them up with horrible “non warm” LED lights. The reason restaurants all use energy hungry trendy filament bulbs is the ambience is well worth the additional energy cost.

  4. freoishome says:

    Instead of 18 separate blocks, with no plan, schedule or complete commitment to actually build, why didn’t the City choose this approach for the Amendment 49 area? A number of people suggested making it a development area like East Perth, but my recall was the CoF didn’t want the control to be taken out of its hands.

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